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June 08, 2005

This Week in Church History

June 9, 1732.

"Separation of Church and State" is a rallying cry today. I am in favor of keeping government out of the business of the church, and I think that the church has many more important things to do than worry about the details of running a nation. But I do NOT think that this means that Christians should expect no support from government in practicing their faith, nor does it mean that Christians should not act on their beliefs in public office.

On this date in 1732, the charter of the colony of Georgia was signed by George II of England. Though established primarilly as a debtor colony, with an eye to helping defend the Carolinas from Indian attacks, Georgia was heavilly promoted by a man with a decidedly Christian motive. James Oglethorpe is recorded to have said

In America there are fertile lands sufficient to support all the useless poor in England, and distressed Protestants in Europe; yet thousands starve for want of mere sustenance.

Christianity will be extended by carrying out this design; since, the good discipline established by the society, will reform the manners of those miserable people, who shall be helped by it; and the example of a whole colony, which shall behave in a just, moral, and religious manner, will contribute greatly towards the conversion of the Indians, and remove the prejudices received from the wicked lives of such who have scarce any thing of Christianity but the name.

Similar to the finction of the Pennsylvania colony of William Penn, actually, an Oglethorpe certainly had Penn's ideas in mind. There was no state church in Georgia -- even Catholics were protected "so [long as] they be contented with the quiet and peaceable enjoyment of the same not giving offense or scandal to the government."

A Christian nation? No. Christian principles? Certainly. I believe that the founding fathers would have seen in C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity a picture of the religion that they practiced (except for Jefferson, of course, and possibly Franklin). Common ground among Christians of all denominational stripes. Working together in areas that we all agree -- agreeing to disagree on nonessentials, prayerfully correcting each other when we disagree on essentials. The goal of the Georgia colony was lofty. Unfortunately, Oglethorpe was recalled to England due to his conflicts with the colonists over slavery, and much of his influence was lost.

Posted by Warren Kelly at June 8, 2005 09:11 PM | TrackBack
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