Friday, July 4, 2008

John Leland, Patriot for Liberty

When we think of patriots we think of men like George Washington, Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, Ben Franklin, and so on. But I bet you never stop to contemplate the effect on our liberty made by a Baptist preacher by the name of John Leland.

John Leland was a Baptist evangelist, a Calvinist, and an outspoken political activist. His issue? Separation of church and state.

Although we were all taught that our forefathers came to this land seeking religious liberty, in truth religious liberty was not law in the thirteen colonies. With the exception of Roger Williams' Rhode Island, each colony had its own state church. Yes, the pilgrims and puritans did come seeking a place where they could freely worship--and everyone else was forced to worship that way too.

We look at that and think how horrid! But we are the recipients of a moral code in this vein that was unheard of in the 17th century world. At that time there was religious liberty virtually nowhere and the idea was morally repugnant to the religious thinkers of the day (it had been for thousands of years). If the government does not enforce religious practice then the public will go wild, said they. Have you never read the Law of Moses and the Old Testament?

But in the new world that thinking was to change and that change had been coming about since the early 1600's and the appearance of the Baptists in Holland and England. Baptists were non-comformists and, as such, had been suffering at the hands of the established churches (read: state churches) since their beginnings. But they persevered through all obstacles and flourished. In the colonies, and especially in Virginia, they suffered greatly at the hands of the colonial government.

When the time came for a new nation to be born and a new government to be formed it was the Baptists, with their doctrine of liberty of conscience, who led the charge for a bill of rights which would guarantee, among other things, religious liberty--through the separation of church and state.

I read an interesting article published on-line by Homer Massey of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. I would encourage you to read the whole article, but I wanted to quote him on this next part. He writes:

"The Constitution of the United States was submitted to the various states for ratification on September 1, 1787. Each state dealt with the pros and cons on a grass-roots level, with public discussions and debates between candidates for that state’s own Constitutional Convention.

In two states--Virginia and Massachusetts--there was considerable opposition to ratification because, in the minds of many, it had no specific guaranty of religious liberty. James Madison was the primary author and he felt confident that there was no major problem. As he was returning to his home in Orange County just prior to the election there for the Convention, he stopped at Fredericksburg. There he received “an urgent warning that he should be sure to visit an influential Baptist leader and convert him from the idea that the Constitution (as it stood) menaced religious liberty.”

The influential Baptist leader was John Leland, who lived outside the town of Orange on the road to Fredericksburg. Madison discovered that Leland had garnered sufficient support to keep him out of the ratifying convention, so he and Leland met in an oak grove six miles outside Orange in the Spring of 1788. Instead of converting Leland, however, Madison was the one who was converted. As a result of this meeting he agreed to introduce amendments to the new Constitution that would spell out specific items Lelad and the Baptist were concerned about. In the county meeting shortly thereafter Madison was elected to the Convention with Leland’s support.

A local Baptist association has preserved the spot where the two men held their historic meeting, calling it “Leland Madison Park.” A fine memorial marker now stands in the small park on Highway 20 in Orange County, briefly telling the story of how the Baptists played a crucial role in securing religious liberty in America.

In June of 1789 James Madison introduced his promised amendments to the new Constitution. The first of them reads in part, ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…’

This, when eventually adopted, embedded in the fundamental law of our country the historic Baptist principle of the separation of the domains of religion and civil government.”

So when you go to church this Sunday, whatever church you attend, think of John Leland and give God thanks for him. And for those of you who don't go to church and don't worship God in any form or fashion, please take some time to contemplate that it was, in part, a Baptist preacher who vehemently fought for you that right. Tomorrow I will post some quotations from John Leland on religious liberty and the separation of church and state.


mithrandir77 said...

sorry but apparently there is no other way to comment except here, although this has nothing to do with what you are talking about. I see the Howling Coyote thing is turned into Chinese language stuff; all last year I was learning Mandarin Chinese, BTW. :) But here's what I found via Google:

///quote///James Spurgeon has a great post about how personal responsibility before God is important - even if you've been badly hurt by other Christians or Christian organisations. Good ///end quote///

I was unable to read the original post at Howling Coyote. Of course, if it's still there, but is now written IN CHINESE, then, obviously I never really did that good a job learning Chinese last year! Because I can't read it! Hah!
... but anyway I got something good out of that, even though I was unable to read the original post. Good deal. I can see it is backed up by sincerity and experience.

mithrandir77 said...

c f "a tale of 3 kings" by gene edwards and "crucified by christians" by the same!!

BaileyMan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BaileyMan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.