The Baptist Principle of Separation of Church and State

Discussion in 'Politics' started by Baptist Believer, Jul 4, 2006.

  1. Baptist Believer

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    To celebrate the 4th of July, I decided to post excerpts from this stirring address given by George Truett on the capitol steps in 1920.
    Enjoy!

    Baptists and Religious Liberty
    George W. Truett

    Indeed, the supreme contribution of the new world to the old is the contribution of religious liberty. This is the chiefest contribution that America has thus far made to civilization. And historic justice compels me to say that it was pre-eminently a Baptist contribution. The impartial historian, whether in the past, present or future, will ever agree with our American historian, Mr. Bancroft, when he says:" Freedom of conscience, unlimited freedom of mind, was from the first the trophy of the Baptists." And such historian will concur with the noble John Locke who said: "The Baptists were the first propounders of absolute liberty, just and true liberty, equal and impartial liberty." Ringing testimonies like these might be multiplied indefinitely.
    ...
    Baptists have one consistent record concerning liberty throughout all their long and eventful history. They have never been a party to oppression of conscience. They have forever been the unwavering champions of liberty, both religious and civil. Their contention now, is, and has been, and, please God, must ever be, that it is the natural and fundamental and indefeasible right of every human being to worship God or not, according to the dictates of his conscience, and, as long as he does not infringe upon the rights of others, he is to be held accountable alone to God for all religious beliefs and practices. Our contention is not for mere toleration, but for absolute liberty. There is a wide difference between toleration and liberty. Toleration implies that somebody falsely claims the right to tolerate. Toleration is a concession, while liberty is a right. Toleration is a matter of expediency, while liberty is a matter of principle. Toleration is a gift from God. It is the consistent and insistent contention of our Baptist people, always and everywhere, that religion must be forever voluntary and uncoerced, and that it is not the perogative of any power, whether civil or ecclesiastical, to compel men to conform to any religious creed or form of worship, or to pay taxes for the support of a religious organization to which they do not believe. God wants free worshipers and no other kind.
    ...
    When we turn to this New Testament, which is Christ's guidebook and law for his people, we find that supreme emphasis is everywhere put upon the individual. The individual is segregated from family, from church, from state, and from society, from dearest earthly friends or institution, and brought into direct, personal dealings with God. Every one must give account of himself to God. There can be no sponsors or deputies or proxies in such vital matter. Each one must repent for himself, and believe for himself, and be baptized for himself, and answer to God for himself, both in time and in eternity. The clarion cry of John the Baptist is to the individual. "Think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the ax is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire." One man can no more repent and believe and obey Christ for another than he can take the other's place at God's judgment bar. Neither persons nor institutions, however dear and powerful, may dare to come between the individual soul and God. "There is ... one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus." Let the state and the church, let the institution, however dear, and the person, however near, stand aside, and let the individual soul make its own direct and immediate response to God. One is our pontiff, and his name is Jesus. The undelegated sovereignty of Christ makes it forever impossible for his saving grace to be manipulated by any system of human mediation whatsoever.
    The right to private judgment is the crown jewel of humanity, and for any person or institution to dare to come between the soul and God is a blasphemous impertinence and a defamation of the crown rights of the Son of God.
    Out of these two fundamental principles, the supreme authority of the Scriptures and the right of private judgment, have come all the historic protests in Europe or England and America against unscriptural creeds, polity and rites, and against the unwarranted and impertinent assumption of religious authority over men's consciences, whether by church or by state. Baptists regard as an enormity any attempt to force the conscience, or to constrain men, by outward penalties, to this or that form of religious belief. Persecution may make men hypocrites, but it will not make them Christians.
    It follows, inevitably, that Baptists are unalterably opposed to every form of sponsorial religion...
    ...
    That utterance of Jesus, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's," is one of the most revolutionary and history-making utterances that ever fell from those lips divine. That utterance, once and for all, marked the divorcement of church and state. It marked a new era for the creeds and deeds of men. It was the sunrise gun of a new day, the echoes of which are to go on and on and on until in every land, whether great or small, the doctrine shall have absolute supremacy everywhere of a free church in a free state.
    In behalf of our Baptist people I am compelled to say that forgetfulness of the principles that I have just enumerated, in our judgment, explains many of the religious ills that now afflict the world. All went well with the early churches in their earlier days. They were incomparably triumphant days for the Christian faith. Those early disciples of Jesus, without prestige and worldly power, yet aflame with the love of God and the passion of Christ, went out and shook the pagan Roman Empire from center to circumference, even in one brief generation. Christ's religion needs no prop of any kind from any worldly source, and to the degree that it is thus supported is a millstone hanged about its neck.
    ...
    Just a brief glance at the struggle in those early colonies must now suffice us. Yonder in Massachusetts, Henry Dunster, the first president of Harvard, was removed from the presidency because he objected to infant baptism. Roger Williams was banished, John Clarke was put in prison, and they publicly whipped Obadiah Holmes on Boston Common. In Connecticut the lands of our Baptist fathers were confiscated and their goods sold to build a meeting house and support a preacher of another denomination. In old Virginia, "mother of states and statesmen," the battle for religious and civil liberty was waged all over her nobly historic territory, and the final triumph recorded there was such as to write imperishable glory upon the name of Virginia until the last syllable of recorded time. Fines and imprisonments and persecutions were everywhere in evidence in Virginia for conscience' sake. If you would see a record incomparably interesting, go read the early statutes in Virginia concerning the Established Church and religion, and trace the epic story of the history-making struggles of that early day. If the historic records are to be accredited, those clergymen of the Established Church in Virginia made terrible inroads in collecting fines in Baptist tobacco in that early day. It is quite evident, however, that they did not get all the tobacco.
    On and on was the struggle waged by our Baptist fathers for religious liberty in Virginia, in the Carolinas, in Georgia, in Rhode Island and Massachusetts and Connecticut, and elsewhere, with one unyeilding contention for unrestricted religious liberty for all men, and with never one wavering note. They dared to be odd, to stand alone, to refuse to conform, though it cost them suffering and even life itself. They dared to defy traditions and customs, and deliberately chose the day of non conformity, even though in many a case it meant a cross. They pleaded and suffered, they offered their protests and remonstrances and memorials, and, thank God, mighty statesmen were won to their contention. Washington and Jefferson and Madison and Patrick Henry, and many others, until at last it was written into our country's Constitution that church and state must in this land be forever separate and free, that neither must ever trespass upon the distinctive functions of the other. It was pre-eminently a Baptist achievement.

