It's not often that a freshman delegate can make a stir in the tradition-bound House of Delegates here, but Robert L. Thoburn (R-Fairfax) managed to do that yesterday when he was quoted in a newspaper as saying "Oh pooh on Thomas Jefferson. He wasn't even a Christian. I'm a Christian."
Those words were featured as the "Quotation of the Day" in "ERA TIME," a newsletter produced three times a week by a group of women lobbying here for passage of the equal rights amendment. Thoburn a fundamentalist minister who runs the Fairfax Christian School, is an opponent of the ERA.
"I've never said 'pooh' in my life," he said when questioned about the quote. Copies of the Newsletter were being passed around among delegates this morning, greeted with snickers, raised eyebrows, grimaces and a few downright guffaws.
"That woman (Kay Peaselee of Common Cause) was trying to tell me I should support the Equal Rights Amendment because Thomas Jefferson would have." Thoburn said, "Jefferson is quoted by all kinds of people to support all kinds of different points of view."
Jefferson, he continued, lived at a time when the country was dominated by Calvinism. "He himself was not an orthodox Christian. He even had his own version of the Bible."
For the record, Jeffersonian scholar Dumas Malone said yesterday in an interview that Jefferson would be classified as a Unitarian, although he did not belong to an organized Unitarian church. "He said he was a Christian." Malone said, "He knew more about Jesus than any other president . . . Rites in his family were usually performed by an Anglican or an Episcopalian clergyman."
Jefferson wrote a synopsis of the Gospels in Latin, Greek, French and English. Malone said, in which he left out the miracles because he didn't believe them. But, most importantly, Jefferson "never attacked other people's religion."
Religious freedom and the separation of church and state were two of the great passions of Jefferson's life, Malone said. Jefferson wrote the articles of religious freedom in the Virginia Constitution, and, needless to say, is one of the major heroes of the General Assembly. He designed the Capitol in which it meets and wrote the rules under which it operates.