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Fighting for Liberty of Conscience in a Trumped up World

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With the appointment of Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary, Trump (sorry I can't utter the phase "President-elect Trump" right now), has sent yet another clear nod to the religious right that he's on their team. Simply put, this family's infusion of their cash and religious beliefs into politics extended well beyond Grand Rapids, Michigan where Betsy DeVos served as an elder at Rob Bell's Mars Hill Church. Along with the Adolph Coors Company and Dominos Pizza, the Amway Corporation founded by Rich DeVos remains one of the major backers of religious right causes. Lest anyone feel these recent movements toward the hard right represent a new trend in Americana Christianity, this 21st-century mantra for the U.S. of A. to become a Christian nation has been uttered in various incantations starting with the 17th-century debates between Massachusetts Governor John Winthrop and Roger Williams, founder of the state of Rhode Island. At the root of their disagreement was Winthrop’s anointing of the Massachusetts Bay Colony as a beacon of light and a Christian “City on the Hill” blessed by God while Williams argued for liberty of conscience, the right of all to practice their beliefs free from interference from the crown. Clearly, Williams would rail against the very notion of a “Christian nation” arguing that those who call themselves Christians are bound to Christ by faith and repentance, not via their allegiance to the United States. The founder of the first Baptist Church in what later became the United States would be appalled at the sight of Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell and other Baptists draping the cross of Christ with the American flag. He could not for a nanosecond begin to comprehend their evangelical interpretation of a God who advances the notion of American exceptionalism while damning those to hell who do not follow in their way, truth, and light. No way would the creator of the first charter granting religious liberty to all align himself with any Christian entity who sought to sit at the right hand of the President of the United States. Rather he would storm the halls of the National Prayer Breakfast and turn over the tables temple style. In Williams' day, going against the established church meant fighting with those Puritan Divines who wanted to purify the Church of England while still remaining on good graces with the crown. Pre-dating the Marie Antoinette confectionery myth, they wanted to have their cake and eat it too. Today, he would be battling with a wider swath of self-appointed Christian leaders including Pentecostals, Roman Catholics, and evangelicals, who wish to craft their notion of God’s will into laws that the entire populace must then follow. Their motto reads “Religious liberty for me but not for thee.” In defining his role in the public sphere, rather than create Puritan enclaves designed to separate the saved from the damned or encouraging dialogue to “discuss” the rights of the “outsider,” Williams chose to act. He employed his skills as a gifted linguist to embrace all, knowing we are not isolated individuals but part of a shared global humanity. Those interested in learning more about Roger Williams' legacy as a pioneer of religious freedom are welcome to download my ebook "Roger Williams' Little book of Virtues" at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/294776. Use coupon code BW98L for a free copy.