    See http://www.reformedreader.org/baptistsandreligiousliberty.htm
     
  2. Rooselk

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    That's good - and certainly appropriate for July Fourth.

    It's sad that many Baptists in recent decades have moved away from the very doctrine they once championed. :(
     
  3. Revmitchell

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    A country that endeavors to govern itself without the precepts of its creator is a fool.
     
  4. Dale-c

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    Well said!
     
  5. Baptist Believer

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    God gives all people the right to be foolish, but does not give a country the right to intervene in the Kingdom of God. And Christians should not willingly permit any government to support or promote their faith -- it only weakens the church and distorts the call of Christ.
     
  6. Daisy

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    Our country was created by men: "...That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed..."

     
  7. Dale-c

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    Just where, Biblically does God give men the "Right" to be foolish?
    Sure, God doesn't strike every fool dead immediately but that can hardly be said as a "right"

    This is only half true.

    Actually, depending on how it is meant, it could be all wrong.
    If you substitute the word "church" rather than "faith" then it is fine.

    The same God who is over the Church and the family is the God over the sate.
    Church, state and Family should NEVER mix but all answer to God for the way in which they govern.

    (See Romans 13 and Psalm 2 for a couple of examples.)
     
  8. Revmitchell

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    Romans 13:1 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained F53 of God. 2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation
     
  9. Revmitchell

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    source please
     
  10. Magnetic Poles

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    Historically, whenever government and religion got into bed together, we end up with atrocities, inquisitions, witch burnings, and oppression. Government should equally protect all without promoting any religion; in other words, full neutrality toward religious belief. God does not need the power of the civil government to promote his cause, rather he needs his people to have a love for all their neighbors as themselves.
     
  11. Dale-c

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    Please state a source???

    THE USSR was atheist. Think there were any injustices then?

    Separation from Church and state is good.
    Separation from God from Government is Bad.
     
