Witnesses to Great Commotions Over Religion, Politics, and Money

politics-religion-t-shirtYes, this post may be a game changer–where I dare to speak of religion, politics, and money–Growing up it was drilled into me to never talk about these topics in public and open conversation. But why?  Was this always an American position, or when did this begin?

From the history of my 15th-century ancestors primarily from England, France, Scotland and Wales, I learned that when people upheld their beliefs in conversation or practice, they were persecuted, imprisoned, condemned to death and mutilated, banished, or forced to flee their lands and families.

Persecution of Huguenots by Catholics

huguenots driven out of france

St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre

The slaughter of Huguenots (French Protestants) by Catholics at Sen, Burgundy in 1562 occurred at the beginning of more than thirty years of religious strife between French Protestants and Catholics. These wars produced many atrocities. The worst was the notorious St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in Paris, August 24, 1572. Thousands of Huguenots were butchered by Roman Catholic mobs. Although an accommodation between the two sides was sealed in 1598 by the Edict of Nantes, religious privileges of Huguenots eroded during the seventeenth century and were extinguished in 1685 by the revocation of the Edict. As many as 400,000 French Protestants emigrated to various parts of the world, including the British North American colonies.

 “Souled Out” – European Persecution

America has long been a land where people have reserved the right to say, “I disagree.” Many early settlers left England in the first place because they disagreed with English practice. Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson were two brave puritan souls who reminded everyone at their own great peril of that most sacred right.The dominance of the concept, denounced by Roger Williams as “enforced uniformity of religion,” meant majority religious groups who controlled political power punished dissenters in their midst.  It was this religious conviction and persecution that drove Protestants and Catholics alike from Europe to the British North American.  Nonconformists were shown no mercy and many were executed as heretics.

In some areas, Catholics persecuted Protestants, Protestants persecuted Catholics, and in still others, Catholics and Protestants, persecuted wayward coreligionists. Although England renounced religious persecution in 1689, it persisted on the European continent. Religious persecution, as observers in every century have commented, was often bloody and implacable and is remembered and resented for generations.

Religion and the American Civil War

Three of our nation’s leading Protestant denominations—Presbyterians, Methodists, and Baptists—were all divided over slavery or related issues. These church divisions fractured political parties and ultimately helped to divide the nation.

Christians who opposed the war on religious grounds were often persecuted. The Brethren eventually were allowed to be exempted from military service if they paid $500, but most suffered for their stance. For example, John Kline, moderator of the Brethren Annual Meeting, became distrusted because he provided medical aid to soldiers from both armies. Once he was jailed for two weeks, without cause, and in June 1864 he was ambushed and murdered.

Many preachers, especially in the North, felt that through the war the final glorious reign of God would begin. Both sides thought the war would be over in three months. Instead, it lasted four years, until 364,511 Union and approximately 260,000 Confederate soldiers lay dead from bullets and disease. More Americans died in the Civil War than died in all other American wars combined.

Many of the British North American colonies that eventually formed the United States of America were settled in the seventeenth century by men and women, who, in the face of European persecution, who stood up for and refused to compromise their passionately held religious convictions.

Matthew Brady's picture of a sermon given to the "Fighting 69th" Infantry in 1861.

Matthew Brady’s 1861 picture of a sermon given to the “Fighting 69th” Infantry of the New York State Militia.

The New England colonies, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland were conceived and established “as plantations of religion.” Some settlers who arrived in these areas came for secular motives–“to catch fish” as one New Englander put it–but the great majority left Europe to worship God in the way they believed to be correct. They enthusiastically supported the efforts of their leaders to create “a city on a hill” or a “holy experiment,” whose success would prove that God’s plan for his churches could be successfully realized in the American wilderness. Even colonies like Virginia, which were planned as commercial ventures, were led by entrepreneurs who considered themselves “militant Protestants” and who worked diligently to promote the prosperity of the church.  Many of my ancestors, in fact, were Quaker, Baptist, and Methodist ministers.

May 25 – September 17,1787:  The Philadelphia Convention

George Washington Is Elected President of and Presides Over the Federal Convention of 1787 in Philadelphia (now referred to as the Constitutional Convention)

George Washington Is Elected President of and Presides Over the Federal Convention of 1787 in Philadelphia (now referred to as the Constitutional Convention)

After nearly four months in session, the Constitution of the United States of America was signed by 38 of 41 delegates present at the end of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia (“The Philadelphia Convention”). Supporters of the document waged a hard-won battle to win ratification by the necessary nine out of 13 U.S. states.  The Constitution and other laws attempted to draw lines separating certain official government functions from the nation’s religious life. But these same laws have largely steered clear of regulating religion in the political sphere. And indeed, religion has long been entangled in the nation’s politics and its political campaigns.

The Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries and “Political Correctness”

Not much has changed over the past 2 to 3 centuries. Except that we Americans have been hammered with new terms to maintain our “political correctness.”  Who determines what is politically correct, anyway?  Is it the media? Leftists? Rightists? Academics? The public, in general? Somewhere between political correctness and bald-faced bigotry is our Constitution’s First Amendment that protects our rights to believe and say whatever we want.  political-correctness-and-merry-christmas
And yes, I acknowledge that this same first amendment also protects the rights of those who don’t agree with us so they can say whatever they want!  I’m starting to see that we as a human race still haven’t learned how to appropriately communicate with each other, to openly express and discuss our opinions, and to mitigate any discourse that comes as a result of our rights to this freedom of speech–this definitely is not to say that I am a proponent for the many derogatory and defaming words that some people choose to pummel at others because there are differences in race, sexual orientation, religion, politics, or other convictions.
Skipping Ahead to 2016 and the Presidential Election
October 15-18 2016: The Economist/YouGov.com conducted a web-based poll of 1,300 Internet Opt-in general population participants to get a handle on political views and the role of religion in their lives.   Its random sample (stratified by gender, age, race, education, and region) was selected from the 2014 American Community Study. Voter registration was imputed from the November 2014 Current Population Survey Registration and Voting Supplement.  The survey has an error margin of +/- 3.9%. Below is a snip it of its raw top-line results for both politics and religion, but let me bottom line just a few sentiments collected as a result of this poll:
  • 2/3’s of respondents reported that religion was somewhat to very important in their lives
  • 3 out of 5 respondents said they prayed outside of religious services from several times a day to at least once a week
  • 55 percent of respondents reported their religion as either Protestant (37 percent) or Catholic (18 percent)
  • Just under one-third of respondents reported themselves as born-again Christians
  • Just under 2/3’s said this country today is: “off on the wrong track”
  • 80 percent said they would vote for either Clinton (42 percent) or Trump (38 percent)
  • 83 percent when asked the voting question a little differently, “whether they had a good idea of who they would vote for;” said:  “I have no idea”
1. Would you say things in this country today are?
Generally headed in the right direction  28%
Off on the wrong track                           63%
Not sure                                                   9%
2. Do you have a favorable or an unfavorable opinion of the following people?
Hillary Clinton:
20%  Very favorable
20%  Somewhat favorable
12%  Somewhat unfavorable
45%  Very unfavorable
3%  Don’t know
Donald Trump: 15% 19% 10% 51% 4%
15%  Very favorable
19%  Somewhat favorable
10%  Somewhat unfavorable
51%  Very unfavorable
4%  Don’t know
3. Do you have a good idea of which candidate you’ll vote for in the presidential election in November, or are you still making up your mind? Asked of registered voters who will definitely/probably/maybe vote or have already voted
I have already voted                             5%
I have a good idea of who I’ll vote for 83%
I’m still making up my mind                  9%
Not sure                                                3%
4. Who will you vote for in the election for President in November? Asked of registered voters who will definitely/probably/maybe vote or have already voted – excludes registered voters who will definitely not vote
Hillary Clinton (Democrat)                  42%
Donald Trump (Republican)               38%
Gary Johnson (Libertarian)                  6%
Jill Stein (Green)                                  1%
Other                                                    3%
Not sure                                                8%
Probably won’t vote                              2%
  1. How important is religion in your life?

Very important                               37%
Somewhat important                     29%
Not too important                          16%
Not at all important                        17%

 144. Aside from weddings and funerals, how often do you attend religious services?

More than once a week                10%
Once a week                                15%
Once or twice a month                 10%
A few times a year                        14%
Seldom                                          23%
Never                                             26%
Don’t know                                       2%

145.  Would you describe yourself as a “born-again” or evangelical Christian, or not?

Yes                                                    31%
No                                                     69%

 146.  People practice their religion in different ways. Outside of attending religious services, how often do you pray?

Several times a day                         29%
Once a day                                      16%
A few times a week                         13%
Once a week                                     3%
A few times a month                         6%
Seldom                                            15%
Never                                               16%
Don’t know                                         2%

147.  What is your present religion, if any?

Protestant                                         37%
Roman Catholic                               18%
Mormon                                              2%
Eastern or Greek Orthodox                1%
Jewish                                                2%
Muslim                                                2%
Buddhist                                             1%
Hindu                                                  0%
Atheist                                                4%
Agnostic                                             5%
Nothing in particular                         21%
Something else                                  5%

Abraham Lincoln’s Perspective

Whether choosing to talk politics, whose side you’re on, who you voted for and why, or comparing the laws of man to God’s laws, Abraham Lincoln probably said it best when he said, “My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”


Christianity and the Civil War
History.com’s This Day In History:  September 17, 1787
Library of Congress:  Religion and the Founding of the American Republic
Pew Research Fact Tank:  Key Findings About Faith and Politics in the 2016 Presidential Campaign
The Economist/YouGov Poll:  October 2016
The Journal of Southern Religion: The Politics of Faith During the Civil War
USHistory.org:  Dissent in Massachusetts Bay



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s