In the hour-long drive to Washington, D.C., I think the awkwardness was finally dissolved in my car. For their part, the Founding Fathers treated me very politely, and I actually enjoyed their company. George Washington always spoke levelly to me, but in a natural and kindly way. His steady gaze seemed to be summing me up, as if measuring my character, but again, in a natural way.
Benjamin Franklin kept the mood light, and I possibly grew the fondest of him, holding him in my mind as an almost grandfatherly figure. Benjamin Rush was the least involved in the conversations, the void between him and the president still existent, but his calm voice often added depth to our conversations. I admired him as much as any of the three.
I passed my bag of cherries around, now happy to share with the gentlemen, and this time they each appreciated the snack and thanked me in their usual polite tones. Benjamin Franklin even said that cherries were now his favorite fruit. “For whenever I see or consume a cherry,” the rotund Founding Father had explained, “I will think of this extraordinary trip.”
I smiled and then turned to George Washington. “I suppose eating cherries doesn’t bring back only good memories for you, huh?”
“Pardon me, Ethan?” Surprise flickered in the president’s eyes.
“You know, with what you did to your father’s tree and all,” I pressed.
George Washington stared blankly at me, and I dropped the subject. Benjamin Rush, however, leaned forward. “I doubt not that is a fable told of our moral president in the schools today, probably to build character in the little boys or girls. Am I not correct?”
“Yes.” I glanced at Washington. “The story goes that after you chopped down a cherry tree, your father was angry and asked you about it, and you replied, ’I cannot tell a lie, father, you know I cannot tell a lie! I did cut it with my little hatchet.’ It is a story about telling the truth.”
George Washington blushed and waved his hand as if he hated to receive the attention.
“Speaking of schools,” Benjamin Rush continued, “I would very much like to inquire as to how the young are educated now. They still use the Bible as a textbook, I hope? Even in our age there are some who would have the Bible be less used in our schools.”*
I glanced at his face in the rearview mirror to make sure he was serious. “The Bible? You really used that as a textbook?”
“Of course! The Bible is essential to teach our young from. Don’t you use it?”
“No, not really. We used to have the Ten Commandments or something in our schools, but those have been or are being removed now. I even heard of a kid who was suspended for bringing his bible to school, so I don’t take my Bible into my high school.** I keep it in there.” I pointed to the glove box.
Benjamin Rush’s light-colored eyes flashed now as they met with mine in the rearview mirror. “This cannot be! What have the citizens of this fair country done to fight this? Surely they don’t continue to keep their kids in these petty schools, knowing that the beginning of wisdom comes from the fear of the Lord! And how dare these schools put our nation in jeopardy! Surely the level of education in our schools has dropped since the Bible has been removed from them.” Benjamin Rush looked as if he wanted to continue his passionate torrent, but he stopped short as if to try and regain his composure.
George Washington, meanwhile, had opened up my glove box and removed my Bible. I was almost ashamed at how far he had to dig to find it among the stuff in that compartment. It had been a while since I had looked between the leather cover of that Bible given to me by my parents.
George Washington almost tenderly held and carefully opened it, letting the onionskin pages rustle as they parted. Still looking at the Bible, he said almost softly to me, ”Ethan, of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked, Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice?
“And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. It is substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who, that is a sincere friend to it, can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?***”
George Washington paused and looked up from the Bible. His eyes seemed distant and thoughtful. “Ethan, if the Bible has been removed from schools, if the morality taught therein has been obstructed, than I fear for our nation. Without religious principle, our nation will lose morality. It will fall.” George Washington fell silent, his eyes still distant.
As if to steer the course of the conversation to less disheartening things, Benjamin Rush started asking questions about the state of the colleges in America, but he was also disheartened when he learned of the average age of college graduates. “I graduated from the College of New Jersey when I was fourteen!” he told me.
I hardly gave an answer. My mind was still on what George Washington had said. In the past few years, I had been lackadaisical at best in my Bible reading. I went to youth group, but more for the fun activities than anything else, letting the Bible lessons pass into one ear and out the other. I guess I considered myself to be a good person, good enough to not need the Bible as a crutch. What George Washington had said about morality being unsustainable without religion troubled me, to say the least.
The doctor behind me then started asking questions about the advances of medicine in my age, perhaps hoping to finally find something to be enthusiastic about. I was able to provide him with some enthusiasm in that regards, sharing my limited knowledge of the incredible medical capabilities of our age, but this only brought more questions from The Father of American Medicine.
Beside him, Benjamin Franklin pulled a small book called Poor Richard’s Almanac from his pocket and flipped through its pages. He then plugged his ear closest to the doctor with his fleshy finger and winked at me.
