Friday, April 17, 2009

The Debate Over Theocracy

When I hear that tired old claim that our forefathers came to America seeking religious freedom, I want to scream: Do you have any idea how wrong that is? Never mind that the overwhelming number of people who came to the New World did so for money, fame, glory or power --- that has been well established in the history books --- but to make such a claim is to belie even a cursory knowledge of our nation's heritage.

It is true that a small number of people came to escape religious persecution. That is a true statement & supported by the history. Not a problem. But it is
not true that the they all came for religious liberty. Some did. A small number did. Not very many. Our Thanksgiving idea of the Puritans sitting around the table with the Indians with all sorts of prayers of thanksgiving they had founded a land with religious liberty is completely false. Again, a small number came to escape religious persecution but they did not come to establish religious liberty.

The ugly truth of history is that these people came to the New World & established religious liberty for themselves only. They set up the same theocratic system from which they had escaped in England. The only difference is that in the New World, they were the top dogs & they made the theocratic rules. The rules were the same as they had left, save the group making the decisions.

This sort of system was perfectly natural for them. The theology of the day supported a King that was ordained by God, an ordination that was decided by war or money or the Pope --- whichever manner God chose to beat up the most people to get His way.

So when the Puritans came to the New World, they had the idea that they were loyal to the King of England & the Congregationalist Church would be the official state church in the New World. Again, same system, different land.

It is there that most people have a void in their history. They either romanticize their version of history to make the current theology acceptable, e.g., that we were founded as a Christian Nation & the religious leaders need to have some power to help govern. Else they simply ignore parts of history to make it fit with their agenda. Either way the result is the same. Sneaky little devils.

We Baptists used to be the defenders of religious liberty. Something happened in the 1980s: politics. We got played by some religious leaders & other Godslingers who began twisting history & our votes to secure power. In the process, we sacrificed our identity on the altar of Power & Greed.

Just to show it use to not always be that way, here is an excellent piece in the January '08 Baptist Studies Bulletin. James Byrd discusses one of the early debates between the Puritans who came here to "Found a Christian Nation" as some have claimed, & the 1st Baptists who said the Puritans were just as much tyrants as what they left in England.

The debate sounds awfully similar to today: somehow God is found to give directions on everything from tax policy to health care to foreign aid, all of the ideas that just so happen to line up with the Republican platform. Imagine that.

Here's a quote:

When the debate came, the intimate connections between Puritan and Baptist identity came into sharp focus. Since the Baptists could not accept infant baptism, they withdrew from the churches to worship among other likeminded individuals. In so doing, Goold and others believed they were just being good Puritans. After all, the Puritan movement began, as the name indicates, as an attempt by some to “purify” the Church of England of is unbiblical practices. When the Puritans left England for America in the 1600s, they did so not to reject the Church but to reform it by demonstrating how a church based on biblical practices would look. Now the situation was reversed. As Goold said to the Puritans, just as “you did withdraw from the corruption” in the Church of England, in a similar way “we witness against your corruption” (67). These Baptists, in true Puritan spirit, felt obligated to inform their Puritan brethren that their “Bible Commonwealths” were not so biblical after all. Though Puritans claimed to be faithful to scripture in all of life, they still baptized infants even though the New Testament said nothing about infant baptism. Far from it – John baptized only adults, and Baptist debater John Trumble pointed out that Jesus instructed his apostles to teach “the doctrine of Christ” before baptizing anyone (62). Baptism followed instruction and spiritual experience, not the other way around.

The Baptists in the debate spoke a lot about the relationship between spirituality and liberty. In contrast, the Puritans countered with claims for authority, especially need for the church to discipline unruly members who challenged the established [majority] church and its ministers.

1 comment:

Georgia Mountain Man said...

...and discipline those members they did. Lord help those who were determined to have been heretics. Hanging was almost too good, but it sufficed.

Great post. Millions of Americans have been taught the Pilgrims and the Indians and little of the subsequent history of the Puritans.