During the American Revolution, Congregational and Presbyterian pastors made patriots out of their members to the point of taking up arms against the Loyalists, the British army and the oppressive rule of British King George III. The Separatist and Regular Baptists also took up the call toward the end of the war. Their persuasive message proclaimed that God was on their side and that their cause was just.
It helped fuel the preachers’ patriotic fire when many of them were jailed for preaching without a license from the government church, the Church of England. The Rev. Lewis Craig and his brother, Elijah, unlicensed Baptist preachers, were jailed in Virginia. The Rev. Daniel Marshall was arrested in Augusta.
Only Church of England pastors were permitted to preach. All others had to have a license. The rebel preachers believed that they had their authority to speak from God, and that was all they needed.
The Rev. Elijah Craig, whose famous Kentucky bourbon is still made and sold today, would later collaborate with James Madison on constitutional guarantees for religious freedom.
Two Charleston, S.C., activists and preachers, Presbyterian William Tennant III and Baptist Oliver Hart, were sent to the South Carolina backcountry by the provincial congress in 1775 to persuade wavering citizens and pastors to join the Revolution. Hart and Tennant were the most influential pastors in the Lowcountry and absolutely opposed to autocratic rule.
Their efforts to persuade others to convert to the cause met with strong resistance from prominent pastors such as Baptist Philip Mulkey, who was an avowed Loyalist. However, the Charleston pastors persuaded many to sign a pledge of fidelity to the patriot cause in spite of heckling and opposition from the Loyalists.
The Congregational Church in Midway, Ga., and the parish that contained the church were a hotbed for revolution, giving us Dr. Lyman Hall and Button Gwinnett, signers of the Declaration of Independence from Georgia. Nathan Brownson was a member of the church and served in the Continental Congress from 1776-78. Midway Church was burned to the ground by the British in the Revolutionary War in retaliation because the church mixed religion with politics.
Patriot preachers such as Baptist Tidance Lane and his seven sons and many others whose religion motivated them to fight soundly defeated the Loyalists at the Battle of King’s Mountain in North Carolina on Oct. 7, 1780. Thomas Jefferson called this victory “the turn of the tide of success.”
Our freedom of religion legacy extends to today as Hobby Lobby made a case – and won – that the government cannot violate what a closed corporation or family-owned business believes is morally right based on its religious beliefs.
A Baptist preacher, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., captured the spirit of mixing religion with politics when he was arrested and jailed in Birmingham, Ala. He wrote, “One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws … I would agree with St. Augustine that ‘an unjust law is no law at all.’ … To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.”
Religion gives moral direction to government by asking, “What does the Lord require of you?”
And then religion answers that question loudly and clearly: “The Lord requires of you to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
Religion must mix with politics to have any chance that government is and will be fair, just and merciful. Our religious freedom guarantees it. Our heritage and history prove it.
THE REV. DAN WHITE IS PASTOR OF NORTH COLUMBIA CHURCH IN APPLING.