Finally the car grew silent again, an almost welcome silence for me. Dr. Rush had asked for a pen, and I had found one for him. He now was writing a good many notes on the inside pages of his medicine book. Benjamin Franklin was still flipping through the almanac he had written, and George Washington was still contemplative beside me. We were yet a good half-hour away from Washington, D.C.
This time I was able to find a station when I turned the radio on again, hoping to get away from my more serious thoughts. The Founding Fathers had given me more than enough to think about. The station I found had just finished a song, and a voice came over the radio.
“We will have more of the best new country songs for you, but first a report from our news anchor, Samantha White.”
As the feminine voice rolled off a series of news items, I only half listened, but the Founding Fathers, fascinated by the radio, listened intently. Suddenly there was an exclamation from one of the Founding Fathers that jarred me into listening more carefully.
The feminine voice was saying, “With gay marriage already legalized in Maine, Washington, Oregon, and Colorado, gay marriage activists are predicting a shift in favor of these Americans that feel they are being discriminated against.
"And even more hopeful for these activists is President Barack Obama’s evolving view on this issue. In May of 2012, he gave his support for Homosexual marriage, saying, “When I think about members of my own staff who are incredibly committed, in monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together. When I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don't Ask, Don't Tell is gone, because they're not able to commit themselves in a marriage. At a certain point, I've just concluded that for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.****”
The news anchor continued with more, but there was now such an uproar of indignation and questions from the Founding Fathers that I shut the radio off.
Benjamin Rush was the first to get a question across to me. “Who is that foul person that commends sodomy? Surely he is not this nation’s president!”
I was rather shocked at this sudden outburst. “Yes, that was our president, Barack Obama,” I said. “He just got reelected for his second term as leader over America.”
Benjamin Franklin guffawed in unbelief. “Stop playing with us, Ethan!”
George Washington looked at me gravelly, his eyes searching my face intently. “No,” he said at last, “Ethan is serious.”
A hush fell over the car, one of shocked disbelief. The men around me were clearly disappointed—and indignant. I broke the silence. “Friends, isn’t equal rights a good thing? I mean, I thought that is what you fought for, what you wrote in favor of on the Declaration of Independence. I have always been taught that homosexuals in our age our like the African Americans of your age, that they too are being discriminated against. Don’t they deserve basic rights as well?”
“Ethan, homosexuality is a sin, a gross sin!” Benjamin Rush exclaimed. “Should those caught in sodomy have the same rights as the respectable citizen? No, of course not! It is the responsibility of government, as the sword of God, to punish such sin, not condone it. If sodomy is encouraged in any society, that society will fall. It has happened before, many times. Like the Romans of old, so will America crumble if they allow sodomy to creep into and be encouraged within their states.” Benjamin Rush broke off and hid his face in his hands. He seemed to be praying.
George Washington, meanwhile, had flipped open my Bible, and he read from it, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals.*****”
The president looked up. “It is clear in this verse that homosexuality is a sin, one that leads to damnation. Unless people are turned from this sin, or any sin, they will suffer. Do you want that, Ethan? It is also clear from the latter part of the first chapter in Romans that homosexuality is one of the further steps of a decaying society. I had hoped that I was wrong, but now I am certain: Ethan, the America of your age is falling.”
Now it was my turn to be indignant. “But Mr. President, I was told in school that if anything, you would support equality for homosexuals! And that you definitely were not a Christian,” I continued, glancing down at the open Bible in his hands.
George Washington met my glare evenly. He spoke so calmly to me that I couldn’t help but also be calmed. “Ethan, let me be clear, I find the sin of homosexuality to be detestable and indecent. However, I think there is a distinction that needs to be made. We, every one of us, should love our fellow man as we do ourselves. Just because someone is a homosexual doesn’t mean we should never be in their company. But we will always hate the sin, not the person. We should seek to banish homosexuality and punish it accordingly, just as we do other sin of that matter, so as to keep as many as possible from destroying themselves in it. Do you not understand this now?”
I nodded, my throat too constricted to speak.
George Washington turned his gaze from me. “And as far as the claims of some who would say that I do not follow Christ, they are vastly mistaken. I see God’s providence in everything, and it is because of His grace that I sit beside you now. He is the one I live for.”
The rest of the trip was spent in silence. I couldn’t think of anything to say, and a brooding sort of silence seemed to hang over the men around me. I felt as if we were now like a time bomb; I was afraid that when this silence was broken, another burst of conversation would come. I didn’t want any more uncomfortable conversations with these men. I had had enough. Deep down inside, though, I wanted answers. That is perhaps why I was hesitant to leave the Founding Fathers when our nation’s capital came into view.
