Despite its longstanding attitude of the separation of church and state, the United States remains one of the most religious nations in the West. A strong level of Christianity remains throughout the nation, whilst minority faiths are also represented.
Every US President has been a Christian. Some were devout, others skeptical. Here’s a look at the faith of each of them.
George Washington- Episcopalian
America’s first president was a man of faith, but was not too open about it. George Washington was an Episcopalian who was private about his faith. Whilst he did attend church, he was not a regular attendant. It’s believed he was more into private prayer. His writings do mention religion but not at a huge rate. Washington was also extremely tolerant for the time- he was happy with his workers being of any religion or none at all, whilst also expressing tolerance to all faiths. It’s not believed he received communion but he did pay for pews and a Bible.
John Adams- Unitarian, formerly Congregationalist
John Adams was raised a Congregationalist, but found that the denomination was not to his taste. He believed religion and church-going was good for society, but he was not evangelical in his views. Adams rejected certain aspects like the divinity of Jesus. He was opposed to having a national religion and worried about its abuses.
Thomas Jefferson- Deist
Thomas Jefferson is the most fascinating and hard to pin down politically. Jefferson was definitely a Christian and said as much himself, but he was often critical. He rejected much of the Christian ideology beyond the sense of morality, especially miracles and divinity. Jefferson attended church regularly but was not a member of any particular one. We have no evidence of him receiving communion. Most notably, Jefferson wrote his own version of the Bible in which the miracles were written out among other edits. Jefferson firmly supported the separation of church and state, so much so he was accused of atheism at the time.
James Madison- Episcopalian/Deist
James Madison was born and raised in the Episcopalian faith, but was not a generally devout man. There’s not much evidence regarding the extent of his attendance at church, though it’s believed he may have attended when he was at home in Virginia. Like his friend and mentor Jefferson, James Madison was extremely supportive of the separation of church and state. He tended to be critical of organised religion and the corruption of it. Madison is regarded as a deist in the same vein as Jefferson, though perhaps not as much.
James Monroe- Episcopalian
James Monroe attended Episcopal services throughout his life. Unfortunately, we have no idea of anything else regarding his faith. No letters survive which mention religion, as Monroe burned many of them. Like the other Founding Fathers, his faith was not as evident, but he was not a deist like them.
John Quincy Adams- Unitarian
John Quincy Adams took his choice of church seriously. At a young age, he studied religion before making his choice. Adams was generally critical of overt displays of religion and believed that some of it was confusing. He also swore his oath on a copy of the Constitution, not the Bible. Adams was nevertheless president of the American Bible Society and would attend services of different faiths when in DC.
Andrew Jackson- Presbyterian
Andrew Jackson was a regular church goer and Christian, but was not a member of any particular church for most of his life. He would join the Presbyterian Church around a year after he left the White House. In typical Jackson fashion, he refused to forgive those who had wronged him in the name of God.
Martin Van Buren- Dutch Reformed
Martin Van Buren attended a Dutch Reformed church as a young man and an Episcopal one when in DC. He was buried at his childhood church.
William Henry Harrison- Episcopalian
William Henry Harrison was a part of his Episcopal church in Ohio but was not too active.
John Tyler- Episcopalian
John Tyler was considered Episcopalian but his religious views are unknown. He did not have any religious rites administered upon his death and did not attend any particular church.
James K. Polk- Methodist
James K. Polk was born into a Presbyterian family, but was refused baptism as his father would not affirm his belief in Christianity. He would attend Presbyterian services with his wife, as this was her denomination. When he was near middle-aged, Polk began to consider himself a Methodist. His mother brought a Presbyterian minister to her son’s death bed but Polk had already bought a Methodist. He was baptised as he lay dying.
Zachary Taylor- Episcopalian
Zachary Taylor is associated with the Episcopalian church but was not an active member. His wife Margaret was very devout. Taylor did not declare a national day of prayer whilst President, deeming it improper.
