Virginia Anglicans Persecution Baptists in the 1780s
Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
Robert Heinlein wrote that, “Almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so.” His words are quite relevant and in a way consistent with the desires of the founders of the United States.
Since I am still working to finish Mine Eyes Have Seen to Glory, in order complete it as soon as I can, I figured that I would publish a slightly edited older post about the the separation of church and state. They are not really original to me, but they are born of reflection on the palpable political anger of the politicians, pundits and preachers of the political-religious movement that I refer to as the “Christian Right.”
In order to be clearly understood it is important for my readers to understand that I am not lumping all “conservative Christians” into the political Christian right. In fact some conservative Christian traditions and their followers are diametrically opposed to the political theology of the Christian Right, which has as its heart the theology of Christian Dominionism, something I have written about many times. This is a modernized understanding of political Calvinism, which has sometimes known as “Seven-Mountain” theology, as such I make a profound distinction between such groups and the political movement which calls itself the Christian Right and assumes that as such it speaks for all conservative Christians.
Gary North, a prominent ideologue of the movement who has advised many of the current Christian Right leaders of the Republican Party, and whose ideas are widely promulgated by the politicians, pundits and preachers of the Christian Right was quite clear in what this movement desires. “The long-term goal of Christians in politics should be to gain exclusive control over the franchise. Those who refuse to submit publicly to the eternal sanctions of God by submitting to His Church’s public marks of the covenant–baptism and holy communion–must be denied citizenship, just as they were in ancient Israel.” Thus, every time you hear the words “religious freedom” or “religious liberty” being uttered by them, please understand that they are talking about their religious liberty only, and that that liberty has at its heart the desire to establish their political-religious dogma as law of the land. Thomas Paine, the author of the amazing little book “Common Sense” which was so much a part of the thought of our founders noted, “Persecution is not an original feature in any religion; but it is always the strongly marked feature of all religions established by law.”
Robert Ingersoll, one of this first prominent skeptics in this country and acknowledged atheists wrote something quite profound in understanding the nature of what our founders intended and why there were protections both for and from religion in the Constitution:
“They knew that to put God in the constitution was to put man out. They knew that the recognition of a Deity would be seized upon by fanatics and zealots as a pretext for destroying the liberty of thought. They knew the terrible history of the church too well to place in her keeping or in the keeping of her God the sacred rights of man. They intended that all should have the right to worship or not to worship that our laws should make no distinction on account of creed. They intended to found and frame a government for man and for man alone. They wished to preserve the individuality of all to prevent the few from governing the many and the many from persecuting and destroying the few.”
Ingersoll correctly reflected the thoughts of Jefferson, Madison, Adams and even George Washington as well as early Virginia Baptist John Leland, and other pioneers of religious liberty like Roger Williams, the founder of the colony of Rhode Island.
According to every scientifically based survey of Christians and non-Christian attitudes toward the church and its religious involvement show that ever-increasing numbers of Christians are fleeing the church. Likewise, increasing numbers of non-Christians want nothing to do with it, even if they are favorably disposed to Jesus and his teachings.
In light of this fact, maybe it is time for Christians to get off their high-horse expecting that they should hold the rights to the political franchise and remember the words of James Madison who said, “Every new & successful example therefore of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance. And I have no doubt that every new example, will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Govt. will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.”
Finally, I want to add two quotes from the great Virginia Baptist leader who helped Jefferson and Madison in drafting the Virginia Statute on Religious Liberty, and the First Amendment.
“The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever. … Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.”
“Is conformity of sentiments in matters of religion essential to the happiness of civil government? Not at all. Government has no more to do with the religious opinions of men than it has with the principles of mathematics. Let every man speak freely without fear–maintain the principles that he believes–worship according to his own faith, either one God, three Gods, no God, or twenty Gods; and let government protect him in so doing, i.e., see that he meets with no personal abuse or loss of property for his religious opinions. Instead of discouraging him with proscriptions, fines, confiscation or death, let him be encouraged, as a free man, to bring forth his arguments and maintain his points with all boldness; then if his doctrine is false it will be confuted, and if it is true (though ever so novel) let others credit it. When every man has this liberty what can he wish for more? A liberal man asks for nothing more of government.”
I have to say these things because I refuse to be driven underground by a cult that neither believes or practices what it says, except in promoting their political and economic power at the expense of others, even if it means their subjugation and elimination of their Constitutional rights.
I especially say them for my Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and other friends from smaller religions and traditions, as well as my friends who are Atheists or Agnostics.
With that I say Amen, and wish you a good night and day.
3 responses to ““They knew that to put God in the Constitution was to put Man Out” Religion and State: The Further Apart the Better”
Great post, Steve. I preached in this very topic earlier this month. One of the basic principles traditionally held by Baptists is freedom of religion. I fear many if not most Baptist’s these days have gone over to the side of the dominionists.
Sadly you and I are both right. What I treasure about my time at Southwestern Baptist before the Fundamentalist takeover was learning about the Baptist link to true religious liberty. Most Baptist today are theocrats and also Dominionists