Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Welcoming God: Part 2

The second in a two-part series looking at how God is welcomed by the world:

As a child, I dressed up, along with my classmates, as a pilgrim or Native American while our class learned about the desire for religious freedom of our nation’s founders.  The Pilgrims became icons for religious liberty, but this view, although popular, is not historical.  The Pilgrims disagreed with the established Church of England.  However, their goal was not freedom of religion, but a desire to establish their own context where they could, like the Church of England, enforce adherence to their own doctrines by the community.  Thus, in the early years of this nation, the reality was that a legal relationship existed between church and state in the individual colonies, which were soon to become independent states.  It wasn’t long before states became indentified by faith as well as commerce.  From Episcopalian Virginia to Congregationalist New England, Roman Catholic Maryland to Baptist Rhode Island and Delaware, states were identified by the particular faith practices of their citizens.  Pennsylvania was itself divided by eastern Quakers, mid-state Anabaptists and Western Presbyterians, while New York City was a hotbed for the Reformed Church.  In the midst of the diversity of doctrine of these states, they would find a common ground that ultimately led to the American Revolution.  Professor and author Hunter Baker noted, “Unlike the French Catholic church, the American church was a major force in the revolution, rather than a target of it.”

Predominantly Protestant, the early framers of the Constitution were influenced by Christian worldviews.  The belief in the depravity of the human condition is credited in having influenced the checking, limiting and balancing of power.  The idea that humans are created in the image of God influenced the idea that human beings have “inalienable” rights that are guaranteed not by human institutions but by “their Creator.”  While certainly not perfect, with the institutionalized discrimination of women and slaves, these doctrinal positions welcomed God’s authority in every facet of human interaction.  The Bible, as both a cultural force and an accepted revelation of God’s will for personal conduct, organization of families and communal laws functioned as the foundation for both criminal and civil law.  The Bible was understood as the great equalizer.  With Scripture in hand, the stable boy could stand in the presence of a monarch and discern together as equals since, before God, one was no more important than the other.  Such is not the case with all religions where cast systems separate rulers from untouchables, as in Hinduism, or where one group works while the other only prays, as in Buddhism.

In its original understanding, secularism was an idea that though government is influenced by religious worldviews, its application of particular viewpoints by the government must be neutral.  This was first introduced to our nation by the Baptists of Rhode Island.  Unfortunately, secularism has changed throughout the years.  The foremost research center on secularism is housed at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut.  In a recent study of secularism, the center concluded that today’s definition of secularism is the total absence of religious influence in the organization of not only government, but culture. Unfortunately, we are all influenced by something. What is the end of a people who no longer welcome God? We shall soon see.

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