The 215th anniversary of Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists spurs this quick post. This explores some of the history of Thomas Jefferson and how this letter came about. Plus also why the separation of church and state is necessary and good for both the state and the church.
“I think that this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”
John F Kennedy honors the Nobel Prize Winners in April of 1962
“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”
Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptists on January 1, 1802.
Well, then,” Jesus said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”
Mark 12:17 NLT
Thomas Jefferson in 1800. Source is Wikipedia.
On January 1, 1802 Thomas Jefferson received a unique gift from his Baptist admirers in New England. That gift was a 1,200 lbs. wheel of cheese with a note that said, “The Greatest Cheese in America for the Greatest Man in America.” The question to be asked is why did Jefferson receive this gift from his Baptist admirers? Could it be due to the effects of Puritan theology and congregationalism in New England? Could this be due to the fact that the Baptists were a minority and often dissenters in New England? I am thinking a loud and asking these questions as well. Thomas Jefferson then sat down later that day and wrote the below note to the Danbury Baptists. this note would be significant in the history of the United States because Thomas Jefferson re-affirmed the role of separation of church and state, and the rights of religious minorities to practice their faith in freedom. In this case it was the Danbury Baptists.
To messers. Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins, & Stephen S. Nelson, a committee of the Danbury Baptist association in the state of Connecticut.
The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist association, give me the highest satisfaction. my duties dictate a faithful and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, & in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more and more pleasing.
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.
I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection & blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves & your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem.
Jan. 1. 1802.
Thomas Jefferson I believe is one of the most gifted men in American history. Where would the United States be without his legacy today? Thomas Jefferson was the author of the Declaration of Independence. His magnificent words which challenged the British. Ponder the opening of the Declaration of Independence. “When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. ” His words were an eloquent form of poetry. We forget today the incredible risks the signers of the Declaration of Independence took. We look back knowing how the American Revolution turned out. At the time there were no guarantees as to how the American Revolution would go. After all 13 colonies were in the process of standing up to the mightiest power on the globe at the time. Had the American Revolution failed all the signers of the Declaration of Independence would have been executed. Stop and consider the uprising from the eyes of the British. It was treason, and a civil war. After the formation of the United States first by the failed Articles of Confederation and then the Constitution Thomas Jefferson was a busy men. He served as governor of Virginia in 1779 and 1780. He later served in Congress, as Minister of France, and then Secretary of State. In 1796 Thomas Jefferson lost the electoral college to John Adams and served as Vice President. In 1800 the national election was between Thomas Jefferson of the Democratic-Republicans and John Adams of the Federalist Party. The election was decided by the House of Representatives in 1801. Thomas Jefferson served as the third President of the United States.
Why Separation of Church and State is Necessary
Thomas Jefferson was a strong advocate of separation of church and state. Don’t believe that crap that David Barton writes. He wrote and revealed his feelings in his letter to the Danbury Baptists. I want to start out 2017 by remembering that letter that Thomas Jefferson eloquently penned. In 2017 there are many articles and topics in atheism and secular humanism that I want to write about and pursue. But I first want to explain, as a Christian, why I believe in the separation of church and state. In this prior post I explained why the United States is not a Christian nation. By mixing faith and politics what is created is something far toxic and destructive. One only has to look at the secularization of Europe which is a long lasting result of mixing church and state. Church and state are not designed to be together, instead they work best when separate. The government works exceptionally well when its not fighting or captured by differing theological movements. Theocracies can be dictatorships, after all one only has to look at John Calvin’s Geneva or some of the Islamic countries today. The government works best secular when it can focus on the national duty of preserving, protecting and defending the country. A secular government can actually guarantee all religions freedom of worship and expression. That protects all people who desire to worship in freedom. One only has to look at the problems the Puritans created in New England. Is it not ironic that they fled religious oppression only to then duplicate it?
In contrast the church also functions best when it is outside the realm of government. The church can do what it does best when it is free to do what it is designed to do. It can worship freely, serve the poor, help the sick, and reach out to those spiritually looking. One of the problems of mixing church and state go back to Constantine I would suggest. I believe that is the first time in history where the state and the Christian church were combined into a single entity. If I am mistaken please correct me below. The church could do amazing things if it wasn’t consumed by trying to influence government through political means. Think of all the people who can be helped and nursed by the church alone. When the church is mixed with the state the church takes a hit and the Gospel suffers. This is another aspect that people do not contemplate.
This is the first secular post that I am writing today, but its going to be one of many. I decided to do this after reading this post from Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. I’ve seen a few articles and issues in the atheist world that I already have in draft form and need to sit down and write. But I wanted to call my camp out and challenge them to embrace the separation of church and state, as that would be the best for the church. For those of you who feel that the church must get involved in politics I have these questions to ask you. Is there a covenant between the United States and God like there was between Israel and God? Did Jesus suffer and die at Calvary so that one party could control the Executive Mansion at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue or control the Supreme Court? If you say yes, they I am going to challenge you to read your Bible. I would also suggest that a new pseudo-national state religion has been created and as Paul would say in Galatians, you are following another Gospel. One can be a conservative Christian and support church and state separation. Its time for those who believe as such to speak up and raise their voice. To the atheist and secular crowd I want to re-affirm that there are many topics to indeed tackle over the upcoming year. If you hear of any please feel free to shoot me a note. As always I love you guys and I welcome differing feedback below.