In world of Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), Christians are under attack. (I just don’t what world he lives in.) What he basically is saying is that the U.S. is a country for Christians and Jews. If you don’t believe in the Old and/or New Testament, you’re out of luck in Rep. Forbes’s Constitution. (He also seems to tacitly be saying that President Obama isn’t one of us because he doesn’t accept the Congressman’s view of history.)
Check out this video of Forbes ranting about President Obama’s trip to Turkey earlier this year.
But here’s the thing. The founders of our country were very clear that they created a country that were there is freedom OF religion and freedom FROM religion. On July 4th I took a look at the contribution of George Mason to our bill of rights. What Mason wrote in the Virginia Declaration of Rights strongly influenced what Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution about religious liberty.
Close readers of my blog would know that I am a Baptist of the Jimmy Carter tradition. There are several group of folks like Carter and me who are working to tell the story of how colonial Baptists worked to convince the founding fathers that separation of church and state was worth including in our founding documents. One such group is called Mainstream Baptists. On their website, they have an interesting account of how a Virginia Baptist preacher named John Leland convinced James Madison to fight for religious liberty protections in the Constitution, something Madison was originally opposed to. Leland did it the old-fashioned way — he had decided to run against Madison to be a delegate to the Constitutional Convention and through politicking, Leland lined up enough votes to deny Madison a victory.
Madison, embarressed at the prospect of being the “father of the Constitution”, yet being unable to win a delegate’s spot to represent Orange County at the Virginia Convention meeting to ratify the Constitution, was ready to deal. Long story short, Leland pulled out of the election in exchange for Madison’s commitment to fight for the inclusion of guaranteeing religious liberty, free speech and a free press. Once Leland pulled out and backed Madison, Madison won the race over the remaining candidates by 10 votes.
Once the Constitution was ratified and the first amendment was adopted, Leland for his part, was thrilled. He wrote that it would be possible for a “Pagan, Turk, Jew or Christian” to be eligible for any post or office in the government.
The more I learn about Leland, the more I like him. Consider Leland’s warning about politicians like Randy Forbes:
Guard against those men who make a great noise about religion in choosing representatives. It is electioneering intrigue. If they knew the nature and worth of religion, they would not debauch it to such shameful purposes.
If pure religion is the criterion to denominate candidates those who make a noise about it must be rejected; for their wrangle about it proves that they are void of it. Let honesty, talents and quick dispatch characterize the men of your choice.
p.s. As an aside, Leland’s name is on a Baptist seminary in Falls Church, in the heart of Fake Virginia.