Joseph, Mary and Roy Moore

 

I really try to be apolitical in my comments. There are, in the church I pastor, people of all politcal parties.   I like that.   My thoughts, here, are not coming from the heart of a Republican or Democrat, a Conservative or Progressive.

They are coming from the heart of a guy who is tired and frustrated with people using the Bible to justify wrong.

It’s been done a lot and for a long time.

We are about to celebrate Thanksgiving Day.  For a lot of Americans, however,  it’s a Day of Mourning for what was done to the Native Americans by the settlers from Europe.  For many it is “a reminder of the genocide of millions of Native people, and the theft of Native lands, and the relentless assault on Native culture.”

Much of the horrific acts were committed by those using the Bible as justification.

Stealing the land from the Native Americans?  Justified!  The Puritans saw themselves as Israel of old, God’s Chosen. The land of the Native Americans was the Europeans’ inheritance from God.   As Israel was given the land of Canaan then, these European Christians are given this land of America now!  Want a Scripture?  They had one.  No, they had several:

“However, in the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes (Deuteronomy 20:16).

“My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittties, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out (Exodus 23:23)!

“I will establish your boundaries from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, and from the desert to the Euphrates River.  I will give into your hands the people who  live in the land, and you will drive them out before you (Exodus 23:31).  

“Since God gave this land to us, we can take it from you!”

The use of the Bible to justify horrific behavior continues. This week.

Allegations of sexual misconduct with teen-aged girls by Senatorial candidate Roy Moore when he was in his 30s, broke  in The Washington Post.  One of Moore’s defenders, Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler, used the Bible to defend Moore:

“Take Joseph and Mary.  Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter.  They became the parents of Jesus…There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here.  Maybe just a little bit unusual…There’s nothing to see here.”  

Did he really say that? Is he serious?  Here’s the thing:

A 32 year old man dating a freshman in high school? “A little unusual,”  Zeigler says.  You think?  I can think of other ways to describe it. How about, Gross.  Creepy.  Wrong.

And now,  Zeigler justifies and defends Moore with the story of Joseph and Mary.  Really?  Is that how we read and apply the Bible?

In the culture and time of Joseph and Mary, women were property of their fathers, then of their husbands.  Yes women married much older men and men had multiple wives. Is that a Biblical mandate for us today?  “They did it then, let’s to it now!”

To equate the molestation of a minor with marriage customs of an ancient culture is ridiculous.  It is dangerous.

Unfortunately, history is filled with the ridiculous and dangerous when it comes to interpreting and applying the Bible.

The allegations against Roy Moore are disturbing.   So is justifying his behavior with the Bible.

 

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Mackinac Island and Columbus Day

Columbus statue

“For American Indians, Columbus Day is not a typical holiday.  We don’t celebrate 500 years of being dominated, exploited, enslaved and nearly exterminated by Europeans.  But we do celebrate our survival.”  Diana King, teacher Waubun High School, Minnesota

Before last week, of the two names in the title, I only knew Columbus.  But last week, Denise and I visited Mackinac Island.  The island is located in the straits between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.  In 1898 cars were banned on the island.  Today all travel is by horse, bicycle or foot.  We chose bicycle.  I can control a bike better than I can control a horse.

Fun, beautiful ride.  It was weird though watching for cars that weren’t there.  We learned that the 8 mile trek around the outskirts of the island was called, “Native American Cultural History Trail,” and is marked by 6 interpretative panels describing the Native American experience on the island.

It wasn’t pretty.  Oh, the scenery was pretty.  The story was not.  Unless you like a story of Native Americans being robbed of their land by white settlers, stripped of their language, culture and religion.

The Treaty of 1836, ceded 13,837,207 acres in the northwest portion of the Lower Peninsula and the easter portion of the Upper Peninsula to the U.S government. The treaty made it possible for the Michigan Territory to be granted statehood and admission to the Union, but it didn’t do much for the Anishinaabek Native Americans.

The U.S. agreed to pay for the land and guarantee the Native Americans permanent land and access to hunting and fishing rights.  But once the Anishinaabek representatives left Washington, Congress, reworked the treaty.  Isn’t that special?

Permanent rights to the land?  No more.   Now they had five years, after which the U.S. could forcibly remove them from Northern Michigan.

The treaty was nothing short of government-sponsored ethnic cleansing of the Anishinaabek culture.   Their social customs and languages were suppressed.  Their religion was made illegal.

“Indian Schools” arose between 1880-1935 in which the Native Americans endured “forced assimilation.”  The children were to become “civilized” in white culture, language and religion.  Failure to abandon their own language or spiritual beliefs resulted in severe punishment.

Honestly, the hard facts on those panels lessened a bit the joy of the ride.

What would we do if a foreign power invaded our community, broke their agreement with us, made the practice of our religion illegal, suppressed our customs and language?

We wouldn’t think it was right if it happened to us.  Do you think it was right that it happened to them?

Now we come to the other name in the title: Columbus.  Monday, October 9, was Columbus Day.  But many communities around the country have booted Columbus in favor of  “Indigenous Peoples Day.”

“No sensible Indian person,” wrote George P. Horse Capture, “can celebrate the arrival of Columbus.”

Columbus didn’t show much of the Jesus he claimed to follow.   Columbus’ voyages were religious missions.  He put it like this: “God made me the messenger of the new heaven and the new earth of which he spoke in the Apocalypse of St John (Rev. 21:1) after having spoken of it through the mouth of Isaiah; and showed me the spot where to find it.”

Columbus’ strategy for creating the new heaven and the new earth?  Forced conversion, rape, pillaging, slavery, genocide.

