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Religion and Politics in the Revolutionary Era
The Christians objective is not this world-certainly not the world of politics-but the Kingdom of God. Christianity is therefore essentially other-worldly. Jesus himself was entirely apolitical, and we, his, followers, must similarly hold aloof from the political arena. However, God is a political God, and a belief in God requires political involvement. (Davies 9) Consequently, the entanglement of politics with religion is inevitable. This concept is supported in Jon Butler’s article, Coercion, Miracle, Reason. Several colonies including Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware that lacked any kind of establishment used the law to uphold Christianity in general terms. For example, the Quakers in Pennsylvania forced office holders to affirm their belief in Christ’s divinity, banned blasphemy, forbade Sunday labor, and urged settlers to attend church so “looseness, irreligion, and atheism may not creep in under pretense of conscience.”(Butler 5) As if evident, the age of Revolution had motivations and justifications that were concerned with religion. The question is not whether politics and religion go hand in hand- that is apparent-but to what extent?
Examining Christianity and its basis, the Bible or scripture, supports the notion that politics is unavoidably involved with religion. Looking at the Bible on can find a plethora of references that evade to the fact of God being political and that the acts in history. God is referred to as lord, king, and ruler, one who sit on a throne. He has made them a people, having delivered them from slavery, entered into a covenant with them and given them a land or country. He was to give freedom to the captives and the oppressed, to have all things subject to himself and he will reign as one having supreme authority. But if politics is what God is doing, then equally politics is what people must do in response to God. (Davies 11-12) According to Davies politics should and will be involved and such that to the extent of where it is used serving God and only God. How can one say that religion (especially Christianity) be aloof of politics and vice-versa when it is obvious that the two work together. This is evident in biblical history as mentioned above. Nevertheless, what does it mean to be a Christian? Some feel that saying their prayers and going to Church constitutes one as being a Christian. However, the Bible does not emphasize strictly religious acts but upon obedience to God in everyday life. Take for example, the acronym, W.W.J.D? (What Would Jesus Do?), found on bracelets sold at drugstores, on tee shirts, hats necklaces and so forth. This logo is attempting to promote Christianity but in the way that they should act as Jesus would in all situations, in a sense imitate Him. Jesus died on the cross for salvation of the world, peace, reconciliation, and justice in the world i.e. in the full daylight of social and political life. Therefore, we as Christians are to take on this political role as well.
In the Revolutionary era, coercive authority was central in shaping religious institutions. As mentioned above denominations used this authority to shape the minds and experiences of members in the community just as the Pennsylvanian Quakers used their police officers to enforce Christianity. Colonist developed institutions to empower religion and so the denominations that were created exercised coercive power over their members because they valued authority. The denominations were hierarchical not democratic, institutions. (Butler 8) Therefore, during the Revolutionary era we have colonist who are exemplary Christians. These Christians are in fact doing their daily duties-political and non-political-for the community. For example, in reference to the well known “witch trials”, Christians often murdered innocent people and they did so in the name of God and Christianity. It was their Christianly duty to condemn those who were not subjective to God. Therefore, as we look at the story of Noah’s Ark we see the condemnation of those persons who were also not subjective to God. And these are both political actions. So just as Davies states, “But if politics is what God is doing, then equally politics is what people must do in response to God.” Moreover, as mentioned earlier in order to be a Christian one must as Jesus is.
In addition, not only did these Christians murder innocent people they also participated in the destruction of the African religious systems brought to America. Christianity played a major role the 18th century African spiritual holocaust by the way it shaped slavery. Between 1680 and 1740, Anglican clerics in the South articulated a doctrine of absolute obedience. In addition, Maryland’s Thomas Bacon prescribed a regimen of unconditional obedience for slaves with consequent expectations for owners. Bacon called the owners of plantations “Gods overseers.” Moreover, since they were his direct representatives, God himself would punish slaves in the next world for disobeying their owners. (Butler9-13) Here is a perfect example of how coercive authority is used to appease Christians and their universalistic ideas. Christians, as was evident in the Revolutionary era, used this mechanism in a way to justify their logic of social and political order. Because if this coercive authority the majority of Africans religious beliefs were demolished. Africans at this time had no other choice but to become subservient to the Lord to whom these Christians prayed or death would become them.
Ironically enough these colonist broke away from coercive religion in the name of freedom only to create a society solely based on coercion and them destroy a group of people for not subjecting to them, and this is all in the name of religion, specifically God and Christianity. In conclusion, political involvement in religion has been present since the beginning of time. Moreover, in each case that religion, specifically Christianity, has been used it has been justifiable. Considering that God is political and Jesus’ death held political consequences we as Christians must take on this political role as well. And such that to the extent of where we will fight for our peace of mind, happiness and of course justice.