Former Chief Justice Roy Moore once installed a massive granite monument of the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the Alabama State Judicial Building. It was later removed as a violation of the separation of church and state. Once out of the courts, the monument went on tour.
Loaded onto a flatbed truck, it went town to town so onlookers could see for themselves this controversial work of stonemasonry. At the monument’s first stop, a single self-proclaimed atheist was there in protest. The Ten Commandment cohort did not take kindly to his presence.
“Shoot him … hang him … put him before a firing squad!” they chanted. One man said of the “godless” protestor, “I’m glad I didn’t bring my gun. I’d be in jail right now.” Here were ardent supporters of the Ten Commandments wishing to commit murder.
In spite of such threats, there has actually been less, not more, religiously motivated violence in United States history. This has been due precisely because of court rulings like the one that evicted Moore’s monument: The only environment where true faith can flourish is one where government remains neutral.
Roger Williams, theologian, Rhode Island’s founder and America’s first champion of religious liberty, said communities of faith were like flowering gardens. Government, however, he called “the wilderness.” Williams believed that those churches and faith groups that chose to mingle their religion with political power were permitting the wilderness to intrude upon their gardens.
As such, they would be manipulated by government or become the manipulators themselves, using political power to force their beliefs on others. Either way, when church and state drank from the same cup, it would be the church that would be poisoned. Roger Williams’ counsel to the Christian church in his day is lasting: “You can plant a garden in a wilderness without having the wilderness in the garden.”
As Christians, we have the right and freedom to live out our faith, but we do not have the right to force our faith on others or demand that society endorse our particular religious view. When we as Christians do make these kinds of demands, we let the weeds and vines of the wilderness overtake the garden of faith.
I hope we can continue to tolerate a variety of fruits and nuts in our religious garden; even those we have little taste for. It’s the only way we can maintain a garden at all.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor and author. His newest book is “The Gospel According to Waffle House.” You can read more at www.ronniemcbrayer.me/.