“Well, we are here,” I said. “It is close to dinnertime; could I get you a bite to eat before I head back?”
Before George Washington could graciously decline this offer, Benjamin Franklin hastily put in, “I am sure my comrades all acknowledge the wisdom of attaining some nourishment, more so since we are powerless to buy our own meals. That would be a great kindness to us, friend, if you could take us to one of the taverns here.”
I managed a smile. “No, I cannot bear you to a tavern, for they would not let me in the doors since I am a minor. How about I take you to the Old Post Office Pavilion? I have been there several times and enjoy the food court, and it is only a short distance away from the National Mall.”
I received no objections from the Founding Fathers, so I set our course for the old post office building. As I wound my way through the crowded streets of our nation’s capital, frequent exclamations of surprise and wonder came from the other three men. “This place is truly a worthy capital of our great nation,” George Washington said. “I am glad you have taken us here, Ethan.”
From the warm look that broke from his usually level gaze, I could tell Washington meant it. He seemed to appreciate the Capital more than the other two, though all three of them admired the place. This made me hopeful, for the gloomy mood seemed to lift a little from the group.
We reached the Old Post Office Pavilion, and I was lucky enough to find a parking space on the street. I walked with the Founding Fathers to the front of the place, but there we stopped to admire the imposing building before us. The Old Post Office Pavilion, now a mall, was an impressive sight. A clock tower rose to an impressive height from its white, almost castle-like walls.
We finally turned to head into the building, but the roundest of our group was not with us. “Where did that old gentleman get off to!” Benjamin Rush exclaimed, looking around for Benjamin Franklin.
Finally I spotted him. “There he is.” I pointed to where the old gentleman stood looking up at a statue. I called out to him, and Benjamin Franklin turned towards us and waved for us to come over.
As we approached, Benjamin Franklin smiled and motioned towards the statue. “An exact likeness, don’t you think?”
I looked up at the statue, noticing the name “Franklin” at its base. It was strange to look at that statue now that I had been in the company of the living version of the man.
George Washington broke into my thoughts, “Mr. Franklin, this statue in your likeness is all well and good, but I think we should move on at our friend’s leading. We are drawing quite a crowd, perhaps not all friendly, for some of them seem to be aiming odd devices at us.
A little concerned at Washington’s grave words, I looked around for the “odd devices”. Quite a crowd was gathering at the appearance of Benjamin Franklin, and several of them were taking pictures with their phones. “Don’t worry,” I said, “they are just taking pictures. I think it would be best to move on, though.”
Benjamin Franklin started to sidle up to one of the young persons that held a phone, no doubt to ask how it worked, but Benjamin Rush took hold of his arm and led him into the mall. A small crowd followed us all the way to the food court, but except for an occasional photo, our small group was left alone afterwards. It was at this food court that the three Founding Fathers got their first taste of an American cheeseburger, and notwithstanding the messiness (all three of them ate with a fork), they thought that the burgers were tasty.
We rose from our seats, and after rounding up Benjamin Franklin, whose curiosity had again driven him to wander from our group, we headed out of the mall. It was, as we stepped back out onto the street, that Benjamin Franklin nudged Benjamin Rush beside him, pointing to a pair of men who walked hand in hand.******
“Doctor, there is another of those ‘couples’,” Benjamin Franklin said, his voice uncharacteristically angry.
Benjamin Rush looked at where Mr. Franklin pointed, and his light eyes flashed. He turned abruptly to the people walking in and out of the mall behind him. “Citizens of America,” he said in a loud voice, “I beg you to listen to what I have to say.”
A handful of people looked up at the speaker, and a small half circle of them stopped before our group as Benjamin Rush continued. “It has been brought to my attention by this young lad, our friend, that the morality we once held as a people at the beginning of this nation has been pillaged. The values we once had have been thrown to the ground and trampled underfoot. How could this happen!”
I gather from this same friend beside me that you fight for the inalienable rights of mankind, and that is commendable! I myself fought for the rights of the black slaves of my age, forming the first abolitionist group with the gentleman beside me, Benjamin Franklin. But you as a people have taken this fight too far. You have taken it to the point where you would commend a foul sin, that of sodomy, as if it were that person’s right to live in such a way. I follow Christ; I believe in Him. So when He has put in his word that two men lying together as they would with a woman is worthy of death, I believe that homosexuality is not something that can be commended in any society!”
