Charlottesville and a Christ-less Christianity

White Supremacist rally in Charlottesville

I’m still thinking about Charlottesville.  A lot of us are.

As a Christ-follower and pastor I am especially interested in the spiritual context in which these events of Charlottesville happened.

The symbols of the Charlottesville protests are familiar:

Confederate Flags.

Nazi Flags.

Nazi salutes.

We’re not as familiar with the spirituality of the symbols.

The symbols represent what I see as a “Christianity with Christ.”

Both Nazism and the Klan draw deep from the well of a “Christ-less Christianity. “

Nazi Germany was both a product of, and established in, Christian Europe.  Hitler’s favorite bed-time reading was Martin Luther.  Luther, though doing many good things (pretty good with a hammer and nail) was not perfect in his theology and practice – who is?
One view of Luther’s, embraced by Hitler, was his anti- Semitism.  Luther hated Jews.  I mean a deep down in his gut, burn down their houses, cut off their limbs, drown them, murder them, kind of hatred.

“Set fire to their synagogues or schools,” Luther wrote.

Jewish houses should be “razed and destroyed.”

“Force them to work, and deal harshly with them.”

“They must be driven from our country like mad dogs.”

Could the seed of Hitler’s hatred for and extermination of the Jews been planted by Luther?

Sure seems so.

On the night of November 10, 1938, Nazis killed Jews, shattered glass windows, and destroyed hundreds of synagogues.  Bishop Martin Sasse, a leading Lutheran pastor, immediately saw the connection between this event and Luther’s writings.  Shortly after the event, he published a collection of Luther’s anti-Semitic works.  In the forward, he applauded the “Kristallnacht” (The Night of Broken Glass), especially since it occurred on Luther’s birthday.  He also wrote that the German people should pay attention to the writings of Luther, who was the “greatest anti-Semite of this time, the warner of his people against the Jews.”

In his novel, “Mein Kampf,” Hitler himself named Luther as one of history’s reformers.  Hitler played the Jesus card.  In a speech on April 12, 1922, Hitler said,

“In boundless love, as a Christian and a human being, I read the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in his might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple broods of vipers and adders.  How terrific was his fight against the Jewish poison.  I realize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that he had to shed his blood upon the cross.”

Also, in “Mein Kampf,” Hitler wrote, “By destroying the Jews, I am fighting Christ’s battles.”

Have you heard anything like the following?  “The national government…will maintain and defend the foundations on which the power of out nation rests.  It will offer strong protection to Christianity as the very basis of our collective morality.”  That statement is from none other than Adolf Hitler.  I guess not everyone who wants to protect Christianity is a Christian.

What kind of Christianity did Hitler want to protect?  On what kind of Christianity did Hitler base their “collective morality?”

On April 26, 1933, Hitler signed the Nazi-Vatican Concordat (Treaty) and said, “Secular schools can never be tolerated because such schools have no religious instruction, and a general moral instruction without religious foundation is built on air; consequently  all character training and religion must be derived from faith.”  I think I hear some “Amens!”

One last quote from Hitler.  It’s a clincher.  It’s from a speech he made in 1934 at Koblenz: “National Socialism neither opposes the Church nor is it anti-religious, but on the contrary it stands on the ground of a real Christianity.”  Wait.  One more…There are so many:  “We tolerate no one in our ranks who attacks the idea of Christianity…in fact our movement is Christian.”  

If you operate on the “A picture is worth a thousand words” philosophy, check out this “God With Us” belt buckle from Nazi German and a baptismal font showing Jesus hanging with Nazi soldiers:

god_with_ustruth-christ-church4

Is it possible that Christian teaching supplied the fuel for the crematoria?  Did Christian doctrine pave the way for the poison that filled the showers?  Did Christian teaching lead Germany’s church leaders to advocate murdering six million Jews?

I’m afraid so.  A Christ-less Christianity.  A love-less religion.

