The “separation of church and state” is a popular phrase nowadays. Many have mistakenly thought this was an idea created by Thomas Jefferson, however the idea predates him almost 100 years before he made it popular. Roger Williams, who was influential in the founding of the state of Rhode Island made this idea popular during the days when there was an official state-church. Literally, the church decided how you worshipped and even forced a church tax. Williams’ ideas though popular now, were not so popular in the 17th century. In fact, for a time he was banished from his home for a season because of these “radical” beliefs.
Williams used an illustration drawing on the 10 commandments which were written on 2 tablets. Williams believed that the first 5 commandments were matters of conscience and only God should judge the individual concerning them, and the government had no jurisdiction in these areas (i.e. worship of God, no other gods, etc.) Williams was no anarchists though, he did believe that the last 5 commandments (i.e. murder, theft, etc.) were matters where the government had a responsibility to judge. From this belief, he held there should be a “wall of separation” and the government had no right to tell people how to worship or judge the personal relationships people have with God.
Today it seems these lines are beginning to blur again. Even though I personally seek a relationship with God through Jesus, this is not simply a “Christian” issue, but an issue for all those who seek to worship according to their conscience. Today, religious tolerance is hard to find. In today’s culture a baker who refuses to perform services that contradict his religious beliefs is taken to court and fined $135,000 for his decision. In another situation Catholic nuns who esteem and value life are being forced to pay for abortions? Where will this end? If people of all faiths do not stand up against this religious intolerance then we will find ourselves back in the dark ages where the state defines how their citizens can worship. You don’t think it can happen? Ask Roger Williams.
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