Our nation has been through a lot in recent days. Sometimes it helps to remember our Spiritual roots and give thanks to God. That’s what our family did this year on 9/11. We headed to the Capitol in Washington, DC, and took a Spiritual Heritage Tour sponsored by a Bible-based non-profit and a member of Congress. It was beyond enlightening, to say the least.
These after-hours tours take you to locations that most never visit. I have been associated with DC most of my life and must admit, I have never taken an actual Tour of the monuments and sites. Visited, yes. Conducted business of one kind or another there, yes. However, an actual tour?
We learned the basics, such as the Capitol rotunda having two domes, one inside the other. Who knew? We could gain access to these areas with a member of Congress, but our two-hour session did not have time for that.
Instead, we had the numerous frescos discussed, pointing out, for instance, the 1821 John Trumbull painting of the Declaration of Independence and seeing how many of the signers we could name. (No, George Washington was not there.) About 50% of those present in the picture were ordained ministers in addition to their other jobs, also about 50% of these founding fathers opposed slavery. (We received specific numbers, but the commentary was too fast for me as I tried to balance my phone for photos and a headphone set for listening to our guide.)
Spiritual background was added to the upbeat commentary that was unlike any tour that I could imagine. Rather than an overview of history, we received insights into the personalities of historic figures. We heard of Dwight Eisenhower’s childhood challenge of an almost-amputated leg and the turnaround after prayer. Our guide shared how a known womanizer like Benjamin Franklin experienced a change of heart after he began a lifelong friendship with revivalist preacher George Whitfield.
We examined the Baptism of Pocahontas painting, often referred to as the Marriage of Pocahontas, in an effort to eliminate most religious references. (Never mind that these European men met her when she was just 13, the whole conversion preparation, Bible study and process would take another year to complete in anticipation of any impending Christian marriage.) On another wall, we glimpsed the Pilgrims holding a Bible study and Christopher Columbus offering up a prayer upon his landing in America. Statuary of figures such as the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., spread before us and the move to eliminate from textbooks all mention of the fact that he had been a pastor, contacting other pastors, from his jail cell. Why had the spiritual commentary been scrubbed from the historical record?
The group was reminded that the often-touted phrase “separation of church and state” could not even be found in the US Constitution. Instead, the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” had frequently been employed against religious groups, instead of protecting their free speech and free religious expression.
Our group entered the floor of the House of Representatives, usually not allowed with any tours and generally the whole chamber was not even shown on TV anymore for security purposes. There the words stood: “In God We Trust” featured prominently over the Speaker of the House’s seat, the one phrase which had been cut from the model in the Congressional Visitor’s Center, until public outcry insisted that the Architect of the Capitol create an accurate model. Profiles of famous lawmakers surrounded the chamber, high near the ceiling. Only one was not in profile, gazing straight-on with full face peering down across from the Speaker: the law-giver Moses.
It was an amazing night. Our kids were able to accompany us and they were blown away by the commentary and the behind-the-scenes access.
Did you know that there’s a small chapel in the Capitol?
I glanced at an open Bible there turned to Psalm 91, the chapter on God’s protection. Very appropriate for 9/11 and hurricane season… and for every day, starting at the seat of the government and flowing out to bless the people.
If you have the opportunity to take a spiritual heritage tour of sites in our nation’s capital, I would recommend it. In my opinion, it’s not faith in America, but America’s faith in God that has made our nation great. Now more than ever, we need to not lose sight of that vital part of our national history and foundation.
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