We are  more familiar with the connection between the KKK and Christianity.  This pic makes me laugh and scream at the same time.  It’s crazy.  It’s scary.KKK-Christian-Prayer-Meeting-1

The Christian connection still exists and is a prominent feature of the KKK.  Check out this note from kkknights.com, “Our goal is to help restore America to a white Christian nation, founded on God’s Word.” Or this one Frank Ancona, the imperial wizard of the Traditional American Knights of the KKK, “We are a Christian organization.”  

One of the organizers of the “Unite the Right” protest in Charlottesville was the neo-Confederate “League of the South.” Under the “Core Beliefs” section on their website are these words, “…our primary allegiance is to the Lord Jesus Christ and His Holy Church.”  

I know.  Unbelievable.  My hands were shaking as I typed those words.

What does this mean?

First, we’ve all sighed with frustration over the, “We don’t recognize the user ID or password” error message we get when trying to log on to something.   I think I hear Jesus sighing as he looks at the Christianity practiced by these groups:  “I don’t recognize your Christian ID.”

The Christianity practiced by these hate groups is not Jesus.  

Is mine?  I have to look at my life, my behavior, my attitudes and ask, “Does my Christianity look like Christ?”  “Does Jesus look at me and say, ‘Yep, I recognize you as one of mine.’” “I see the love. I see the ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’”

Second, we need to admit that our brand of Christianity has failed to teach people to love others as they love themselves.  How can people continue to sit in our sanctuaries and Bible study classes and harbor hate toward others?  “And may the Lord cause you to increase and overflow with love for one another and for everyone else, just as our love for you overflows” (1 Thessalonians 3:12).

Third, Luke writes that Saul “was breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s followers” (Acts 9:1). The word “breathing out” is literally to “inhale” – “en pneo” – “in breathe.”  What I breathe in, I breathe out.   I need to spend some time each day breathing – breathing in the character and love of Jesus.  What I breathe in, I breathe out.

Fourth, let’s speak.  Let’s act.  “Where there is hatred, let us sow love.” 

Lord, save me from a “Christ-less Christianity.”

“White Christians Need to Act More Christian Than White” Jim Wallis

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The events of Charlottesville are heavy on my mind.  Yours too, I’m sure.

The question Marvin Gaye asked in 1971 is being asked today: “What’s Going On.”

The events did not happen in a vacuum.

There is a cultural, political, and a spiritual context.

Let’s talk spiritual.

American Christianity has a troubled relationship with race.  In the days of American slavery,  abolitionists and their opponents were inspired in their positions by their Christian faith.  As President Lincoln observed in his Second Inaugural Address, “Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God…”  

How can two polar opposite views be based on reading the same book?  Doesn’t the Bible speak with a clear, unequivocal, singular voice?  Maybe not.

Many have found in the pages of the Bible

-comfort in and encouragement for their racist views.

-justification for slavery, for segregation, for feeling superior, for atrocious treatment of African-Americans and other minorities.

Christian slave-owners in the United States had plenty of go-to Bible verses.

“When a slave owner hits a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner should be punished.  But if the slave gets up after a day or two, the slave owner shouldn’t be punished because the slave is the owner’s property” (Exodus 22:20-21).  Really?  I honestly don’t know what to say about that.  That just doesn’t sound like Jesus.

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Exodus 20:17).  Yep, #10 on the top 10 list of commands.  Do people really want to put a monument on public ground with this command?  A command that puts slaves and women, for that matter, on the same level as an “ox, or donkey”?  I’m afraid some do.

“Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all respect, not only for those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh” (1 Peter 2:18). Peter’s words were used by Christian slave owners ( and I use that phrase with reservation) to “control their Christian slaves” and keep them from protesting their brutal treatment.

The apostle Paul even returned a runaway slave (Onesimus) to his master (Philemon).  Slavery must be ok!  Look what Paul did.  Why didn’t Paul help Onesimus gain his freedom?  If Paul did not help an escaped slave, then we shouldn’t either!