  12. Magnetic Poles

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    Sources? Try any newspaper or book of world history. Ever heard of the following?:

    The Spanish Inquisition
    The Salem Witch Trials
    Modern day Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, etc.
    Abuses of dissenters by Popes and Anti-Popes
    The massacre in Constantinople in 532
    The burning of the Library of Alexandria by Christian Crusaders
    The outlawing of disseminating information on birth control in the US, early 20th Century
    The outlawing of pain meds for childbirth in the US during the same period, as it negated God's mandate of pain in childbirth
    You can find these and many, many more, by examining history before we are doomed to repeat it.

    As for the USSR, its abuses were not because of lack of religion, it was due to the cruel totalitarian regimes that ruled that nation.


    Your statement that separating God from government is bad doesn't work, as we don't have direct communication from God on daily civil matters. This leaves someone claiming to speak for him, and invariably they only hear what serves there best interests. We go rid of kings ruling by "Divine Right" to institute a government of "We the People". Surely, our Baptist forebears who strongly believed in the total separation of church and government would be appalled at the current theocrats claiming the name "Baptist".
     
    #12 Magnetic Poles, Jul 5, 2006
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 5, 2006
  13. fromtheright

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    BB,

    I appreciate your appeal to history. I would note, though, that John Leland and America's early Baptists were fighting against a very real established church. They weren't having to contend against having prayer expunged from football games, Ten Commandments pulled from the walls of their schools (even in the early public schools, I think one would have probably been hard pressed to fiind a school without such religious texts), baccalaureate prayers at graduation being silenced, and the increasing secularization of the public square we face today.

    Thanks. I hope you had a wonderful Independence Day.
     
  14. Revmitchell

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    Every form of government in the history of the world has gone corrupt. There is none that has not. Governments and systems do not fail, the people running them fail. There is no form of government that will protect you from the abuse of men. Not even communism.
     
  15. Baptist Believer

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    Regarding my assertion:
    “God gives all people the right to be foolish, but does not give a country the right to intervene in the Kingdom of God. And Christians should not willingly permit any government to support or promote their faith -- it only weakens the church and distorts the call of Christ.”
    Source? It is my opinion, based on my understanding of the nature of the gospel and an examination of history.
    A few basic observations:
    1.) God does not compel anyone to repent and come to Him (although if you are a certain brand of Calvinist, you may not believe that), and gives us no authority to use the power of the state to influence others.
    2.) Early Christians did not need the support or even the tolerance of human governments to “turn the world upside down” with their message and lifestyle. Yet, when Christendom gained political power, the spiritual force and power of the gospel was diminished and the power of the sword was used against dissenters instead of the power of the Spirit.
    3.) There are many Christians in the USA who want to receive government tax monies for Christian education and Christian social ministries, ignoring that tax money comes with governmental oversight (as it should) that will almost certainly destroy the Christian character of the school or ministry. (There are many examples of this... especially regarding Christian colleges.)
    God doesn’t seem to be in the habit of striking down fools and unbelievers. For what its worth, Bertrand Russell lived to be 97 before his life ended, and he was one of the most caustic critics of Christianity of the last century. And we have many examples in scripture of God allowing evil people to continue to be evil instead of striking them down.
    Furthermore, in the parables of the wheat and the tares and the catch of fish (see Matthew 13), Jesus clearly demonstrates that God is perfectly willing to let good and bad people (that is, “fools”) live the course of their lives together before He intervenes and executes final judgment.
    Yes there is judgment, but God also seems to allow (demonstrated through observation and scripture) unbelievers and fools the right to walk this earth without Him.

    Apparently referring to “And Christians should not willingly permit any government to support or promote their faith,” Dale-c says:
    Oh, I think it is all true. :D

    Why should I want the government to support (by funds, laws, or influence) my faith?
    1.) It doesn’t need it. If we are preaching the same gospel the early church preached, then why would we care to have the approval or endorsement of earthly authorities?
    2.) People should not be attracted to Christiandom because it is “good for business” or “the appropriate thing”, etc. People should be drawn to Christ by His message and example, and follow Christ in transforming obedience through the influence and support of a local church. Otherwise, we end up with churches full of people who have no interest in actually following Christ or taking life-transforming steps to integrate Christ’s teachings in their lives everyday. (And we ALREADY have an enormous problem with that now!!)