Benjamin Rush paused, and I grimaced at the shocked looks on all of the faces around me as I stood by the side of the three Founding Fathers. The crowd was growing. The thin half circle of people had grown much wider. Benjamin Rush started speaking again, but this time his voice was quieter. “I do not mean to be judgmental of any of you. That is not my place. Perhaps it is because you have removed the Bible from your schools that you commend this practice, perhaps you are just uninformed of the holy standards of our Lord, but this I know: you must not, you cannot, let homosexuality be welcomed in your society. The judgment of God will fall on this land if you do, and friends,” Benjamin looked around at the faces around him, “it will be a terrible judgment.”
In the silence that followed, several people voiced their approval or hesitantly clapped, but the majority of the crowd stood, stunned. Some of them were angry. One man, who stood with several other angry young men, stepped forward into the space between the Founding Fathers and the crowd. “Haters!” he said with teeth clenched. “How dare you condemn my lifestyle; how dare you judge me!” A string of profanity followed.
George Washington stepped forward. He was clearly angry, but he was also calm. “Sir,” he said levelly, “if you have any sense or character, I would ask that you immediately check your profane swearing in front of these people. It is a foolish and wicked practice.*******”
The man stepped in front of Washington so that his face was right in the president’s, and he swore again. I barely saw the fist that smashed into the man’s face a second later, sending him tumbling back onto the paved ground before the president. There was an exclamation from the leveled man’s friends, and they sprang forward to his aid. One of them stopped to help the foul-mouthed man up, who was holding a hand over his nose that was spurting blood. Three other men approached our group with fists raised.
George Washington calmly stepped back and handed something to Benjamin Franklin. “Please load this.” The words were barely out of his mouth before he had struck one of the oncoming fighters.
Benjamin Rush also prepared to defend himself, but the punch that he threw was deflected, and his intended target rammed into the doctor, sending him to the ground with a thud. It was then that I engaged in my first actual fight. I could not stand by when the three men I had befriended were being attacked.
I kicked at the man who had just flattened Benjamin Rush, kicking right in between his legs. To be sure, some would consider that a cheap shot, but with one of my friends already knocked out of the fight, the other an old, rotund man, and the last of my friends set upon by two men, the last thing on my mind was being polite.
It was as I turned from the victim of my well-placed kick, who now lay in the fetal position at my feet, that I saw something that sent chills up my spine. The man who had been knocked down by George Washington had torn himself loose from his friend and was making back at the president. His bloodied face was contorted with rage, and as he approached, he drew a knife from his belt. George Washington, defending himself from the two other men, was oblivious to his peril. The knife was raised and plunged at the president’s chest.
I don’t remember how I reached the knife in time, only remembering the hoarse yell I let out as I jumped forward. Both my hands gripped the wrist that held the knife, and I wrenched the arm back, keeping the knife from burying itself into the chest of our first president. This violent action made both me and the would-be murderer lose our balance, and I tumbled to the ground with him on top of me, still tightly clenching his wrist.
The man, denied of avenging himself, turned his fierce hate on me. His eyes glinted with rage, and while still pinning me down, he pressed the knife down at my chest. Blood dripped from his nose onto my face. I struggled with all my might, but the man was stronger than me and put all his weight on the arm holding the knife. The knife inched forward towards my body.
I looked around desperately for help, my arms strained and trembling from the immense pressure put on them, but there was no one to come to my aid. Benjamin Franklin was stooped over whatever it was he held in his hand, and Benjamin Rush was slowly picking himself up from the paved ground. I saw that a security guard was making towards the fight, no doubt alerted by the gasps of the crowd, but he was still fifty feet away. I turned lastly to George Washington, praying that he could save me, but he had been wrestled to the ground by the two other men. I was alone.
The knife pierced into my T-shirt, and I closed my eyes, awaiting the searing pain.
* When many public schools stopped using the Bible as a textbook, Rush proposed that the U.S. government require such use, as well as furnish an American Bible to every family at public expense. Cited from Wikipedia.
** In January of 2010, Kenneth Dominguez, 16, was suspended for two days after bringing his Bible to Gateway East High School in El Cajon. Cited from ABC 10 News.
*** From George Washington’s farewell address. Cited from Wikipedia.
**** On May 9, 2012, President Obama voiced this approval of gay marriage in an interview. Cited from ABC News
***** 1 Corinthians 6:9 NASB
****** Washington, D.C. has one of the highest gay/lesbian populations in the United States
******* The General is sorry to be informed that the foolish, and wicked practice, of profane cursing and swearing (a Vice heretofore little known in an American Army) is growing into fashion; he hopes the officers will, by example, as well as influence, endeavour to check it, and that both they, and the men will reflect, that we can have little hopes of the blessing of Heaven on our Arms, if we insult it by our impiety, and folly; added to this, it is a vice so mean and low, without any temptation, that every man of sense, and character, detests and despises it. -- George Washington. Cited from ushistory.org.