Then there was the “Curse of Ham” in Genesis 9.  Genesis 9 has all the elements of an HBO special: nudity, sex, incest, dysfunctional families (Sounds like Game of Thrones!).  Genesis 9 describes how Noah cursed the descendants of his son Ham with slavery.  Over the centuries, Ham became widely portrayed as black.  Blackness and slavery and the idea of racial hierarchy became inextricably linked.  Many historians agree that by the 19th century the belief that African-Americans were descendants of Ham was a primary justification for slavery among Southern Christians.

Southern Baptists, the denomination in which I grew up, used a tucked away verse in Genesis to justify owning slaves.  It’s Genesis 4:15, which talks about the “mark of Cain.”  The Genesis story says God placed a “mark” on Cain for murdering his brother and lying about it.  Baptists in the South interpreted that “mark” to be dark skin.  Some Baptist pastors taught that there were separate heavens – one for blacks, one for whites.

In the early 1900s, William Archer, an Englishman, traveled by train and horse-back  through the South. He described the South as “sincerely religious.”  Yet, he also sarcastically observed, most southern Christians “would scarce be at ease in heaven unless they enter it, like a southern railway station, through a gate marked ‘for whites.’”

Ancient history?  Not at all.

Fundamentalist Bob Jones University continued its racist ways until 1971 when the IRS stepped in and threatened to remove its tax exempt status unless it integrated.  It was not until the year 2000 that BJU began to allow interracial dating.

And Southern Baptist?  It was not until 1995 that the denomination issued an official apology for its endorsement and  practice of slavery, segregation and white supremacism.

Biblically-based assaults on blacks have for sure decreased over the years but have not disappeared.

Mark Noll, in his book, “God and Race in American Politics:  A Short History,” said, “The Civil War solved the religion and slavery problem, but it did not solve the religion and race problem.”  

Do we still have a religion and race problem?  Consider:

1.   Barna Group released survey results regarding evangelical attitudes about racism in America.   For the study Barna interviewed some 2000 adults about racial tension in the U.S.  They found that evangelicals were almost twice as likely as the general population to agree strongly that “racism is mostly a problem of the past, not the present.”    Evangelicals were almost more than twice as likely to “strongly disagree” that people of color are socially disadvantaged because of race.

Brooke Hempell, VP of Research at Barna, put it this way:  “More than any other segment of the population, white evangelical Christians demonstrate a blindness to the struggle of their African-American brothers and sisters.  This is a dangerous reality for the modern church.  Jesus and His disciples actively sought to affirm and restore the marginalized and obliterate divisions between groups of people.”

Where are we in the survey?  Are we blind? Are we following the way of Jesus?

2.  How do we determine our ethics? Our values?  It’s a harsh fact that every person who values the Bible has to face:  the pro-slavery side in the days of the Civil War, the segregationists during the Jim Crow era and the Civil Rights battles of the 60s and 70s, and some of those who marched in Charlottesville, have more going for them in the way of Bible verses.

“The Civil War was also fundamentally a religious battle over how to interpret the Bible…” Mark Noll.

We’re still fighting that battle.  Have you met anyone whose philosophy of Bible reading is “Open it. Read it. Believe it. Do it”?  I have.  I was one.  But I didn’t know what to do with these slavery texts and many others!  Maybe there’s a further standard than the Bible.  Maybe ethics go Beyond the Bible to Jesus?

As abolitionist Gerrit Smith put it, “the religion taught by Jesus is not a letter but a life.”

Where do we get our sense of right and wrong?
On what do we base our ethics?
On what do we base our view and treatment of different races?

3.  Is it possible that the pervasive racism we see today was fomented by a church that was wrong. 

A church which took too long to recognize it was wrong.

And when it finally recognized  it was wrong took too long to confess it.

