Recently, I was given the opportunity to visit the home of America’s third president, Thomas Jefferson. Monticello is a magnificent piece of architecture and historical significance to this individual who understand that freedom of religion necessitated a separation BETWEEN church and state (FYI — This is key to understanding Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802). And my ability to join thousands of others to visit Jefferson’s home is thanks to a Jewish man named Uriah P. Levy.
There is much to write about Uriah P. Levy, including his efforts to abolish flogging as a form of naval punishment and the fact that he was the first Jewish man to reach the level of Commodore (Admiral) in the United States Navy (for more information on the life of Uriah P. Levy, click here). He encountered anti-Semitism while serving his country and perhaps the reason he so admired Thomas Jefferson. He once wrote of President Jefferson …
“I consider Thomas Jefferson to be one of the greatest men in history, the author of the Declaration and an absolute democrat. He serves as an inspiration to millions of Americans. He did much to mould our Republic in a form in which a man’s religion does not make him ineligible for political or governmental life.”
What is significant about this statement is that Levy did not perceive of Jefferson as being prosecutorial towards the Jewish or any religion, Jefferson gave him hope for Jewish life in America and that is one of the primary reasons why he and his family since then have worked tirelessly to save the home of one of our founding fathers. However, and this is the tragic irony in this story, Jefferson was not a Christian. The docent from the tour and I discussed the possibility that while Jefferson did not completely fit the classic mold of a Deist, his Jefferson Bible definitely proved he was not a Christian as he denied not only the miracles of Jesus but the possibility that Jesus could have been resurrected from the dead. His Bible left behind the image of a really nice guy but not the truth that Jesus is the Messiah of all people.
While at Monticello, I imagined what I would have said to Jefferson and Uriah P. Levy if given a chance (see picture to the left). I would have encouraged President Jefferson to reconsider his Enlightenment approach to religion and consider the words of Jesus himself in John 14:6 and elsewhere. I would have thanked him for his letter to the Danbury Baptists and sadly informed him of how many have mangled the intent behind the letter.
However, it is to Uriah P. Levy that I would devote the majority of my conversation. I would apologize to Commodore Levy for the anti-Semitism he experienced while defending our country … an anti-Semitism more than likely coming from those who professed to follow Jesus. I would also commend him for desiring to preserve the home and legacy of Thomas Jefferson. I would also remind him that preserving a home here on earth, while admirable, does nothing to satisfy God’s accounting ledger in which we are in the red unless we have the red of Jesus’ sacrifice on our lives. I would tell him that a mansion is possible in heaven that will far outshine Monticello, if only he would believe in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah.
Unfortunately, I cannot have this conversation with either the president or the commodore. I can only pray that someone did before Jefferson died in 1826 and Levy passed from this world in 1862. However, I can and do and will continue to have this conversation with every Jewish person God brings into my life. I will do so for President Jefferson and Commodore Levy and for every lost soul in the world.