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Baptist founder Williams was force behind separating church, state

Feb. 21, 2012 at 10 p.m.


If you missed remarks made by ETBU President Dub Oliver before a congressional committee last week, you might want to look them up in our story at marshallnewsmessenger.com or on the ETBU Internet site.

Oliver made some interesting points. You may agree or disagree with what he had to say or probably a little of both. Such is the nature of religion, and religion will be at the heart of the coming presidential election, I can almost guarantee.

What interested me most was Oliver's mention of the historical Baptist church, which was one of the fiercest supporters of the idea of separating church and state. This is not something that is well-known among many Baptists today, but that denomination had bad experiences with government long before there ever was a United States of America.

Roger Williams organized the first Baptist church in America in the seventeenth century after having been run out of Massachusetts Bay Colony because of his "new and dangerous opinions." Part of the basis of the church, along with total immersion baptism, was the separation of church and state. He would later write two important documents just on that theory alone that would influence Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, among many others.

This idea of the separation of church and state not much highlighted among Baptist writing you see today, though ETBU is probably the exception to that rule, where it is probably studied.

Since each Baptist church is independent, the approach to separation of church and state probably varies from one congregation to another. Many Baptists might not mind a bit to have a little overlap, especially when it comes to one particular hot topic: organized prayer in public school.

When Roger Williams formed his church there weren't any public schools and all schools were tied to religion in one way or another. He would have wanted schools to be religious, but not if they were tied to the government in any way. He would not have stood for that.

Because Williams understood the danger. First, when people of many different beliefs come together, whose prayer do you use?

Looking at it another way in this presidential election so far, who gets to choose the prayer: Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Barack Obama?

I'm guessing that some readers are going to be fine with some of those choices and horrified by others.

I am not an expert on Williams, but I believe he might have understood something else about government. That is simply this: When a government gains the power of permission, it also has the power of prohibition. When a government is able to say what you can do, it then can say what you must do.

This is what makes me extremely queasy with any government involvement in contraception and what I believe is the very matter that Oliver and others were protesting about in Washington. The government should not be telling us either than we must or must not, that we can or cannot. When you open the door to just one of those options, you open the door to all.

And when we talk about the "government," let's be perfectly honest. The government is us. You don't have the right to tell me what I can and cannot do in certain matters and the same holds true for me. It is not your business, or the business of any Republican or Democrat, Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul or anyone else. Period.

Likewise, how you vote is completely your choice and if you want to base that on religion, have at it. Just don't forget that every four years there is another presidential election and eventually someone with a radically different religious view is going to be running. You may be completely comfortable now but the question is, will be you comfortable with it then?

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