And in the confession of it, has not taken the necessary steps to

correct it,

condemn it,

make amends for it,

in order to eliminate it and prevent it from happening again?

Did the church help create the spiritual context for what we’re seeing?

Let’s work to create a new world: one of respect rather than rudeness, kindness not meanness, love not hate.

4.  How does Jesus counter the hate shown in Charlottesville?

 

 

 

The Call

Phone Ringing

I wrote last week about waiting for the results of two biopsies.  It’s not the first time I’ve waited.  My first melanoma was diagnosed 7 years ago.  My second diagnosis was last fall.  So, every 3-6 months, clothes come off, robe goes on, for an exam.

More times than not, a suspicious spot is found (My dermatologist and his staff love me.  They want me around as long as  possible, so they are super-thorough and super-cautious.  I’m sure they feel the same about all their patients but I like to feel that I’m special!)

So, I’m used to waiting for the call.

Waiting.

Waiting to see if I have cancer – freaking cancer!

This waiting was a bit different.

This time I was waiting while trying to practice… “The Power of the Now.”

…to “Give my entire attention to what God is doing right now, and not get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow” (Matthew 6:34).

It’s not easy.  But it can be done.  I need practice.  Lots of practice.

This waiting was also different because of a procedural change at the doctor’s office. They would only call if the news was bad.  Clear biopsy – no call.  Cancer biopsy – call.  So I kept one eye nervously on my phone and one eye on what God was doing right now.  What God was doing was trying to get me to not focus on the phone!

Well, last Tuesday, July 24, the phone rang.  It was them.  The doctor’s office.  “Well, that’s it!  I’ve got cancer. Another melanoma.”

Nope. It was the comforting voice of the PA.  “Phillip, I want to personally tell you that the biopsy came back clear.  It’s not melanoma. It’s… ( Some long word that for the life of me, I cannot remember  – I should have written it down.)

But the only words that stuck were “clear” and “not melanoma.”  Good to go.

Not everyone receives that message.  I haven’t always received that message.  I hurt for those who receive a different message.  A hurt that knows the hurt through experience.

In that hurt, I can’t offer people religious cliches or simple solutions.  They are empty. 

In the hurt, I won’t quote the Bible and say that it’s all part of God’s plan.  I don’t really think it is.  

I can and will be present with the hurting.

That’s what I’ve learned and continue to learn.

Richard Rohr suggests that we use Psalm 46:10 as an entranceway into the now:

Be still and know that I am God.

Be still and know that I am.

Be still and know.

Be still.  

Be.  

Thanks to my dermatologist and staff for working hard to keep me around.

Thanks to Richard Rohr and Eckart Tolle enlightening my understanding of Jesus and for guiding me into living now.

 

Trying to Live in the Now

Garth Live in the Now

 

“If we don’t call you in a week, that means the biopsies came back clear.  We now only call if the biopsies come back as melanoma.”

So I’m waiting.  It will be a week tomorrow.

This is nothing  new to me.   Every 3-6 months for the last five years, I’ve waited for a call.

Five years ago I had a melanoma removed from my arm.  Four months ago I had a melanoma removed from my face.  “Scarface” is my new nickname.  The doctor says that eventually the scar won’t even be noticeable.  He’s good at what he does so he’s probably right.  Although, honestly, I wouldn’t mind having a bit of a scar.  It adds some character. Makes me feel tough.

They used to call whether the news was good or bad.  Now they only call if it’s bad.  I get that.  Calling takes a lot of time because there are a lot of patients.

It used to be that when I saw their number pop up I wondered, “What will it be?” Now, if it pops up, I’ll know without even talking to them.”

So I’m waiting.

I’m watching the phone.

I’m wondering.

And yes, I’m worrying.

I know I shouldn’t worry.  So I’m also worrying about worrying!

