Episode 6.2 Bonus: “Frederick, is God dead?”

Thanks to generous donations from our supporters, we created “Q & Abe” – a podcast that investigates real questions from visitors to the Cottage. This bonus episode accompanies the second episode of Season 6, “Did Lincoln ever go to church?” .

As we talk to our guests about all kinds of things for the show, we sometimes end up with things that don’t quite fit in the main episode, but we don’t think that should keep you all from hearing them. John O’Brien shared more stories about the Lincoln family’s life at New York Ave Presbyterian, and Dr. Corey Walker explained how Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth were grappling with how the god they believed in could let slavery happen.

In addition to the embedded media player below, you can find the podcast on Apple Podcasts / Spotify / Google Podcasts or wherever you get podcasts. You also can read below for a transcript of the episode.

Transcript Bonus 6.2

Joan Cummins: Hi everyone – This is Joan and Callie from Q&Abe, a podcast by President Lincoln’s Cottage.

Callie Hawkins: As we talk to our guests about all kinds of things for the show, we sometimes end up with things that don’t quite fit in the main episode, but we don’t think that should keep you all from hearing them.

JC: This bonus episode accompanies episode 6.2, ‘Did Lincoln ever go to church?’, so if you haven’t listened to that one yet, it might be a good place to start.

CH: When we spoke to John O’Brien about Lincoln’s time attending New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, he had a plethora of great stories about the president and his family. Here’s one I found particularly moving:

John O’Brien: The children went to Sunday school at New York Avenue Presbyterian. In fact, uh, Willie, the older child at home, did express an interest in becoming a pastor. He was active in the Children’s Missionary Society, in which they learned about what the church was doing in foreign missions, particularly in China. And when Willie died on February 20, 1862, he had a very large funeral in the East Room of the White House. But on his deathbed, he did tell Pastor Gurley that he had six dollar coins on the mantel in his room and he wanted to give those to the Church Missionary Society. So that entry was duly made in the church finance books and we have that record today.

JC: And here’s another that is a classic case of Lincoln’s sense of humor.

JO: So, there was, uh, an anecdote that one snowy evening, at the end of the prayer meeting, that Lincoln had ducked out just before the meeting ended, and went out the side door of the church. He was followed by two young men, then in their 20s, and they wanted to, they were curious as to what he did after leaving the church. They followed him all the way to the White House. As Lincoln turned the corner into the White House driveway, as he disappeared, the boys stopped and started to turn to go back to the church, but Lincoln leaned backwards, his tall frame, head just peering over the back of the column and said, “Thanks for the escort boys!” and continued into the White House.

So that story through these two boys who stayed with the church through their dying days and became elders themselves, and that became part of the, the lore of New York Avenue, which I believe was true. And continues to be one of the sweet stories about Lincoln’s association with us.

CH: In our conversation with Dr. Corey Walker from Wake Forest Divinity School, he brought up a fascinating example of people grappling with how the God they believed in could allow slavery to happen.

Dr. Corey Walker:  Religion also provides the language of critique, and here, none other than the legendary Frederick Douglass provides us with a critical understanding of that. In Boston’s Faneuil Hall, Douglass is really denigrating the nation after, in 1850. And he and Sojourner Truth are on a platform, developing, Douglass is railing against what’s going on in the U.S. and railing against, uh, the Missouri Compromise, and, of course, what happens is that Sojourner Truth asks Douglass a question, or raises a question. “Frederick, is God dead?” And in many ways, what Sojourner Truth was reminding Douglass of is that the languages of the nation may be exhausted, the wells of an attenuated American democracy may be shallow, but there are other ways and other alternatives for understanding nation-making and also creating new forms of citizens, and also creating a new polity, are available in and through those deep resources of the religious traditions that Douglass has this real ambiguous relationship, with much like Abraham Lincoln.

JC: As Corey said in our main episode, doubt is always part of faith, and I always enjoy seeing those connections between things people wonder now and things they were wondering then.

CH: Thanks for listening, and please subscribe to stay up to date with the show! We’ll see you again in a week with our next full episode.

JC: This episode was produced by me, Joan Cummins, with Callie Hawkins, Haley Bryant, and additional support from the President Lincoln’s Cottage team. Music for Q&Abe was written, performed, and is copyrighted by Clancy Newman.

CH: Q&Abe is made possible by listeners like you. You can support the show by joining Team Lincoln at lincolncottage.org, where you can also check out our other online and in-person programming. You can reach us at [email protected].

JC: President Lincoln’s Cottage is a home for brave ideas. Stay curious!