KEEPING THE FAITH: A garden in the wilderness

Published: Tuesday, July 1, 2014 at 01:36 PM.

Because a commitment which requires government to remain as neutral as possible toward religion and not endorse any particular religious belief — even Christian belief — is the only environment where true faith can grow and flourish.

Roger Williams, theologian, founder of Rhode Island, America’s first Baptist, and champion of religious and civil liberty a hundred years before the United States Constitution was penned, said communities of faith were like vulnerable, flowering gardens. Governments, on the other hand, were what he called the wilderness.

Williams believed that those churches and faith groups that choose to mingle their religion with political power were permitting the wilderness to intrude upon their gardens. As such, they would be manipulated by politicians, policies, and the government, thus compromising on issues of love, justice, and mercy.

Or those same churches would become the manipulators themselves, using political power to force their beliefs on others. Either way, when church and state drank from the same cup, it would be the church that would be poisoned.

Roger Williams’ counsel to the Christian church in his day is lasting: Learn to live in the world, but don’t be a part of it. Or he might say, “You can plant a garden in a wilderness without having the wilderness in the garden.”

As Christians, we have the right, privilege, and freedom to live out, practice, and share our faith in this country we love. But we do not have the right to force our faith on others or demand that society at large, endorse our particular religious view.

When we as Christians do make these kinds of demands, we violate the spirit of Christ. We lay down the instrument of love for the devices of manipulation, coercion, and force. We let the weeds and vines of the wilderness overtake the garden of faith.



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