I’m remembering Garth’s advice.  I’m reading The Power of the Now by Eckart Tolle.  Tolle nails it, “This kind of psychological fear is always of something that might happen, not of something that is happening now.  You are in the here and now, while your mind is in the future. This creates an anxiety gap.”   You think?

“You can always cope with the present moment,  but you cannot cope with something that is only a mind projection – you cannot cope with the future.”  

“Now” is the key to the dimension of peace.

Then there are the sayings in the Bible.  I’ve preached them more times than I can count! But I haven’t learned to practice them.  I haven’t moved into that dimension of transformation.  I want to.

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow.  God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes (Matthew 6:34 The Message).  

“And now I have a word for you who brashly announce, ‘Today – at the latest, tomorrow – we’re off to such and such a city for the year.  We’re going to start a business and make a lot of money’  You don’t know the first thing about tomorrow.  You’re nothing but a wisp of fog, catching a brief bit of sun before disappearing.  Instead, make it a habit to say, ‘If the Master wills it and we’re still alive, we’ll do this or that.’  As it is,  you are full of your grandiose selves.  All such vaunting self-importance is evil.  In fact, if you know the right thing to do and don’t do it, that, for  you, is evil” (James 4:13-17 The Message).  

Did you catch the drift?

“Give your attention to what God is doing Right Now…”

“You don’t know the first thing about tomorrow…do the right thing now. If I don’t do now what I know is right, that is sin (Yes, I paraphrased it).

What is happening now?  What is God saying and doing now?  What is the right thing to do now?  I don’t know tomorrow.  I don’t know the next minute.  So I will live now.  I will love now.  I will do right and do good now.  At least I want to.

Oh, that phone call?  Believe it or not, I forgot about it while I was writing.  That’s good.  Maybe I’m making progress.

 

 

 

A Christian Nation?

Statue of Liberty

 

Happy Birthday USA!

This time of year we hear both preachers and politicians talking about America as a “Christian nation.” They like to say that the United States was, is and always should be a “Christian nation.”

Many churches have held “God and Country” or “I Love America” worship services.

Other churches are uncomfortable with such services, wondering “Who or what are these services worshipping? The United States or Jesus?”

Do these services fit the Constitution with its separation of church and state?

Do these services fit the Bible with its distinction between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of the planet?

The debate will continue.

In my teaching last Sunday, I asked this question, “What does it mean to be a Christian nation?”  “If a ‘Christian nation’ is what we were, are or should be, what does that look like?”

How would you answer the question?

How about this question?

“What does it mean to be a Christian?”  “If a person is a Christian, what does that person look like?”

Is this a fair answer? “That person would look like Christ.”

John writes this,

“whoever says, ‘ I abide in him,’ ought to walk just as he walked” (1 John 2:6 NRSV).

“Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did (1 John 2:6 NIV).

I think most people agree with John.  If a person claims to follow Christ then that person needs to live like Christ, to walk in his way.

“Christian” means “little Christ.”  People who follow Him look like Him.

So, should nations who follow Him – Christian nations – look like Him?  If a Christian person needs to at least want to and try to look like Jesus to be considered a Christian person, then why wouldn’t a Christian nation need to want to and try to look like Jesus to be considered a Christian nation?

What does Jesus look like?  What is his way?

“But I say to you, Do not resist an evil doer.  But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also” (Matthew 5:39).

“You have hear that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’ But I say to you, Love your enemies…” (Matthew 5:44).

“Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:42).

“So the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matthew 20:16).

“Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword’” (Matthew 26:52

“When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her’” (John 8:7).  

What does that say about capital punishment?

If we were serious about being a Christian nation wouldn’t we use the colors of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23)?  These are the colors that speak to, give evidence of the life of Christ in us.

If we were serious about being a Christian nation would we elect leaders who were patient, kind, never boastful, never rude, who would never hold a grudge, never be irritable, never insist on their own way (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)?  Doesn’t Paul say that love is the “greatest thing?”

