Thomas kidd on the Role of the Christian Faith in the Founding of America
On July 2, 2011 At 8:26 am
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In the view of Thomas Kidd of Baylor University, senior fellow at Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion and Author of God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution, the real facts of history in the heated debate over whether America was founded as a Christian nation or a secular nation, confounds both sides in the debate.
Thomas Kidd, in his view point analysis, published in Desert News, examined the role of faith in the founding of America and concluded that the reality of America's founding is more complicated than most participants in the rancorous secularist-religious state debate often portray it.
He begins his argument by pointing out the paradoxical fact that those who were at the forefront of promotion of separation of Church and State in the founding of the U.S. were themselves Evangelical Christians who, from experience, became convinced of the need for separation of Church and State. Their conviction arose from the realization that the State only tended to persecute dissenters when it identified itself officially with a particular sect or religion.
Kidd illustrates with reference to Virginia which was established with the Anglican Church as official religion. In the 1740s of the The Great Awakening, non-Anglican preachers, especially Evangelical Baptists, began severely criticizing the state and the Anglican establishment for spiritual lifelessness, sparking off what Kidd termed a first American Revolution in the religious sense.
The Anglican authorities began persecuting Evangelicals in the late 1760s. Kidd describes a 1771 incident in Caroline County, in which the Baptist pastor John Waller, was attacked by an Anglican parson who shoved the butt of a whip into his mouth to stop him from preaching and had him horsewhipped. He describes another occasion in which a preacher James Ireland was jailed and his followers, mostly African-Americans, whipped. Kidd describes the attempt of the authorities to kill Ireland in prison by attempting to suffocate him with burning brimstone and "Indian pepper" but Ireland continued preaching to his congregation from the cell.
James Madison, "Father" of the American constitution, in his formative years, witnessed the Anglican persecution of the Evangelicals and was deeply opposed to it. His experience led him, in his political career, to champion the principle of separation of Church and State, and religious liberty. James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and their colleagues enshrined religious freedom in the 1776 Virginia Declaration of Rights. Madison and other Evangelicals who supported him insisted that the government should stop supporting the churches.
no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship place or ministry whatsoever nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess an by argument to maintain their opinion in matters of religious.
But Kidd begins from this point to argue, curiously, that while the the First Amendment prohibition of 1791, was intended to establish separation of Church and State, not even the deist Jefferson envisioned a totally secular public sphere. He cites, to support his questionable argument, the fact that Jefferson routinely attended religious services in government buildings and that even though Jefferson was the author of the 1802 letter in which he declared that the First Amendment had erected a "wall of separation" between church and state, yet, the same weekend he sent this letter to the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut, a Baptist Minister named John Leland preached before a joint session of Congress with the president in attendance.
Kidd points out the paradox of the fact that Evangelical Baptists were the staunchest advocates of separation of Church and State (obviously from the fact that they were at the receiving end of Anglican persecution at the time of the founding of the American state), yet in their strong religious convictions, they freely associated with a skeptical deist politician like Jefferson because they saw him as representing the forces of religious freedom for Americans. Kidd then concludes, paradoxically, without any evidence to show that though America's founders were not all devout Christians they had Christian principles in mind.
Kidd misses the significant point that can be drawn from his synopsis of the Founding of America when he concludes that America was founded with Christian principles in mind. The principle of separation of Church and State which is the pillar on which the American constitution was erected is not a "Christian principle," but a liberal philosophical principle consistent only with deist theology. Nowhere in the bible is the principle of separation of Church and State taught. Christianity, in its Judaic heritage, is an exclusivist religion which hopes ultimately for the triumph of the Christian religious view point in secular life. He also overstates the significance of the support of Evangelical Baptists for Jefferson, a deist. The Baptists found common grounds with a deist not on grounds of religious principles but only from the expedience of the circumstance in which they were at the receiving end of Anglican persecution.
The most significant observation one can make from Kidd's historical analysis is the paradox in the fact that Evangelicals who fought for and secured their freedom of religious worship in America, in partnership with a deist "infidel," would begin, in twenty-first century history, attempting to reverse the triumph of the grounding principle of separation of Church and State which they fought for now that they find themselves having attained to an advantaged position in American political life.