Doesn’t sound like Jesus, to me.

Bartolome de las Casas,  a young priest who participated in the conquest of Cuba and wrote a history of the Indies, agreed.  He describes the treatment of the natives: “Endless testimonies…prove the mild and pacific temperament of the natives….But our work was to exasperate, ravage, kill, mangle and destroy; small wonder then, if they tried to kill one of us now and then…The admiral, it is true, was blind as those who came after him, and he was so anxious to please the King that he committed irreparable crimes against the Indians…”

Here are some lessons I’m learning:

*Columbus left a legacy on how not to treat people.  Captain John Smith used Columbus as a role model on setting a “get-tough” policy against Native Americans in Virginia in 1624.  The Pilgrims and Puritans sold the survivors of the Pequot War into slavery in Bermuda in 1637.  Was the treatment of the Michigan Native Americans traceable to Columbus?  His legacy casts a long shadow.

What legacy am I leaving?

*Columbus was a devoted Christian.  An avid Bible-reader.  His journals are filled with references to Christ, Mary and the saints.  How then, could he treat people this way?

What in my life is inconsistent with the life of Jesus I profess to follow?

 

Nerdy or Cool? False Self or True Self?

nerdy-glasses-then-now-niall

I thought the days of glasses being nerdy were over.

You know, “Four Eyes?”

I thought what was considered nerdy yesterday was  considered hipster and hot today.  Just take a look at all the celebs wearing “nerd” glasses.  Ask Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder what’s up with the Clark Kents he wears during the post-game interviews.  Russell’s glasses don’t even have lenses in them.

 

russell-westbrook-hipster-outfit

“Russell, why do you wear glasses without lenses?”

His answer?  “I see better without ‘em.”

Glasses don’t mean “I spend all day at the library” anymore.  Now, glasses mean, “I have amazing fashion sense.”

Evidently, classmates of my Lunch Buddy didn’t get the memo. My Lunch Buddy at a local elementary school (Lunch Buddy is a program of Big Brothers/Sisters), got glasses over the summer.  I saw them on my first visit with him in the new school year.

Here’s our conversation:

Me: “Hey, cool glasses!”

Him: “I don’t think they are.”

Me: “Why don’t you think they’re cool?

Him:  “Hmmm.   I don’t know.”

Me: “What do your friends say about them?”

Him: “They call me a nerd.”

I asked the boy (who happened to have a speech impediment) sitting next to my Lunch Buddy what he thought of the glasses.

“I like them,” he said.

“Now, you are a friend!” I told him.

Here, on the other side of the table where I was sitting,  was a boy with glasses who is called a “nerd” because of the glasses, sitting next to a boy with a speech impediment.

I know about speech impediments.  I went to speech therapy for 5 years in elementary school.  I know how childhood labels stick.

Maybe you do too.

Labels that people put on us stay with us.  Shape us.  From these labels put on us we develop our sense of self.

My mom died 7 months ago.   She was a beautiful lady, inside and out. She wasn’t convinced.  I think she felt sure about the inner beauty but not so much about the outer beauty.  When she was an impressionable young girl, her dad told her that while she was smart, she wasn’t very pretty.

That perception became her perception.

I’m reading Divine Therapy by Thomas Keating.  In that book, Father Keating, a “member of the Cistercian Order in the Benedictine tradition“  (from Amazon’s “About the author” page), talks about the “True Self” and the “False Self.” The False Self, he says, is created when we experience emotional trauma throughout our lives.

The False Self “develops as the survival mechanism in early childhood, to deal with the frustration of the instinctual needs that the child feels are not being provided.”  Those needs are summarized in the categories of power/control, esteem/affection, and security/survival.   When those needs are not met we develop attachments to people, places, behaviors, situations that brings us comfort in the absence of those needs being met.

For Keating, the False Self is our wounded self.

Wounds:

Overhearing a dad say, “I wish he was more like his brother.” So this child grows up imitating his brother to achieve his dad’s affection.

Being rejected or abandoned as a child.  Out of fear of being abandoned, this child, grown into an adult, leaves a partner, or drops a project.   “I’ll leave before being left.”

Being called a “nerd,” being teased and/or bullied.  So, up goes a protective shield – either withdrawing into a shell like a turtle, or turning the tables and teasing, bullying, humiliating others.

Hearing your dad, to your face, say you’re “not too pretty, but…”  Did she even hear what came after the “but”?

All of these wounds create our False Self – a hurt, angry, insecure, unsure self, hiding the True Self.

The True Self is that part of us made in the image of God – “a brilliant jewel even though it’s at the bottom of a pile of garbage.”  The True Self, in God’s image:

*is good

*is capable of feeling and expressing the goodness of God

*is the place of the fruit of the Spirit, the evidence of the Divine Presence – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, self-control.

How can I let the true self live and the false self – die?  Oh.   Maybe that’s it.  Die.
Is this what Jesus meant when he said,

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves…? Luke 9:23

…unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain, but if it dies, it bears much fruit. John 12:24

Maybe the self to be denied, the self to die, is the false self!

Let it die so the True Self can live!

The solution for Keating is experiencing “Divine Therapy” through Centering Prayer.  As we get deeper into the presence of God, we see the hurts of the past, we hear the names of our childhood.  We meet our False Self.  And then let it go.

We meet our True Self – good, loved, accepted, worthy, purposeful, and loving.  We embrace it.  We express it.

We are my Lunch Buddy and my mom.  We all have been wounded.

I’m on a journey.  I’m learning to let go of the nerdy and False Self and live out the cool and True Self.  And I want to take my Lunch Buddy with me.

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

045A1571_2

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.

 

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.”

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?