Throughout our history, we, as a nation, have believed and behaved in ways that are not Christian – if we define Christian as “like Christ.”  Frederick Douglass, the abolitionist said,

“I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, 

for calling the religion of this land Christianity.” 

What are we doing as individuals, what are we doing as a nation, that Christ would not be doing?

I’m not certain what people mean when they say they want the United States to be a Christian nation.

But part of me thinks that they don’t mean to “be like Jesus.”

Live Now

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I asked a friend for the title of a book that has meant a lot to her. I respect her and wanted to read something that means something to her. Her pick: Way of the Peaceful Warrior, by Dan Millman.

I finished it yesterday.

Great pick.

My thought this week is from this book. A character in the story, nicknamed Socrates, tells his apprentice, “There is a saying: ‘When you sit, sit; when you stand, stand; whatever you do, don’t wobble.’ Once you make your choice, do it with all your spirit.” Socrates then gives a metaphor that hits home with me: “Don’t be like the preacher who thought about praying while making love to his wife, and thought about making love to his wife while praying.”

That made me chuckle. Denise too.

The take-away? Live in the now. Live in the present.

Sunday is Father’s Day. The take-away fits. With your family, with your kids, live in the now.
I didn’t live that way with my boys.
We did a lot of things together, but I wasn’t totally there for those things.
For them.
I was there in body, but parts of my mind, my emotions, my attention were with the church – deacons or elders, staff, sermon preparation, a family in crisis. There was always something else.

I regret that.

What did I miss by not being “in the moment”?

So, today, I am intentionally living now. In the moment. Every moment. Not the next moment. Not the last moment. The present moment.

The days are long gone when our boys were living with Denise and me. But, I’m not living in regret of those missed yesterday moments. I will, though, do better in the present moments.

Happy Father’s Day!

God and Graduation, Part 2

church state

In my last post, I asked you to weigh in, to think about, to express your thoughts on a Public School Superintendent’s religious references and appeals in his High School commencement address.

I get both sides of the issue.  Here’s why.

Fall, 1978, my first semester at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Ft. Worth, Texas, at that time, the world’s largest seminary.    The Moral Majority would start in 1979.  The Southern Baptist Convention was embroiled in a battle between fundamentalist and moderates.

It was a raucous time.  The battle lines were drawn.  The banners were waving. In my hand was the Fundamentalist’s banner.  I had sided with the Moral Majority.  I had celebrated the marriage between the Religious Right and the Republican Party and was all about “Putting God back in our public schools!”

Then, I took an ethics course at Seminary, taught by Dr. Tillman. The topic on this day was all things church and state, the wall of separation, “Christian America,” etc.   Dr. Tillman presented a view that was new to me.  His view challenged me. Unsettled me.  Dr. Tillman invited debate.  I debated.

At the end of the class, he made this appeal, “Phillip, someday, I hope you will actually become a Baptist.”  I couldn’t miss that message!

There was no anger in his voice.

No judgment.

There was just a kind of sadness.

The message was that, somehow, I, a Southern Baptist seminary student,

-born and raised in a Southern Baptist family;

-immersed in Southern Baptist Sunday School, Training Union, Sunbeams, Youth Group,

-a 4th generation Southern Baptist pastor-in-training;

-a recipient of an undergraduate degree from a Southern Baptist college…

Yes, I was, by holding this view on this issue, not a Baptist.

What?  Not a  Baptist?

His statement stuck.  “If I’m not a Baptist, what am I? What is he, besides a liberal!! What is a Baptist?” Time to research.  Here’s what I found:

Religious Liberty is really a big deal to Baptists.

John Locke (1632 -1704), a major influence on our Founding Fathers,  once wrote, “The Baptists were the first propounders of absolute liberty, just and true liberty, equal and impartial liberty.”

Seventeenth century England was a theocracy led by James 1 (Yep, the King James Bible guy).