Millard Fillmore- Unitarian
Millard Fillmore became a Unitarian aged thirty. He was an ardent supporter of the separation of church and state. Fillmore refused to give public funds to Catholic or any other religious schools.
Franklin Pierce- Episcopalian
Franklin Pierce was not especially religious. As a young man, he was a vibrant person who enjoyed socialising and was not known for his faith. His wife Jane was extremely religious, even for the time, and believed their son’s tragic death was God removing distractions from her husband’s presidency. Pierce was baptised Episcopalian after leaving office and became a member of a church in his native New Hampshire. He affirmed the oath of office instead of swearing it.
James Buchanan- Presbyterian
James Buchanan was born into a Presbyterian family. He was a churchgoer but refused to take communion until after he’d finished the presidency as he believed it was hypocritical. Buchanan would join a church in his native Pennsylvania immediately upon leaving office.
Abraham Lincoln- Non-Denominational
Next to Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln has the murkiest views on religion. He has been accused of being a deist or even an atheist. Others have stated he was devout. Lincoln was born into a devout Baptist family but did not follow their path. He never joined a particular church or received communion. At one point, he was accused of being an infidel. Lincoln did talk about God and clearly believed in Him. He was deeply theological and focused on his own mortality.
Andrew Johnson- Non-Denominational
Andrew Johnson did not attend a particular church and was accused of being an infidel. He joined his wife at her Methodist services but broke with the church after they supported his impeachment hearings. Johnson did attend Catholic services as he approved of the equal treatment of all members.
Ulysses S. Grant- Likely Methodist
Ulysses S. Grant attended Methodist services with his wife and was said to have converted on his deathbed, but we don’t know the truth about that. He got in trouble at West Point for not attending church.
Rutherford B. Hayes- Non-Denominational Protestant
Rutherford B. Hayes always described himself as a Christian. He attended different denominational services, studied the Bible and listened to preachers. Hayes did not ever join a particular church or denomination. He believed that it was more important to be Christian in character and morals than in doctrine. His wife Lucy was a strict Methodist who believed in such a moral code. He would attend services with her.
James A. Garfield- Churches of Christ
James A. Garfield was baptised aged eighteen. He was an elder in his church and often preached, but he was never a minister. Garfield believed in the separation of church and state. In his inaugural address, Garfield spoke out against the Mormons, listing their practice of polygamy as one of the reasons he was opposed to them.
Chester A. Arthur- Episcopalian
Chester A. Arthur was the son of a Baptist minister but rejected organised religion from a young age. He attended Episcopal services with his wife, but was not particularly active. When he became President, he commissioned a stained glass window to commemorate his beloved deceased wife Ellen. He could see it from his window at the White House.
Grover Cleveland- Presbyterian
Grover Cleveland’s father was a Presbyterian minister. Cleveland spent his early years at his father’s church. As a young man, Cleveland didn’t attend church but had a strong personal faith. As a candidate and then president, Cleveland attended church more regularly. He had a wobble when his daughter Ruth died at the young age of twelve, but regained his faith soon after.
Benjamin Harrison- Presbyterian
Benjamin Harrison’s family were devout and he remained very religious for his entire life. He was officially a member of the Presbyterian Church upon starting college. Harrison attended church at every opportunity and was a very active member. During the Civil War, Harrison would pray in his tent every night. As President, Harrison would often mention religion in his speeches. He encouraged the limiting of activities on Sundays. Harrison was a church elder for forty years.
William McKinley- Methodist
William McKinley was a devout Christian who nearly became a minister. He first became attracted to Methodism aged ten and officially joined the church when he was sixteen. McKinley openly talked about God and Christianity during his Thanksgiving proclamations.
Theodore Roosevelt- Reformed Church
Theodore Roosevelt attended Presbyterian services with his mother as a child, but he would join the Dutch Reformed Church as a teenager. When there was no Reformed church nearby, Roosevelt would attend Episocopalian services as his wife Edith was one. Roosevelt was a regular church goer and discussed God in his Thanksgiving proclamations. As there was no Reformed church in the Oyster Bay area, Roosevelt attended the Episopalian church and was buried there.
