Monday, February 05, 2007

Leland's Grave

The Wall of Separation blog (arm of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State) has an interesting post on George W. Bush winning the Southern Baptist Convention's John Leland Religious Liberty award. The post points out that, given the history of Mr. Leland, awarding it to someone like President Bush is a sick joke. Leland was a firm advocate for separationism, and he actually spoke out against "toleration" because he said it did not go far enough:
The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence; whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.

Leland also wrote that "the fondness of magistrates to foster Christianity has done it more harm than persecutions ever did," and maintained suspicion of politicians who wore their faith on their sleeve.

It is a well-documented historical irony that the Baptists, some of the most stalwart defenders of religious liberty (for minorities especially) at the time of the founding, have now become associated with an aggressive drive to mix Church and State into as indistinguishable a blend as possible. In fact, this is somewhat unfair, as it is more the Southern Baptist Church, which broke away from the larger Baptist movement in the mid 19th century (largely over slavery issues) that has really been driving for Church/State unification. My impression is that the original Baptists remain reasonably committed to a separationist standpoint. Leland had already died by the time of this schism, but his legacy is most certainly not expressed by the SBC award recipients.

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