Most American Presidents (Including Donald Trump) Have Followed This Religion
Americans talk a lot about the role of religion in politics and the separation of church and state. And the Constitution prohibits any kind of religious test or requirement for people running for public office. But interestingly enough, most of America’s presidents have been Christian. That includes our current president, Donald Trump.
Read on to get the details on this fascinating pattern — and to see whether any of our presidents have attended the same kind of church as you.
1. Almost all American presidents have been Christian
As the Pew Research Center reports, almost all of our presidents have been Christians. That probably doesn’t surprise anyone with a basic knowledge of American history. But as The Huffington Post explains, some presidents’ religious lives have troubled or surprised the Americans whom they served. The Post notes that in the first 200 years of American history, most presidents “worked diligently to keep their religious lives private and to keep some sort of wall between their religion and the office.” Yet in recent years, presidents and presidential candidates have “often struggled to balance their private faith with their public duties.”
Next: A quarter of U.S. president identified with this denomination.
2. About a quarter of U.S. presidents were Episcopalian
- Presidents with this faith: George Washington, James Madison, James Monroe, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, Franklin Pierce, Chester A. Arthur, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush
Nearly half of all presidents were either Episcopalian or Presbyterian, two Protestant denominations of Christianity. Pew reports, “Historically, about a quarter of the presidents – including some of the nation’s most famous leaders, such as George Washington, James Madison and Franklin Roosevelt – were members of the Episcopal Church, the American successor to the Church of England.”
Next: Another quarter of our chief executives attended this kind of church.
3. Similarly, almost a quarter of our presidents have been Presbyterian
- Presidents with this faith: Andrew Jackson, James Polk, James Buchanan, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, Woodrow Wilson, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump
Many of America’s presidents have attended Presbyterian churches, including Donald Trump. As the Pew Research Center explains, Presbyterianism has its roots in England and Scotland. The Presbyterian church has been active in North America since the 17th century. Pew notes that Andrew Jackson goes down in history as the first Presbyterian to occupy the Oval Office. The most recent, before Donald Trump, was Ronald Reagan.
Next: Many occupants of the Oval Office attended this kind of church, instead.
4. Some presidents attended Baptist churches
- Presidents with this faith: Warren G. Harding, Harry S. Truman, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton
A few presidents have identified themselves as Baptists. Though some people think that Harry S. Truman, a Democratic president who was born in Missouri, was the first Baptist president, that’s actually not true. Warren G. Harding goes down in history as the first Baptist to occupy the Oval Office. In recent decades, we’ve had two Baptist presidents: Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Carter was born in raised in Georgia, while Clinton was born and raised in Arkansas.
Next: Some presidents aligned themselves with this denomination.
5. Some presidents attended Methodist churches
- Presidents with this faith: Ulysses S. Grant, William McKinley, George W. Bush
We’ve had several presidents who aligned themselves with Methodist congregations: Ulysses S. Grant, William McKinley, and, most recently, George W. Bush. Pew notes that another president, Rutherford B. Hayes, sometimes attended Methodist churches. But Hayes also “moved among Protestant denominations during his life,” according to the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs at Georgetown University.
Next: A few presidents chose to worship at this kind of congregation.
6. A few presidents attended Unitarian churches
- Presidents with this faith: John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Millard Fillmore, William Howard Taft
The Pew Research Center notes that the Unitarian church ties with the Baptist church as the denomination with the third-largest share of presidents. (Each has had four.) Both John Adams and John Quincy Adams — two of the smartest presidents we’ve ever elected — attended Unitarian churches. As the BBC explains, early American Unitarians abandoned the doctrine of the Trinity. They also “gave greater importance to moving to a religion based on reason, and in adopting a hopeful view of human nature rather than seeing humanity as fallen and sinful.”
Next: Some chief executives didn’t feel a need to choose a denomination at all.
7. Some simply called themselves Christians
- Presidents with this faith: Andrew Johnson, Rutherford B. Hayes, Barack Obama
Pew notes that some presidents remained more private than others about their religious beliefs. And some didn’t ever align themselves with a specific denomination or congregation. For instance, Andrew Johnson, Lincoln’s second vice president and his successor, identified himself as a Christian. Yet Johnson never formally joined a specific congregation. Nor did he even align himself with a particular denomination of Christianity.
Next: A couple of presidents chose this kind of church.
8. Two presidents attended Disciples of Christ churches
- Presidents with this faith: James A. Garfield, Lyndon B. Johnson
Two presidents — James Garfield and Lyndon B. Johnson — attended Disciples of Christ churches. Johnson, interestingly enough, had attended his mother’s Baptist church in his youth. But he independently decided that the Disciples of Christ doctrine was most in accord with his own views. Disciples of Christ is a mainline Protestant church, the kind that Vox reports is dying off at a surprisingly quick pace. In fact, “mainline” churches — otherwise known as the more theologically or politically liberal white-majority churches — are shrinking rapidly, while evangelical churches are shrinking slowly, holding steady, or even growing.
