Saturday, November 26, 2005

The Godless Constitution Chapter 6 - American Baptists and the Jeffersonian Tradition

This chapter covers the interesting position Baptists held in the early Republic and how that position changed over time. Baptists were dissenters from the Calvinist beliefs of the Puritans, particularly on the matter of infant baptism. Despite having left the Puritan congregations, Baptists in New England continued to pay taxes to support them. Thus they came to the principle of separation of Church and State not through any process of cool reason, but simply because their personal experience had taught them not to trust the state when it meddled in Religion. This lesson led them to staunch support of President Jefferson, for his work in separating church and state.

The chapter also covers the church's' movement into the areas of what we might call moral guidance or social justice? If there was to be this barrier between church and state, in what areas might the various religious organizations properly operate? Some Christian organizations rejected the notion of supplicating Congress for help in approaching moral problems; others chose to embrace this idea.

The chapter ends with a discussion of the Southern Baptists, how they formed (in response to northern abolitionist sentiment in the Baptist churches), and how they have negotiated the political terrain in the intervening years. The authors compare the Southern Baptist position to the Amish position, which is interesting.
If all the religious people in the United States interpreted their religious responsibilities like the Amish, the nation would be in deep trouble. Refusing to join a political crusade to proclaim America a Christian nation is one thing the founders had in mind in writing the godless Constitution. However, regarding one's fellow citizens as sinners who should be ignored is an idea that is not part of our secular state. While it makes unthinkable a political party of religious correctness, it also makes any sort of nation impossible.
This passage makes clear that the authors are not advocating that religious people should be barred from political activities. Of course, they also note that Southern Baptist leaders have made overtures to the Conservative movement; a tendency which has only increased over the last few years.

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