William Howard Taft- Unitarian
William Howard Taft was a Unitarian who believed in God but not in the divinity of Christ. He did not accept the Presidency of Yale University as a result of this. Taft did mention God during his Presidency but before this, he was accused of being an atheist due to his religious views.
Woodrow Wilson- Presbyterian
Woodrow Wilson’s father was a Presbyterian minister by trade as well as his uncle. He officially joined the church in 1873 at the age of sixteen. When he became President of Princeton, Wilson was more accommodating to other faiths such as Catholics and Jews. He was a very theological man who liked to read the Bible daily and study Christian theology. Wilson believed he had been put on earth by God to be President.
Warren G. Harding- Northern Baptist
Warren G. Harding was a Baptist who attended church regularly. He did not receive communion as he believed himself unworthy of it. His mother Phoebe gave him the biblical middle name of ‘Gamaliel’ in hopes her son would join the ministry. Harding often spoke of religion and Christianity in speeches.
Calvin Coolidge- Congregationalist
Calvin Coolidge did not have any organised churches nearby as a youth but did have religious services. He was generally private about his beliefs but did believe in God. In 1923, he was given membership of a DC church upon becoming president, something that delighted him.
Herbert Hoover- Quaker
Herbert Hoover’s family were devout Quakers and he remained one throughout his life. He would attend informal meetings in his adult life due to his frequent worldwide travels. When he was President, Hoover would help build a Quaker meeting house in DC. Hoover was generally quietly religious but would happily speak about God in public addresses. He was tolerant of Al Smith’s Catholicism during the 1928 Presidential Election, never using it to attack him in order to draw up support. He spoke out for the right of Al Smith to worship. Hoover also possibly swore the oath of office, despite Quakers usually affirming, though sources differ.
Franklin D. Roosevelt- Episcopalian
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a member of the Episcopalian Church throughout his entire life. He was not a regular churchgoer, as he preferred playing golf on Sundays. Despite his lack of church attendance, Roosevelt did have a personal faith. He generally didn’t discuss his faith, but did sometimes talk about it in speeches.
Harry S. Truman- Southern Baptist
Harry S. Truman was born into a Baptist family and was baptised aged eighteen. Truman’s religious beliefs seemed to be somewhat varying. He described himself as not particularly religious and angered conservative Democrats by not discussing his faith a lot. Still, Truman used religious language in speeches. He did attend church, but less frequently as he grew older.
Dwight D. Eisenhower- Presbyterian
Dwight D. Eisenhower was born into a deeply religious family. His mother Ida was extremely devout and a pacifist who despised war, with Eisenhower upsetting her by attending West Point. Eisenhower was a very religious man. His frequent moves and military career meant he was not able to join a particular church, but he kept his faith. Eisenhower wrote and read his own prayer at his Inauguration. Two weeks later, he was officially baptised into the Presbyterian church. Eisenhower encouraged Americans to turn to faith and was also instrumental in adding ‘under God’ to the Pledge of Allegiance.
John F. Kennedy- Roman Catholic
John F. Kennedy was the first Catholic President. His religion was a source of great controversy as anti-Catholic sentiment was very strong at the time. Kennedy’s mother Rose was extremely religious and attempted to instill this in her children. A young Kennedy was fairly disinterested but did become more religious later on. He did attend church regularly but apparently did so out of duty more than piety. Kennedy did defend the Catholic Church faithfully. He was not a particularly religious man and he definitely didn’t listen to the church’s teachings on adultery, but Kennedy did show some loyalty to the church.
Lyndon B. Johnson- Disciples of Christ
Lyndon B. Johnson joined the Disciples of Christ as a young man, though his family were Baptists. Johnson was not a hugely religious person but did mention faith when talking about the Civil Rights movement and Vietnam. He invited Billy Graham to preach at his funeral. Interestingly, there was no Bible at hand during his impromptu inauguration, so he had to swear on a Catholic missal.