    Yes. And that same God Incarnate taught us to “give to Caesar [the government] what is Caeser’s” and “give to God what is God’s.” That is a clear indication that God has established different realms for the kingdoms of this world and the Kingdom of God. The kingdoms of this world don’t have the right to intervene (for “help” or harm) in the things of God, and the established earthly structures of the kingdom (churches, denominations and ministry organizations) don’t have the right to exercise “power of the sword” (governmental power) over others.
    Individual Christians ARE called to be salt and light, even in politics, but must be careful not to try to gain favors for themselves at the expense of others, or promote/support governmental action that will compromise their faith and the work of the Kingdom of God.
    I agree... they answer to God – Not Jerry Falwell’s organization, not Pat Robertson’s organization, not James Dobson, not the Southern Baptist Convention, etc.

    I am very familiar with those passages.
    You are correct. But the principles they fought for a still very relevant today. Furthermore, contrary to revisionist historians like David Barton, the Supreme Court was very well informed of American History (including the Baptist contributions) when they decided the “school prayer” decisions of 1962-1963. Many pages of the 1963 decision was devoted to a retelling of this fight.
    Prayer has not been expunged from football games. People are free to pray any time they desire.
    What is not permitted:
    1.) Government representatives (teachers, coaches, etc.) are forbidden to initiate or lead prayers. They are also forbidden to use their authority to influence students to perform religious exercises.
    2.) Government equipment cannot be used to broadcast messages (prayers, sermons) through official channels (the sound system) to a group gathered for a non-religious purpose.
    3.) Government representatives cannot initiate meetings for religious purposes.
    I fully support those rules on the basis of scripture. Furthermore, that position is perfectly consistent with our Baptist heritage.
    If you read the Stone v. Graham (1980) case, you will see that the Ten Commandments were posted for the express purpose to having students meditate on the teachings of the commandments in an attempt to influence their behavior.
    Since the Ten Commandments are primarily religious (what business does the school have telling the students to worship God and not to create a graven image?), the schools are guilty of promoting a religious message by posting it on the walls of the school.
    Silenced? Nope.
    The same principles apply to this as in your first assertion regarding football game prayers.
    That’s because the church has been spectacularly ineffective!
    If our churches would return to calling people to follow Christ and give Him their whole lives in a daily transforming way, the culture would be transformed.
    Government programs and support of a lowest-common-denominator form of pseudo-Christianity will only weaken the effectiveness of the churches and poison the minds of those who do not yet know Christ.

    Unfortunately, I had to work to finish a project due July 5. But I did get to see some fireworks in the evening with my wife and a few friends. :D
     
  16. Dale-c

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    I agree with this point totally and I think we may be misunderstanding more than disagreeing.

    God is over government. God has given in His word the responsibilities of government.

    THe church should totally separate from that government. But the government it totally under God.

    Why else would it be wrong to murder?
    It is wrong because God said so.
    You can not separate God from Government. If you do, then government itself becomes god.
     
  17. Baptist Believer

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    You may be right.

    Yes.

    Well yes, but there is also a strong secular purpose to an abolition on murder. You do not need to be a Christian (or even a theist) to understand that murder is wrong and counterproductive to society.

    I can't separate God from anything. In fact, I have no power over God except the influence that He allows one of His children when I petition Him in prayer.

    However, I can certainly support a government that maintains neutrality toward all religious and non-religious viewpoints.

    For those who know no other higher power, government can take the place of God. For Christians, government is clearly not God.
     
  18. Dale-c

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    Government is in place of God when it comes to justice.
    It matters not if the person is a Christian or not, God's civil law still applies.

    I do think that a government needs to be Christian though, not neutral because that is impossible, neutrality. WHen we get away from God, we get things like abortion.
    WHen we have the church over Government, we get the spanish inquisition.
    See...either side of the balance there are problems.
     
  19. Baptist Believer

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    “In place of God”? No, I don’t think that’s quite right.
    Government, specifically government officials (see Romans 13) operate – whether they recognize it or not – as ministers of God to maintain a civil order. The government does not have to officially or unofficially have to acknowledge God for this to be true. Even in the cruelty of the Caesar-worshipping Roman Empire or the officially atheistic Soviet Union, this principle holds.
    “God’s civil law”? No, a government does not have to be explicitly based on Christian principles or values to be legitimate. Remember, Jesus taught that there were two spheres of authority: God’s and Caesar’s.
    Each person is accountable to God directly. And each person, Christian or not, is accountable to their own government according to Romans 13. There are times when a Christian will need to choose God over an unrighteous or destructive ruling of their own government, but those situations are exceptionally rare in the United States.
    In the United States, we are not living under a theocracy, and I would fight to prevent it from happening.

