As part of the Fairmont State Presidential Lecture Series, Dr. Ken Millen-Penn presented "So Help Me God: Presidents, Christianity and the American Nation."
The 17th annual lecture took place at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 23, in the Turley Center Ballroom. The Presidential Lecture Series was established in 1989 to provide faculty the opportunity to share their work with colleagues and members of the community.
From Washington to Bush, every president of the United States has not only made reference to God in at least one public speech during their years in the White House, but each has also evinced a desire for God's aid in governing this nation. For many Americans, such statements are clear proof that the United States is a Christian nation, founded upon Christian values. For various reasons, including the fact that religion is a very powerful political reality in America today, Millen-Penn says that Americans are extremely interested in discovering whether the roots of the republic were planted in spiritual or secular soil, and whether the flowering of this nation has been the result of religion or reason.
"In exploring this ground, I propose to use the divining rod of presidential religious statements and beliefs, not because I think that that the president is the sole purveyor of our daily bread or high priest of the republic, or that by examining their words and faiths we can get a conclusive answer to the question," Millen-Penn wrote for the lecture program. "Rather, historically, these men have set the tone and tenor for American values during their tenure and therefore their religious statements, beliefs, and actions have thus been indelibly imprinted on the fabric of this nation's political and spiritual past and remain visible today."
Millen-Penn was born and raised in upstate New York. He received all three of his degrees in New York state: his B.A. in history at the State University College of New York at Oneonta; and his M.A. and Ph.D. in history at Binghamton University. He has been teaching at the college and university level since 1985 and is currently in his 11th year at Fairmont State where he holds the rank of Professor of History. Most of Millen-Penn's research and publications have dealt with political history. His dissertation studied the British Labour Party and the League of Nations; since then his primary research has dealt with the presidents of the United States. Apart from his current work on presidents and religion, he recently presented a paper in San Diego titled, "That Damned Cowboy in the White House: Teddy Roosevelt and the Emergence of the Heroic Horseman in Popular Culture." He is also writing a novel entitled "Father's Day."