Church-State Separation in the US

Last evening, October 21, 2018, I listened to a “new” Christian evangelist featured on the program “Christ in Prophecy” by Dr. David Reagan of Lamb and Lion Ministries. My initial thought was questioning whether I could stand to listen to the whole thing last night because I really didn’t feel up to it, for a change. See, I regularly watch/listen to these types of telecasts to keep up with whatever the fanatical types will come up with next. And, of course, I place Dr. David Reagan in that category. From my perspective, anyone who espouses “end-times prophecy” is, well, a nut. Worse than this, they espouse a dangerous theology that can only lead us toward oblivion.

That being said, this “new” evangelist type who was featured on last evening’s program was Billy Crone, who heads Get a Life Ministries. Dr. Reagan had warned his audience to “buckle your seat belts” since this guy, he stated, talks fast. Frankly, I found myself beginning to yawn as Mr. Crone proceeded to speak. That is, until he glancingly alluded to the horror of the last eight years and to how great things all of a sudden were with the new Trump administration. It was then that I perked up, listening to a sickening litany of self-serving political garbage wrapped in Christian dogma – actually standard fare for these fanatical types.

Still, among the myriad of complete and utter falsehoods that this guy spouted in his presentation (seems like he tried to cover almost all of American history in just one sitting) was his insistence (common among these types of evangelicals) that there is no such thing as “separation of church and state” in the USA. Moan. So very tired of hearing this uneducated mantra – I wanted to just turn it off right then. But I continued to listen, my disgust increasing with every syllable he spoke.

This guy’s take on separation of church and state was different from any I have heard thus far, which only goes to show the extent that these types will go to in order to falsify history to their liking and feed their rabid audiences the red meat they came for. Yes, this guy actually stated that the letter that the officials of Danbury Baptist Church had written to Thomas Jefferson was citing their concern that another denomination (not theirs), which was gaining popularity at that time, would be made the official denomination of the US. Now, it had been some times since I had read the actual letter and I didn’t have time to do so again at that moment because I wanted to soon go to sleep. But I promised myself, already knowing that he was falsifying the content of said letter, that I would read it again this morning. Here is the actual text of said letter in full.

To Thomas Jefferson, Esq., President of the United States of America.

Sir,

Among the many million in America and Europe who rejoice in your election to office; we embrace the first opportunity which we have enjoyed in our collective capacity, since your inauguration, to express our great satisfaction, in your appointment to the chief magistracy in the United States: And though our mode of expression may be less courtly and pompous than what many others clothe their addresses with, we beg you, sir, to believe that none are more sincere.

Our sentiments are uniformly on the side of religious liberty‐‐that religion is at all times and places a matter between God and individuals‐‐that no man ought to suffer in name, person, or effects on account of his religious opinions‐‐that the legitimate power of civil government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbors; But, sir, our constitution of government is not specific. Our ancient charter together with the law made coincident therewith, were adopted as the basis of our government, at the time of our revolution; and such had been our laws and usages, and such still are; that religion is considered as the first object of legislation; and therefore what religious privileges we enjoy (as a minor part of the state) we enjoy as favors granted, and not as inalienable rights; and these favors we receive at the expense of such degrading acknowledgements as are inconsistent with the rights of freemen. It is not to be wondered at therefore; if those who seek after power and gain under the pretense of government and religion should reproach their fellow men‐‐should reproach their order magistrate, as a enemy of religion, law, and good order, because he will not, dare not, assume the prerogatives of Jehovah and make laws to govern the kingdom of Christ.

Sir, we are sensible that the president of the United States is not the national legislator, and also sensible that the national government cannot destroy the laws of each state; but our hopes are strong that the sentiments of our beloved president, which have had such genial effect already, like the radiant beams of the sun, will shine and prevail through all these states and all the world, till hierarchy and tyranny be destroyed from the earth. Sir, when we reflect on your past services, and see a glow of philanthropy and good will shining forth in a course of more than thirty years we have reason to believe that Americaʹs God has raised you up to fill the chair of state out of that goodwill which he bears to the millions which you preside over. May God strengthen you for your arduous task which providence and the voice of the people have called you to sustain and support you enjoy administration against all the predetermined opposition of those who wish to raise to wealth and importance on the poverty and subjection of the people.

And may the Lord preserve you safe from every evil and bring you at last to his heavenly kingdom through Jesus Christ our Glorious Mediator.

