Baptists have always believed in a firm separation of Church and State. It is hard for us, who lack the historic Baptist’s experience, to understand their conviction on this matter. Anabaptists (the forefathers of Baptists) went as far as to forbid their members from holding public office, which I feel to be a bit extreme but understandable given their harsh persecution from religious governments. In the Colonial days, Baptists still very much believed in a separation of Church and State, as demonstrated by John Leland’s petition to James Madison for religious liberty.
But, did you know many Baptists were initially skeptical of the Revolutionary War? After being persecuted by other Christian groups in the Colonies and even the Colonial Governments, Baptists feared many of their peers desired “liberty from oppression that they might have liberty to oppress.” The persecution was so great it is reported that over 30 Baptist preachers were arrested in Virginia in the 1760s and 1770s, the time directly preceding the War.
Reportedly, Baptists would later see the war and new Nation as providential. Yet, initially they were skeptical and even lamented the SPIRITUAL DAMAGE the war had done to their communities.
In writing of a great revival in the area, James Manning, an English Baptist preacher, wrote the following to a fellow minister in November 1776, “the fatal 19th of April the day of the Lexington battle, like an electric stroke put a stop to the progress of the work, as well as in other places as here. Oh horrid war! How contrary to the spirit of Jesus!”
Was it that Baptists were loyal to England’s tyranny? No, not at all. They just realized that they belonged to a Kingdom not of this world. They were but pilgrims and strangers. We only have so much energy, why not put that to work in the Lord’s Kingdom?
In one of the most politically charged eras in American history, we could learn a lot from our forefathers in the faith. Vote, peacefully share your opinions, pray for your leaders, but above all “seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Originally published June 2012