There’s a monument on Connecticut Avenue in DC identifying John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg (1746-1807) as “The fighting parson of the American Revolution.” The British disparagingly called patriotic pastors like Muhlenberg “the Black Robe Regiment.” They weren’t an actual detachment of soldiers but a growing number of preachers in their typical black robes calling for independence from English tyranny. Muhlenberg was the most iconic figure associated with the Black Robed Regiment. He preached rebellion against tyranny as an act of obedience to God. He resigned his pastorate in Woodstock, VA to become a colonel in the Continental Army and worked closely with General Washington for the duration of the war. When a relative criticized Peter for abandoning his pastoral post, he wrote in response, “I am a clergyman, it is true, but I am a member of society as well as the poorest layman, and my liberty is as dear to me as to any man. Shall I sit still and enjoy myself at home when the best blood of the continent is spilling? Heaven forbid it! Do you think if America should be conquered, I should be safe? Far from it. And would you not sooner fight like a man than die like a dog?” His brother Frederick, also a preacher, questioned Peter’s involvement in the war effort, “You have become too involved in matters which, as a preacher, you have nothing whatsoever to do.” Peter responded by calling his brother a Tory (a British sympathizer). Frederick fired back that you cannot serve two masters. A short while later, the British invaded NYC in the Battle of Brooklyn Heights and burned Frederick’s church to the ground. Frederick had a sudden change of heart and became a member of the Continental Congress. After the war, Peter served three terms in the House of Representatives and a term in the Senate. Frederick joined him in Congress, acting as the first Speaker of the House. Jonathan Trumbull, another pastor turned civil servant, the Governor of Connecticut during the Revolutionary War, called for a day of fasting and prayer with words I have revised as a prayer:
O God, graciously pour out Thy Holy Spirit upon our country in this trying hour. Bring us to thorough repentance and genuine reformation. We beseech Thee, O Lord, to restore and secure these religious and civil liberties received from Thy hand. May this land become a mountain of holiness and a habitation of Thy righteousness forever. Confirm the union of these colonies in the pursuit and practice of religion which will honor Thee. Strengthen us in this resolve to secure a just and lasting peace, to Thy honor and glory. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Peter James served 42 years as the senior of Vienna Presbyterian Church in Vienna, VA — 21 years in the 20th century and 21 years in the 21st century. He retired in 2021 and now serves as Pastor-in-Residence at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
Even as a pastor, prayer came slowly to Pete. Read Pete’s story.