Signed in behalf of the association, Nehemiah Dodge
Ephraim Robbins
Stephen S. Nelson

Now, although the English language used in this letter is, shall we say, a bit “old” in character (something I am quite used to reading), anyone skilled in said language will readily be able to see that nowhere does it even so much as mention any sort of concern that another denomination might be recognized as the official denomination of the USA. There is absolutely NO mention of another denomination or any concern of that type within this letter, period. In fact, such an idea isn’t even so much as hinted at. Now, one may claim that this denomination may have had such a concern based on the history of the time, but if they did they did NOT express it here.

In fact, their concern appears to be more in line with religious liberty being seen as a gift rather than a right and that religious liberty should not only be treated as a right but also that the government should do nothing to the contrary. The writers feared that the Constitution was not specific enough on this point.

As a response, in an effort to allay the fears thus expressed, Jefferson responded in a short, but well thought out, letter thus:

To messers. Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins, & Stephen S. Nelson, a committee of the Danbury Baptist association in the state of Connecticut.

Gentlemen

The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist association, give me the highest satisfaction. My duties dictate a faithful and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, & in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more and more pleasing.

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ʺmake no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,ʺ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection & blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves & your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem.

Th Jefferson
Jan. 1. 1802

In this letter Jefferson clearly explained, in one succinct statement, what the founders had intended when crafting legislation concerning religious liberty. He stated that they had built “a wall of separation between Church and State”. He did not qualify this in any way whatsoever. He did not say that this applied only to Christians. He did not say that this applied only to certain denominations. He did not say that this applied only until people felt the need, somehow, to change it for their own self-interests. It was a complete, succinct, statement with no reservations or qualifications which completely explained what the founders, including himself, had intended, period.

But the evangelical end-times types continue to feel the need to try, harder and harder each time, to explain this statement away almost as if it didn’t even exist. In fact, no doubt they wish it didn’t exist, for if it didn’t then they might be able to claim free reign to conduct themselves completely as they see fit and persecute those of other religious faiths, using the government as the very tool with which to proceed. In fact, that is exactly what their ultimate aim is – a conservative Christian nation which essentially excludes those of any other persuasion. And, if one does not believe that this is their ultimate aim then they are invited to listen to the rest of Mr. Crone’s address. He provided the road map in vivid, sickening, detail. But I will not dwell on the rest of his diatribe at this time as I have just one aim here – to show how they will lie about this one historical detail in order to advance their cause. This is my sole focus today.

To that end I will briefly cite another historical document – one from ancient times – in order to illustrate their propensity for simply lying to advance their cause. But first, any student of ancient Christian history knows about the stories of the early martyrs. Supposedly each apostle was martyred for the faith (except for John who lived even though the Romans tried to boil him alive or something). In addition, the deaths of one Christian after another is recounted with hideous detail in the martyr stories, showing that the Romans were simply bent upon persecuting and wiping out all Christians from the very beginning in their unrelenting and constant efforts. And (I really don’t have to ask them about this because I used to be an evangelical fanatical Christian type, so I know) it is a foregone conclusion that Dr. Reagan and Mr. Crone both wholly believe such martyr traditions without the slightest reservation whatsoever. In fact, it is necessary for them to believe such stories in order to show how great the faith is – or how great their god is. And any evidence to the contrary be damned. Thus, they cannot even begin to accept such a wonderful scholarly and well-documented book such as “The Myth of Persecution” by Dr. Candida Moss (Harper Collins, 2013). This wonderful work doesn’t just blow a gaping hole in their story, it annihilates it and tears it to pieces! Point of fact, the evidence for prolonged, constant persecution of Christians by the Romans is non-existent. And, in fact, the evidence points to the contrary – that the Romans really didn’t try to deliberately wipe out Christians, with the exception of one episode at a late point, the so-called “Great Persecution” under Galerius and Diocletian (a persecution primarily prosecuted by Galerius, but which Diocletian historically gets most of the blame for).

