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home : features : local life July 27, 2016

7/2/2013 12:31:00 PM
With historical re-creation, Kingman man hopes for a religious revival
Grif Vautier, dressed as historical figure Jonathan Witherspoon, displays the Declaration of Indpendence at Kingman Presbyterian Church. Witherspoon was the only clergyman who signed the document in 1776. Vautier will give two presentations in Kingman during July.JC AMBERLYN/Miner
Grif Vautier, dressed as historical figure Jonathan Witherspoon, displays the Declaration of Indpendence at Kingman Presbyterian Church. Witherspoon was the only clergyman who signed the document in 1776. Vautier will give two presentations in Kingman during July.

Kim Steele
Miner Staff Reporter

KINGMAN - The Rev. John Knox Witherspoon, portrayed in costume by retired Kingman Presbyterian Church pastor Grif Vautier, proudly holds up a copy of the Declaration of Independence and his well-worn Bible as he stands between two flags in the church's fellowship hall.

One is a copy of the red, white and blue "Betsy Ross" flag designed during the American Revolution, with 13 white stars depicting the 13 original colonies occupying the new country. The other features a pine tree and the statement "An Appeal to Heaven." It is a copy of the flag originally flown in 1775 by George Washington's Navy.

Witherspoon, the only clergyman who was a signer of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, is not afraid to make the connection between God and the new nation that broke away through force from Great Britain.

In fact, the sixth president of Princeton University, who came to America from Scotland in 1768, is both eager and proud to set the record straight about the beliefs of the nation's forefathers.

"God is mentioned four times in the Declaration of Independence," bellows Witherspoon in a thick Scottish accent. "This shows how much men and women of faith were involved in the founding of the country. And after the declaration was signed, the congress said it was to be announced first from the pulpits that gave us spiritual freedom. The true story of our spiritual heritage has never been told to our children."


Vautier sits back in a chair and pulls a hat off his white-wigged head. Several reference books - "God of Liberty" by Thomas S. Kidd, "John Witherspoon and the Founding of the American Republic" by Jeffry H. Morrison, and "Samuel Adams, A Life" by Ira Stoll - rest on a nearby table as he begins to discuss his long-time portrayal of several prominent historical figures.

They include Witherspoon; John Calvin, a French theologian and pastor; John Knox, a Scottish clergyman and a leader of the Scottish Protestant Reformation; and George Whitefield, an Anglican priest and powerful speaker who ignited the Great Awakening, a major religious revival in America.

Always a student of history, Vautier said he was looking for a way to make Reformation Sunday meaningful to his congregation after he moved to Kingman in 2000 from Clinton, Mass.

His first performance was as a news reporter interviewing Martin Luther, who sparked the Protestant Reformation in Germany. From there, Vautier moved on to other historical figures, writing scripts and performing at churches and schools.

Vautier will perform as Witherspoon during two free upcoming presentations. The first will take place at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Praise Chapel, 419 Harrison St. Another performance is scheduled for 6:45 p.m. July 10 at College Park Southern Baptist Church, 1990 Jagerson Ave.

"The whole purpose is for people to realize their spiritual roots," says Vautier. "We are totally oblivious about them. My hope is that by doing this, I can encourage Christians to be proud of their history and stand up for their faith. I see this as one small candle lit to illuminate the darkness surrounding our spiritual heritage.

"Revival has come in this country six times, and if the truth gets out, perhaps we can become a Christian nation again."


Witherspoon, a man described in history books as of medium height, somewhat stout, with bushy eyebrows, a prominent nose and large ears, was president of what was then called the Log College of New Jersey (now Princeton) from 1768 to 1792. He was a delegate to the Continental Congress from 1776 to 1782 and was twice elected to the New Jersey Legislature, serving on more than 100 committees.

At first, Witherspoon abstained from political concerns, but quickly came to support the revolutionary cause. He was elected to the Continental Congress in time to vote in favor of Richard Lee Henry's Resolution for Independence, declaring the united colonies to be free of the British Empire.

Shortly after, he voted for the Declaration of Independence, declaring to an opposing member that in his opinion, the country "was not only ripe for the measure, but in danger of rotting for the want of it."

"By 1776, I was fully involved," says Witherspoon, noting 27 of the 56 delegates who signed the Declaration were his students. "The British parliament was trying to pay bills from another war, and they came up with the Sugar Act, the Stamp Act and all these other acts. They were all acts of foolishness. Then they instituted the tea tax, which was a steep tax, and we steeped that in Boston Harbor. The British accused the college of being a seminary of sedition, and King George the III called what was going on in America the Presbyterian Rebellion because the majority of officers were clergy."

Witherspoon says members of the Continental Congress began debating in May 1776 about whether the new country should go to war against Great Britain, although blood already had been shed. When a decision was reached, Thomas Jefferson was asked to write the Declaration of Independence and the document was signed by the congress.

Witherspoon says it was quickly printed and distributed throughout the colonies on horseback and by foot.

"What makes a man give up land, riches and his life for what seems like a hopeless situation?" asks Witherspoon. "Many of these men were godly men. They had times of trial in their faith, as do we all, but in their writings they explained their beliefs.

"I signed the Declaration because I believe God meant for all men to be free. When a government becomes tyrannical, it is no longer ruled by God. Great Britain wanted to create a bishop of America from the Church of England, which would have squelched all voices of religious dissension here.

"We were meant to be free to worship."

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Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, July 5, 2013
Article comment by: Tiredof ReadingThisTripe

"Government is instituted for the common good for the protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness of the people and not for profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men…"
--John Adams

Posted: Wednesday, July 3, 2013
Article comment by: Frank Lee Speaking

@ansons nephew

"And now we will hear from the usual suspects that we are a"Christian nation." Still wrong, but they'll say it anyway."

