“a great noise about religion”

One of the things that Baptists should agree with, if nothing else, is that religion and the state should be separate. The obvious source of our strong philosophy, rooted in freedom of conscience, was that established churches were particularly hard on early Baptists and other dissenters.

Some of us Baptists and other Christians may appear to forget this, when we fulminate against secular political figures or expect those running for public office to be confessional Christians with whom we would be comfortable sharing a pew.

ne early American voice striving against the establishment of any church was Baptist minister John Leland (1754-1841). Unfortunately, the Rev. Mr. Leland has been appropriated by some who think that the prohibition of an established church means that there be no religion expressed in the public square.

Leland would likely have been horrified at some of the things that some Baptists (and other Christians) say. I think he would have publicly disciplined them, and reminded them that the Christian religion is about the salvation of our souls, about our personal relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ. In other words, public statements by Christians speaking as Christians ought only concern the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

As for the wisdom of involvement in secular politics at all, consider these words from John Leland:

Guard against those men who make a great noise about religion, in choosing representatives. It is electioneering. If they knew the nature and worth of religion, they would not debauch it to such shameful purposes.– “July 4th Oration by John Leland, July 5, 1802”. The Writings of John Leland, Edited by L.F. Greene

In this, the Rev. Mr. Leland was a wise man. In this, he was only following our Lord, who very clearly told us that his kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36).   Our faith is between us and God.  It should form us, and will help us follow the Lord’s command to love our neighbor which we may carry out through politics.  But politics is not about salvation, and those running for office who present themselves as though they were preachers should be avoided.

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