Richard Nixon- Quaker
Richard Nixon was born into a Quaker family that observed the Sabbath strictly. As a college student, Nixon taught Sunday school and attended lectures about religion. Nixon was a devout Christian who prayed daily and was close to Billy Graham. He swore the oath of office instead of affirming like most Quakers would.
Gerald R. Ford- Episcopalian
Gerald Ford was raised in an Episcopalian household but they were not necessarily religious. Ford had a personal faith and would attend weekly Bible study sessions while in Congress. During the 1976 election, Ford refused to be too evangelical in his beliefs in order to combat the openly religious Jimmy Carter.
Jimmy Carter- Baptist
Jimmy Carter is one of the most openly religious presidents. He was baptised at an early age in the Baptist Church. Whilst he was always religious, Carter described himself as being ‘born again’ in his forties. He started serving as a deacon aged eighteen and taught Sunday school, something he continued doing for decades. Carter prayed regularly as President and wrote religious books. He criticised the Southern Baptist Church for its increasing conservatism, and joined the breakaway Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in 1993.
Ronald Reagan- Presbyterian, formerly Disciples of Christ
Ronald Reagan was baptised into the Disciples of Christ Church as a child. He was not particularly religious for most of his life despite appealing to conservative Christians. His near death experience in 1981 pushed him back towards faith. Reagan would push for voluntary school prayer and give Billy Graham the Presidential Medal of Honor among other things. He had started attending Presbyterian meetings in 1963, though avoided church services during his presidency due to security concerns.
George H. W. Bush- Episcopalian
George H. W. Bush was born into an Episcopalian family and remained with that church for his entire life. He was uncomfortable with talking about his faith openly and did not believe in pushing for one particular religion. Bush was a lifelong churchgoer who would sometimes use faith in his speeches.
Bill Clinton- Baptist
Bill Clinton was baptised at a young age and was open about his faith. Whilst his conduct in office seemingly contrasted with said faith, Clinton would often talk about religion. Like Carter, Clinton criticised the increasing conservatism of the Southern Baptist Church.
George W. Bush- Methodist, formerly Episcopalian
George W. Bush was raised in the Episcopalian faith of his parents but converted to Methodism upon marriage to Laura in 1977. Bush’s faith was not serious until 1984, when he proclaimed himself a ‘born-again Christian’ after meeting an evangelical preacher in Texas. His parents introduced him to Billy Graham in 1985. It was from then that Bush became more devout. He credits his newfound faith and wife Laura in his decision to give up drinking. When he ran in 2000, there was an implication that his religious faith would bring back morality after the Clinton 90s. Bush continues to attend church regularly.
Barack Obama- Non-denominational Protestant, formerly United Church of Christ
Barack Obama was raised in a secular household, as his stepfather was uninterested in religion. In his twenties, Obama became more religious after attending church and community events. He became a member of the Trinity United Church of Christ in the early 90s after getting to know the pastor. During the election, his relationship with Pastor Jeremiah Wright and the church was scrutinised due to Wright’s extremely controversial comments. Obama resigned from the church. During his candidacy and presidency, Obama was falsely accused by some of being a Muslim.
Donald Trump- Non-denominational Protestant, formerly Presbyterian
Donald Trump’s religious beliefs are generally unclear, but he has declared himself non-denominational. His family was affiliated with a Reformed church in New York but he is not believed to have been an active member. Trump was associated with the Presbyterian faith but declared himself non-denominational in 2020. He has courted the Christian right and became associated with noted evangelical Paula White.
Joe Biden- Roman Catholic
Joe Biden is the second Catholic president. Biden’s family was Catholic and he was raised in the church. His stance on abortion has caused some controversy and he has been refused communion due to his pro-choice actions. Biden attended the Holy Trinity Catholic Church as VP and again as President. Kennedy attended the same church.
Excellent write up. I accept that Trump gives evangelicals what they want. I suspect he has no particular religious faith beyond self-worship