As well as hearing from the usual crowd of athiests. And look, you are first out of the box. I really miss Lori G-D at times, but you have certainly picked up the torch.

And funny, I did not see one comment stating that we are a "Christian Nation" before I typed this. So wrong as usual AN.

It makes me LOL.

Posted: Wednesday, July 3, 2013
Article comment by: AMERICAN PATRIOT

Socialists do one thing extraordinarily well...with the coming up of a new generation, "Re-Write" history. Yes, oh uneducated one, we WERE, at one point in this nation, known as a Christian nation. I guess if I went to Northern Socialist University or there abouts, I would share your ignorance too. For those of you who keep sounding off, as you do in every other controversial thread, as the modern day enlightened ones, allow me to point this out...not everything is relative. There is right and there is wrong. Its so hypocritical to lash out at Christianity and the talk of "coexist" when most of you HERE are the biggest religious freaks of all! You worship yourself at the alter of self where man and his desires are exalted. That's called RELIGION, some treat baseball etc like that. Lastly, you're REALLY showing your ignorance if you think for a second religion is responsible for the bad in this world. Lets talk about past governments and EVIL leaders who are responsible for untold millions, even billions of deaths (PAGAN BABYLON, THE CAESARS, COMMUNISM, NAZI GERMANY ETC). We live in an era of irresponsible media with an agenda who take horrific acts, run their stories over and over on untold millions of tv sets...there by creating what "Appears" to be a major problem. Remember Joseph Gerbles...

Posted: Wednesday, July 3, 2013
Article comment by: anonymous anonymous

Out of season Colonial Halloween costume or is this another Tea Party idea with a bit of religion thrown in for good measure? I think this Colonial costume idea was tried by the Tea Party and it has not changed much in America other than divide us into the extremist's versus the moderates in the GOP!

Posted: Tuesday, July 2, 2013
Article comment by: Moderately Independent

@ LA

"I will instead just write a blog about it."

As if someone really cares about your blogs...

Yesterday's news and parroting of...well you and everyone else knows...

Posted: Tuesday, July 2, 2013
Article comment by: anonymous anonymous

Costumes are for Halloween! I think the tea party tried this game of wearing them cute colonial out of season Halloween outfits, not impressive to me, anyone who has to wear a costume or disguise to garner followers is hiding something, is his church congregation in need of a boost in membership, need more donations for the Sunday pulpit offerings? The Constitution needs no costume dressed, disguised right wingers to fool anyone, its a beautiful document, signed and created by many different men who though imperfect did design a document today many on the far right wing make a mockery of, by trying to pretend they believe in it but only believe in the parts they like!

Posted: Tuesday, July 2, 2013
Article comment by: Truth Teller

Check out The History of Gun Control on youtube What happens without the bill rights for everyone !!

Posted: Tuesday, July 2, 2013
Article comment by: Kathy Arellano

In this country, we are fortunate to enjoy religious freedom. Our country celebrates a rich diversity of belief systems because of that freedom.
I think it is right and good to find meaning in one's ancestry, to learn what those ancestors believed.
I also think it is right and good to respect the beliefs of others and make every effort to coexist peacefully. Too many wars have been fought and lives lost over an insistence that one belief system is of value and others are not.
Can we simply agree to disagree and leave it at that?

Posted: Tuesday, July 2, 2013
Article comment by: Moderately Independent

Subscribed to this one...where's the popcorn?

Posted: Tuesday, July 2, 2013
Article comment by: Linda Athens

Good for Pastor Vautier. Will try to attend one of his presentations.

With all due respect, under the picture it says one person, Witherspoon, was a Clergyman when in fact 24 of the signers had seminary degrees.

And it was the many pastors themselves that pushed the American Revolution right from the pulpit (Yankee Doodle Went to Church) but there is so much misunderstood and now left out of our founding history, I will instead just write a blog about it.

Posted: Tuesday, July 2, 2013
Article comment by: Uncommon Sense

did they have the black church members dressed as slaves also? absolutely ridiculous.

Posted: Tuesday, July 2, 2013
Article comment by: Trained Observer

Sorry but your god is not everyone elses. We have never been 'a christian nation". there is no requirement to have a religious faith here - in fact that is why the majority of europeans left europe. What a huge waste of time.

Posted: Tuesday, July 2, 2013
Article comment by: AMERICAN PATRIOT

This is a wonderful article. Just observing some of the names mentioned. It's difficult on the eyes when ones sees the names of Princeton, Harvard etc. These school were institutions of the gospel first, training men to preach the Word. To comment on the hopes for revival...we will never have one unless we have a spiritual, heart felt revival first one not of religion, but one of repentance and relationship with Jesus Christ. Along the same times mentioned in this article was another great man, Jonathan Edwards, who preached "Sinner's in the hands of an Angry God." That WAS a revival

Posted: Tuesday, July 2, 2013
Article comment by: pl .....

it's a funny thing, that those who raise their voices against any thought of this nation becoming Christian will, in the same breath, stand behind mass murder of the unborn, and the perversion of those who manage to get through that Holocaust (a reference to aggressive indoctrination of young children into homosexuality at public schools today), among other travesties. So really, as nature abhors a vacuum, a nation will be driven by one or another ideologically-motivated group. The idea that Christianity can be cast aside for some beneficient, placid, warm & fuzzy liberal/whatever agenda is nonsense.

Posted: Tuesday, July 2, 2013
Article comment by: Anson's Nephew

And now we will hear from the usual suspects that we are a"Christian nation." Still wrong, but they'll say it anyway.

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