Who Was the First U.S. President to be Baptized While in Office?

May 12, 2015

by Ron F. Hale

With a nick-name of “Give ’em Hell, Harry!” maybe Harry S. Truman got that “old time religion” and was baptized. Teddy Roosevelt was a “rough rider” did he have a blinding light experience like Saul (who became Paul) in the book of Acts? What about Bill Clinton?

Do you give up?

It was President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Some days after his inaugural ceremonies on January 20, 1953, the new president was baptized[i] on the first Sunday of February at the National Presbyterian Church in Washington D.C.

Leading up to the election (in which Eisenhower gained 55 percent of the popular vote and 442-to-89 margin in the Electoral College), he had met with Billy Graham numerous times on the campaign trail. Graham’s spiritual advice seemed to strengthen the new president’s vision for America.

Eisenhower, one of the most powerful military generals of World War II, was seeing a need for spiritual healing in America. He said, “I think one of the reasons I was elected was to help lead this country spiritually.” He went on to say, “We need a spiritual renewal.”

After his Sunday baptism, Eisenhower gave an address from the Oval Office later that evening for the American Legion’s “Back to God” ceremony. He called America back to her spiritual foundations. A few days later, he was the guest of honor at the first-ever National Prayer Breakfast, thereby setting a new tradition in place.

In 1954, Eisenhower was instrumental in Congress adding “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. Very soon, “In God We Trust,” was added to the American postage stamp and our paper money.

After taking his oath of office, President Eisenhower asked the 125,000 people in attendance to bow their heads in prayer. He prayed:

Almighty God, as we stand here at this moment my future associates in the Executive branch of Government join me in beseeching that Thou will make full and complete our dedication to the service of the people in this throng, and their fellow citizens everywhere.

Seventy million Americans saw and heard this prayer on the television broadcast and it became the talk of the nation.  By the end of the decade, church and synagogue membership had risen to 69 percent, up from 49 percent in 1940.  It can be argued that this president did in fact foster a spiritual renewal in postwar America![ii]

 

[i] The author of this article comes from a Southern Baptist tradition with Anabaptist leanings and realizes that the Greek word baptizó (baptize) means to dip or plunge under water, however, for the sake of unity wishes to focus possible discussion more on the president’s spiritual leadership of a nation—not an “immersion” verses “sprinkling” debate.
[ii] Kevin M. Kruse, One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America, (New York: Basic Books, 2015), ix-xv. While I do not agree with some of the basic premises of this book, the author does share some key facts of the era. This reference represents some of the facts and statements found in the introduction to the book.

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Les Prouty

Ron,

Thanks for this. I didn’t know this about President Eisenhower. And I really appreciate this:

“for the sake of unity wishes to focus possible discussion more on the president’s spiritual leadership of a nation—not an “immersion” verses “sprinkling” debate.”

God bless.

    Ron F. Hale

    Thanks Les — I hope you are doing well!

David R. Brumbelow

Good article.
I did not know this about President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

I do wonder if historians will one day list the 1950s as one of the Great Awakenings in America.
Great revival happened in those days.

David R. Brumbelow

    Ron F. Hale

    David,
    Most biographers of Eisenhower have skipped over his baptism and spiritual leadership. Very sad! Good hearing from you!

    Max

    “… the 1950s as one of the Great Awakenings in America.”

    Well, one thing is for sure … I was greatly awakened in the 50s! I can give personal testimony to the spiritual well-being of churches in the area in which I was raised and came to Christ. The churches were packed from parking lots to prayer altars … Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday evening, the doors seemed to be always open. I have memories of crowded Wednesday night prayer meetings with folks lingering in prayer for hours … a good sign of spiritual awakening. Some of those same churches now have platforms built over tear-stained altars to allow more room for Christianity Lite to strut.

Carl W. Garrett

Good to know this about the President. I was a teenager in the 50’s and experienced some great revivals in the churches my father pastored. Long to see some of those again.

    Ron F. Hale

    Carl, I’ve heard you talk about the revivals in the 1950s and 60s. Most of my generation and younger have never seen a move of God that left a town or city dramatically changed. Oh how we need a fresh fire to fall. Blessings!

Max

“Graham’s spiritual advice seemed to strengthen the new president’s vision for America.”

“Billy Graham is one of the best ambassadors our country has but he told me, ‘I am an ambassador of heaven.’” — Dwight D. Eisenhower

Every U.S. President since World War II has met with Billy Graham, including Barack Obama. Most have been humble enough to seek and accept his counsel, beyond just meeting him.

    Ron F. Hale

    I like that quote — Max!

Sam Schmidt

Great information and a wonderful sermon illustration no less. Thanks Ron for sharing this.

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