    It is often said by so-called Christian activists that government neutrality is “impossible,” but I believe that is nonsense. In the last 50 years, the United States has done a pretty done job with neutrality toward religion/religionists. If you take the time to read the Supreme Court rulings themselves, and not just the random quotes and mischaracterizations that certain activists toss around, you will see a fairly consistent view on church and state issues that resonates strongly with the New Testament-inspired views of religious liberty and historic Baptist conviction.
    The fallenness of our culture is responsible for abortion. The ineffectiveness of our churches is responsible for abortion. The so-called pro-life movement that only seems to be concerned about the lives of the unborn, but won’t lift a hand to help unwanted or neglected children is responsible for abortion. The so-called feminist movements that focus on feminine power instead of fairness for all, are responsible for abortion. The self-involved, woman-discarding macho man culture is responsible for abortion. The American idea that we exist for “the pursuit of happiness” is responsible for abortion, etc...
    However, please note that our laws do not require abortion... they allow it. If churches would get serious about the social implications of the gospel as well as the call of real interactive discipleship to Jesus Christ on a daily basis, we could rapidly wipe out most instances of abortion through our self-sacrificial love.
    Have you ever considered what might happen if unmarried pregnant women would feel welcome in “conservative” churches throughout the nation? If those “conservative” churches would actually live out their pro-life slogans and provide economic support for pregnant women and adoption services for newborns? Of course, some will argue that there would be people who would abuse that grace and not be responsible. They would be right. But that does not allow us to jettison responsibility for this problem.
    What often happens today is that pregnant women, ESPECIALLY those who are of a conservative Christian background, feel an intense pressure to cover up the evidence of their sin by ending their child’s life. Why is it that Christian churches, who allegedly preach the good news of grace and provide training in Christ’s teachings, often offer so little grace to sinners that their own members know better than to honestly reveal their failures?
    Well... this isn’t really a thread on abortion, but the popular “Christian” right viewpoint is so off-base, it has to be dealt with in this kind of discussion.
    Yes, or worse.
    But we don’t have to be in either ditch! It is called neutrality toward religion through the separation of church and state!! :D
     
  20. fromtheright

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    BB,

    Thanks for your response. It is truly wonderful to see and participate in a calm, friendly discussion over this issue.

    I agree with you. But SCOTUS's historical accuracy isn't always exemplary either. Everson inspired a storm of law review controversy in its time, too, as to its historical accuracy. I would also agree with you to some extent re at least the initial school prayer decision, as it actually involved a prayer written by the state. Though I don't believe it is a violation of the First Amendment (and I don't believe that the 14th incorporates the First either against the states) I do believe it is an improper mix and that the government has no business writing prayers. Also, while I have no problem with a student opening the school day with prayer in the front of class, I'm not comfortable with it. We did it when I was growing up and I think we mostly turned out OK. However, I certainly understand and appreciate the objection/answer of, how happy would I be if it was a Buddhist or Muslim leading a prayer in front of class. Given present-day religious diversity, I would prefer that none do it and I agree it is unfair to allow only Christian students to do so.

    Sante Fe Independent School District v. Doe was a case of student-led prayer. Yes, the school sponsored it, but students led the prayers. OK, let me re-state: Baptists in the founding period weren't having to contend with a ban on students saying prayers at football games over the sound system. I think it is clear they would have no objection against this practice. It is not an establishment of religion. Sure, it may violate the Lemon test but I believe that test flies in the face of the First Amendment, or even the First applied through the Fourteenth.

    I did read Stone, as I read Sante Fe (it's been a while for both) and read most every decision that comes out on establishment clause issues, and I don't dispute that was the purpose. I don't believe that such meditation is a violation of the Establishment clause, however.

    That was the issue in Lee v. Weisman in which a rabbi was scheduled to offer a prayer as part of a graduation program. The Court ruled against them. One thing I respect about that decision, though, is that at least the decision did attempt to rely on history (as Rehnquist did in his Wallace v. Jaffree dissent), though I think it was flawed.

    Thanks again, BB, Dale, and all, for the discussion and the spirit here.
     
    #20 fromtheright, Jul 6, 2006
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 6, 2006

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