The document in question, as most historians and scholars will have already figured out, is a set of letters between the emperor Trajan and Pliny the Younger, governor of Bithynia et Pontus. In this correspondence Pliny, having already acted to some degree, inquires of the emperor whether his actions toward prosecuting (not persecuting) had been correct and whether he should modify them in some way. Pliny was being, perhaps, excessively careful here. But, since doing the wrong thing could have meant his head, one can readily see why he reached out in this fashion. Slightly edited, these letters read thus:

Pliny to the Emperor Trajan

It is my practice, my lord, to refer to you all matters concerning which I am in doubt. For who can better give guidance to my hesitation or inform my ignorance? I have never participated in trials of Christians. I therefore do not know what offenses it is the practice to punish or investigate, and to what extent. And I have been not a little hesitant as to whether there should be any distinction on account of age or no difference between the very young and the more mature; whether pardon is to be granted for repentance, or, if a man has once been a Christian, it does him no good to have ceased to be one; whether the name itself, even without offenses, or only the offenses associated with the name are to be punished.

Meanwhile, in the case of those who were denounced to me as Christians, I have observed the following procedure: I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed. For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished. There were others possessed of the same folly; but because they were Roman citizens, I signed an order for them to be transferred to Rome.

Soon accusations spread, as usually happens, because of the proceedings going on, and several incidents occurred. An anonymous document was published containing the names of many persons. Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ–none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do–these I thought should be discharged. Others named by the informer declared that they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshipped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ.

They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food–but ordinary and innocent food. Even this, they affirmed, they had ceased to do after my edict by which, in accordance with your instructions, I had forbidden political associations. Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition.

I therefore postponed the investigation and hastened to consult you. For the matter seemed to me to warrant consulting you, especially because of the number involved. For many persons of every age, every rank, and also of both sexes are and will be endangered. For the contagion of this superstition has spread not only to the cities but also to the villages and farms. But it seems possible to check and cure it. It is certainly quite clear that the temples, which had been almost deserted, have begun to be frequented, that the established religious rites, long neglected, are being resumed, and that from everywhere sacrificial animals are coming, for which until now very few purchasers could be found. Hence it is easy to imagine what a multitude of people can be reformed if an opportunity for repentance is afforded.

Trajan to Pliny

You observed proper procedure, my dear Pliny, in sifting the cases of those who had been denounced to you as Christians. For it is not possible to lay down any general rule to serve as a kind of fixed standard. They are not to be sought out; if they are denounced and proved guilty, they are to be punished, with this reservation, that whoever denies that he is a Christian and really proves it–that is, by worshiping our gods–even though he was under suspicion in the past, shall obtain pardon through repentance. But anonymously posted accusations ought to have no place in any prosecution. For this is both a dangerous kind of precedent and out of keeping with the spirit of our age.

As one can easily see, although Pliny’s letter to Trajan was detailed and careful, the response from Trajan was succinct and complete in its answer. There are no qualifications in Trajan’s response whatsoever. One cannot misunderstand what he stated here by any means. Christians were breaking the law, but they were NOT to be sought out and persecuted and, even if found, had to be afforded multiple opportunities to denounce their faith and accept the ways of the empire as a whole once again. And, if they did so, there must be no repercussions whatsoever. There is nothing unclear about any of this here.

Thus, we have two sets of letters from two distant time periods, both dealing with Christians, asking serious questions concerning religious liberty. In both cases, the initial letter asking the questions can be seen as a bit rambling and indirect, but one can get the understanding contained in said letters quite easily. However, both responses are direct and succinct, leaving absolutely nothing to question further. In each case, the concern is answered without qualification, period.

Now, the evangelical end-times types don’t like the one set of letters any better than the other. The ancient set of letters disproves their beloved mantra of Christian persecution in the Roman Empire and the more modern set of letters disproves any intent of our founders to establish Christianity as the official religion of the United States of America, period. There is no mistaking either except among the fanatics who are more than willing to twist history to their liking at every point possible in order to promote their agenda, both religious and political.

I submit, I think on solid ground, that these evangelical end-times types – the David Reagans, the Pat Robertsons, the Jim Bakkers, the Jack Van Impes, etc. will all die, never seeing their lord’s return. Every one of them will die and Jesus will have not returned no matter how much they state we are in the last days, with one even stating that he is the final prophet before the return of his Lord. Frankly, end-times prophecy is actually the fanatic’s last big gasp before dying a disgusting death. In a couple hundred years no one will care one tittle about any of these false prophets. They will be relegated to the ash heap of failed history. And, in the mean time, those like myself will be here to pick apart their theology like a buzzard picks apart a carcass.

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