The obituary took me by surprise. When I first learned of the Rev. George Docherty, I unthinkingly placed him in the category of historical personage. Yet, there was the notice of his death on Thanksgiving, 2008, at the age of 97.
Along with those my age and younger, I learned the Pledge of Allegiance in its present form with the words “under God” as part of the text. Yet that wasn’t always the case. In historical terms those words were added rather recently and Rev. Docherty is credited with spurring the addition through a forceful sermon he delivered in 1954 in the presence of President Eisenhower.
I read Rev. Docherty’s sermon about a dozen years ago, and at the time was struck both by the oratory as well as by his arguments. To my dismay, while a Google search uncovered dozens of obituaries for the Scottish pastor, I was unable to find the complete text of the sermon. How unfortunate. As Christmas comes under its annual attack and as atheists are making headlines with assaults on religion ranging from mild to belligerent, reading his sermon in its entirety would make a wonderful launching pad for a national discussion.
As a nation we are becoming ever more accustomed to sound bites, entertainment masquerading as news, and shallow arguments impersonating thoughtfulness. Reading Rev. Docherty’s sermon can serve as a reminder not only of why the words “under God” were added to the Pledge, but also of an American tradition of articulating ideas in a manner that is actually worthy of those ideas.