Monday, July 14, 2008

Baptist John Leland on Religious Liberty

I found this interesting little page on-line and decided to link it here. The page belongs to Pastor David L. Brown, Ph.D. I recommend you go over there and read the entire paragraph as it further supports what I have been blogging here. This is one aspect of my Baptist heritage of which I am particularly (ahem) proud. Here is a teaser:

During the summer of 2001 my family and I took a trip to Virginia and North Carolina to do family tree research and visit some historic locations. As we were traveling "the Constitution Route" on highway 20 in Virginia, I came across an interesting monument about seven miles east of Orange. On it was the embossed head of John Leland, the influential Baptist preacher and champion of religious liberty. It is believed that the monument marks the location where James Madison and John Leland met to discuss Madison’s candidacy for Virginia delegate to the Convention to ratify the Federal Constitution. . . .
Below are some of the quotations I promised from John Leland on religious liberty.
Let it suffice on this head to say, that it is not possible in the nature of things to establish religion by human laws without perverting the design of civil law and oppressing the people (from The Yankee Spy, John Leland writing under the pen name of Jack Nipps, Boston, 1794).

Is it the duty of a deist to support that which he believes to be a cheat and imposition? Is it the duty of the Jew to support the religion of Jesus Christ, when he really believes that he was an imposter? Must the papist be forced to pay men for preaching down the supremacy of the pope, whom they are sure is the head of the church? Government has no more to do with the religious opinions of men than it has with the principles of mathematics (from The Yankee Spy, John Leland writing under the pen name of Jack Nipps, Boston, 1794).

To say that religion cannot stand without a state establishment is not only contrary to fact (as has been proved already) but is a contradiction in phrase. Religion must have stood a time before any law could have been made about it; and if it did stand almost three hundred years without law it can still stand without it (from The Connecticut Dissenters Strong Box, Number One, New London 1802).

If government can answer for individuals at the day of judgment, let men be controlled by it in religious matters; otherwise let men be free (from The Connecticut Dissenters Strong Box, Number One, New London 1802.

To read in the New Testament, that the Lord has ordained that those that preach the gospel shall live by its institutions and precepts, sounds very harmonical; but to read in a state constitution, that the legislature shall require men to maintain teachers of piety, religion and morality, sounds very discordant (from The Yankee Spy, John Leland writing under the pen name of Jack Nipps, Boston, 1794).

In the second article [of the Massachusetts state constitution of 1780] it is said, 'is the right and duty of all men publicly, and at stated seasons, to worship the Supreme Being.' This article would read much better in a catechism than in a state constitution, and sound more concordant in a pulpit than in a statehouse (from The Yankee Spy, John Leland writing under the pen name of Jack Nipps, Boston, 1794).

...[A]nd the reason why public worship is enjoined (required) by authority, and private worship is omitted, is only to pave the way for some religious establishment by human law, and force taxes from the people to support avaricious priests. (from The Yankee Spy, John Leland writing under the pen name of Jack Nipps, Boston, 1794).

What leads legislators into this error, is confounding sins and crimes together -- making no difference between moral evil and state rebellion: not considering that a man may be infected with moral evil, and yet be guilty of no crime, punishable by law. If a man worships one God, three Gods, twenty Gods, or no God -- if he pays adoration one day in a week, seven days or no day -- wherein does he injure the life, liberty or property of another? Let any or all these actions be supposed to be religious evils of an enormous size, yet they are not crimes to be punished by laws of state, which extend no further, in justice, than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbor (from The Yankee Spy, John Leland writing under the pen name of Jack Nipps, Boston, 1794).

In a well regulated state it will be the business of the legislature to prevent sectaries of different denominations from molesting and disturbing each other; to ordain that no part of the community shall be permitted to perplex and harass the other for any supposed heresy, but that each individual shall be allowed to have and enjoy, profess and maintain his own system of religion, provided it does not issue in overt acts of treason against the state undermining the peace and order of society. (from The Yankee Spy, John Leland writing under the pen name of Jack Nipps, Boston, 1794).

* "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." - A Chronicle of His Time in Virginia.

* "Truth disdains the aid of law for its defense — it will stand upon its own merits." - Right of Conscience Inalienable.

* "Every man must give account of himself to God, and therefore every man ought to be at liberty to serve God in a way that he can best reconcile to his conscience. If government can answer for individuals at the day of judgment, let men be controlled by it in religious matters; otherwise, let men be free." - Right of Conscience Inalienable.
Make no mistake. The idea of the separation of church and state is something for which Baptists fought for a very long time. Leland was perhaps one of the most vociferous, but he was certainly not alone (as I hope to demonstrate as I continue to expand upon this theme).

And I agree with John Leland and those early American Baptists. The marriage of church and state is an insufferable evil and a plague upon genuine religion and will remain so for as long as this world remains in its fallen condition. I will attempt to provide more history on the subject first, then I will attempt to demonstrate why I believe this to be so using Scripture and sound reason. Then later, I plan to make some arguments supporting my opinion that our current federal government violates this first amendment principle and usurps the role of the individual and church in its current day-to-day operations. For now I would just like you to think about an old adage that distills quite succinctly my viewpoint, then come back later for more.

"A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still."

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