Next: Two presidents aligned themselves with this kind of church.
9. A couple attended Dutch Reformed churches
- Presidents with this faith: Martin Van Buren, Theodore Roosevelt
If “Dutch Reformed” sounds familiar, here’s a refresher. The church was once the most popular Protestant denomination in the Netherlands, and spread around the world with Dutch immigrants. (It’s also one of only two modern churches that raise religious objections to vaccines.) Two American presidents have attended Dutch Reformed churches: Martin Van Buren and Theodore Roosevelt. Though Donald Trump considers himself a Presbyterian — more on that in the coming pages — Pew notes that Trump does have some connection to the Dutch Reformed church. As a young man in New York, he “began attending Marble Collegiate Church, a Dutch Reformed congregation.”
Next: Another two presidents chose this small church.
10. Two presidents were Quakers
- Presidents with this faith: Herbert Hoover, Richard Nixon
Similarly, two presidents have professed their faith as Quakers: Herbert Hoover and Richard Nixon. Many Americans don’t know any members of this small church. But as Mental Floss notes, a few notable figures throughout American history were raised in the Quaker church. Richard Nixon, of course, numbers among them. So does Herbert Hoover, who rarely attended Meetings as an adult but internalized the faith’s belief “in the power of the individual, the importance of freedom, and the value of ‘conscientious work’ and charity.” Some other notable Quakers whom most Americans will recognize? American settler Daniel Boone, folk singer Joan Baez, and actor James Dean.
Next: Just one president worshipped at this type of church.
11. One president was a Congregationalist
- Presidents with this faith: Calvin Coolidge
Though it’s not a particularly popular faith in modern America, Calvin Coolidge identified himself as a Congregationalist. As the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation explains, Congregationalism is “the faith of the Puritan pilgrims” and as such, “shaped the contours of American civic and religious life for hundreds of years.” Fox News argues that Coolidge’s faith can even be credited as “the secret to his success” in the Oval Office.
Next: Similarly, only one president professed this faith.
12. One president was a Catholic
- Presidents with this faith: John F. Kennedy
Many Americans consider themselves Catholic. Nonetheless, the nation has only elected a single Catholic president throughout the history of the office. As Pew points out, “Although Roman Catholicism has long been the nation’s largest religious denomination, John F. Kennedy remains the only Catholic president. And since Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, only one other Catholic, John Kerry, has been a presidential nominee on a major party ticket.”
Next: Just two presidents made this religious decision.
13. Two presidents have had no formal affiliation
- Presidents with this faith: Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln
Just two presidents — but two of our most famous presidents, at that — have had no formal affiliation with a church. As Pew explains, the first, Thomas Jefferson, lost his faith in orthodox Christianity at an early age. But he continued to believe in “an impersonal God” as the creator of the universe. The second, Abraham Lincoln, grew up in a religious household and spoke frequently about God. Yet he never joined a church. As Pew notes, “Scholars have long debated Lincoln’s beliefs, including the question of whether or not he was a Christian, and some aspects of his faith remain a mystery.” (The same could be said for other aspects of Lincoln’s spirituality.)
Next: Here’s what Donald Trump has said about his religion.
14. Donald Trump is affiliated with the Presbyterian church
As Pew reports, Donald Trump is the nation’s ninth chief executive to be affiliated with a Presbyterian church. Though he no longer regularly attends a Presbyterian church, Trump was raised a Presbyterian. He still considers himself one, and once said, “my religion is a wonderful religion.” Nonetheless, Trump caused quite a stir when, as a presidential candidate, he said that attends Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan. The church released a statement saying that Trump wasn’t an “active member” of the congregation.
Next: Here’s why Donald Trump isn’t alone in not attending church every Sunday.
15. But it’s getting harder for presidents to belong to a church
Time reports that the “internet era of politics” has changed a lot of things about presidents’ daily lives. But “the freedom to attend church and be part of a congregation while living at the White House may be the first true casualty of our new political age.” It has become more and more difficult for presidents to maintain a low-key presence in a local congregation, or to quietly slip into a pew for Sunday worship.
Nonetheless, a recent Pew survey by the Pew Research Center shows that many Americans care about their leaders’ faith. About half of American adults characterize it as important for a president to share his religious beliefs. And 40% of Americans think they hear “too little” religious discussion by their political leaders, as compared to the 27% who say they hear too much.
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