last sunday, i attended church with my dad at his church. the theme of the service was a patriotic one, and the sermon addressed the topic of religious freedom. as the minister spoke about religious freedom being the reason our ancestors came to this country so long ago, i wondered if the baptists and quakers in colonial massachusetts found those who governed massachusetts to be proponents of religious freedom. this myth of religious freedom being the reason that the early colonists came to this "new world" is another of those "founding father" myths about an idealized colonial america that didn't exist. rather, many of those who came here wished to make their own brand of christianity the "established" religion rather than the church of england. true, there were some colonies where religious freedom flourished, such as rhode island and pennsylvania, but many of the early colonists wanted to establish their own theology and polity as the official church. it was against this history of religious tyranny that the real founding fathers proposed to establish a government that was free of any hint of religious preference or establishment, that was "religion-free" and "religion-neutral."
as the sermon went on, i wondered how this preacher, and many others in the current religious-political climate, could on the one hand extol the virtues of the religious freedom practiced in colonical america and at the same time call for a return to the dominance of evangelical christianity as the religion of the land. can we be a "christian nation" and have religious freedom? where do jews, muslims, hindus, universalists, pantheists, agnostics, and atheists find religious freedom in this return to an imagined christian united states? doesn't this call to return to roots that never existed betray the very reason our country came into being?
my prayer today is that we speak out against those who suggest that we are or ever were a christian nation and that we learn to respect those whose light leads them in another direction.