James was all about forced uniformity. “Church and state together forever!”  He was horrified by the thought of liberty of conscience.  He couldn’t imagine a society built on the freedom to choose one’s faith.

It was during the reign of James that a little group led by John Smyth and Thomas Helwys, pioneers of the Baptist movement, left England to find religious freedom in Holland. John Smyth was the first Baptist on the planet to insist on religious liberty and the separation of church and state, with these words, “the magistrate is not by virtue of his office to meddle with religion, or matters of conscience, to force or compel men to this or that form of religion or doctrine, …”

Helwys came back to England, and I guess, couldn’t avoid a good fight, because he wrote these words concerning the Roman Catholics, “…our lord the King hath no more power over their consciences than ours, and that is none at all…For men’s religion to God is between God and themselves; the King shall not answer for it; neither may the King be judge between God and man.  Let them be heretics, Turks (Muslims), Jews or whatsoever…”

Helwys was sent to prison for his views and there he died.

It was during the reign of James’ successor, Charles, that those looking for religious freedom swarmed to New England. But in the ultimate irony, the Puritans who came to the shores of America to escape religious persecution, turned around and persecuted those who didn’t share their religion.

“Religious liberty for me but not for thee!” could have been their motto.

Then came Roger Williams, whom biographer, John M. Barry calls, “America’s first rebel.”   Williams arrived in Massachusetts to pastor the church in Salem. The Governor of Massachusetts was John Winthrop.  Winthrop, in a sermon, had used the phrase, “city upon a hill”, which has been quoted ever since.

Winthrop’s vision for America was for it to be a Christian nation.

William’s vision for America was for it be a place of freedom -“soul liberty” he called it.

Those two philosophies go together like nuts and gum.

The Puritans, led by folks like Winthrop, believed there was only one true religion – theirs.

Their religion was the only “pure” religion – hence the name: Puritans.  They moved further, insisting that it was the duty of the government and civil authorities to impose it, forcibly if necessary.

People of other religions, dissenters, nonconformists would be punished, even executed.

The “persecuted” became the “persecutors.”

One of the dissenters they persecuted was Roger Williams.  Welcomed to Massachusetts, at first with open arms, it wasn’t long until those open arms turned to closed fists, pushing Williams out of the church, the city, the state.

Williams said things like:

“Forced worship stinks in the nostrils of God.”

“All religious sects have the right to claim equal protection from the laws, and that the civil magistrates have no right to restrain the consciences of men or to interfere with their modes of worship and religious belief.? 

That kind of talk could get you fired, banished, or killed.  When Williams was banished, he didn’t just start a new church, he started a new town in a new state – Providence, Rhode Island.  The church he started?  The First Baptist Church, of Providence.

First Baptist was not just a name –  It was actually the first Baptist church, and not just in Providence, but in all of the colonies.

According to author John M. Barry, Roger Williams created the first government in world history in which there was a clear separation of church and state: Providence.

Now, this blew me away:  The founding documents for every other colony in the Americas, whether Spanish, French, Portuguese or English, all said the purpose of this colony was to advance the Christian religion.

But not Roger Williams.  In his first draft, he asked for God’s blessing.  Then he decided he would not even do that!  He wrote plenty of letters and books in which spoke freely of God and Scripture, so for him to not even include a request for God’s blessing is an incredible statement of his view that government should be entirely secular.

Roger Williams, the first Baptist pastor of the first Baptist church in the colonies of the New World.

Oh, you know that “wall of separation” phrase?

Revered by some and despised by others.

Yes, Thomas Jefferson, made it famous.

But, it originated with that Baptist pastor, dissident, “Amerca’s first rebel,”  Roger Williams.

Thank you Dr. Tillman for opening my eyes.  My mind.

…for your kindness.

…for your challenge.

I wonder how Baptists, myself included, drifted so far from these roots.

I wonder what Roger Williams would say about the Graduation Ceremony?