Sunday, May 27, 2012


For those readers who missed or have forgotten last week’s column, “Freedom of thought too precious to be ignored,” go to your newspaper recycling pile and dig out last Friday’s paper. It will help you gain some insight on the freedom of religion that is little recognized today. The life and times of Roger Williams (1603-1683) and his contributions to the American ideals of the freedom of thought and faith needs to be told for every American generation. Freedom of thought and religion did not originate with him, but he gave the idea a great kick-start. History is littered with the sacrifice of many who envisioned the basic importance of individual freedom of thought and freedom of religious or non-religious practice. Roger Williams was anything but a nobody. He was born in England, graduate of Cambridge, and mentored by the famous jurist Sir Edward Coke. Later he gave the poet John Milton lessons in Dutch in exchange for refresher lessons in Hebrew. Williams knew Oliver Cromwell, the military and political leader whose revolt lead to the English Civil War (1642-1651). Williams was becoming a Separatist even before he left England for the Massachusetts colony in 1631. He wrote that the Church of England (Anglican/Episcopal) was irredeemably corrupt. He also found Congregationalists and later the Baptists short of his ideals of freedom of thought and practice. Such a stand was beyond comprehension to his generation. In October, 1635, Williams was tried by the Massachusetts General Court and convicted of sedition and heresy. The Court declared that he was spreading diverse, new, and dangerous opinions. The court ordered that he be banished. Williams was convinced nothing to be more precious than soul liberty and freedom of conscience. Foe him true religious freedom demanded that church and state be separated; everyone had the natural right to freedom of religion. He did not attempt to change the civil government to suit his whims. He did not necessarily agree with other’s theology or church practices, but he was not in a holy war with secularists. What we have today, over 350 years later, is the essence of freedom of religion, but not a lot of actual adherents. Take the example of the Amish faith. While society changes (some would say advances) the Amish stay with their horses and carriages, lack of many modern necessities, and simple faith. They are not threatened by the world around them. The Amish may not agree with President Barack Obama’s tolerance of same-sex marriage but it does not affect their daily chores or worship. They see Christians as living in an unfriendly world but are not shocked nor threatened by it. The rest of us are “fighting the good fight of faith” against a sinful and secular world that threatens our faith. “If we could only get God back in government,” say some insecure Christians. Those wanting to revamp the world to their interpretation of religion would make poor Amish believers. The Amish would go along with Roger Williams much more than many American Christians. Making America “Christian” is not the Eleventh Commandment. Living in this world does not mean we become a part of it. It would help if Christians learned to enjoy their faith more and spend less time trying to tear down the wall between church and state. --30--

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