Free to Believe
Going to church was something I looked forward to when I was a kid. My mom’s family was Baptist and my dad’s family was Assembly of God, and for the most part I liked both churches. By and large, church was a nice place to go on Sunday mornings. First came Sunday school, then the sermon, then hanging around with people. Church provided a nice sense of community, of belonging to something that other people were a part of. Then, when I was eight or nine years old, something happened to change that.
We’d been attending a Baptist church. It was close and convenient, and had a large congregation. I can remember hearing my parents talking about how much they liked the church and its pastor, but that changed. Somehow the issue of baptism came up, and my dad and the preacher got into an argument about the relative merits of baptism by sprinkling versus baptism by immersion. My dad had been baptized one way and insisted that he need not be baptized again, but the preacher insisted that the only valid way was the other. I really don’t remember who advocated what, but I do remember that the argument became very heated over the course of a few Sundays.
The argument escalated to the point that one day I thought the pastor and my dad were going to come to blows. Here were two men, both of whom I respected, though obviously in different ways and to different degrees, who were so rigid in their beliefs that there was no room for the other’s opinion. I’d been going to church long enough that I felt I knew that the most important thing was to accept Jesus Christ as one’s personal savior. Both men had done that, and both men, as far as I could tell, worked very hard to live their lives according to what Christ taught. And both were unyielding in their positions. We never went back to that church again.
I began to question the beliefs I had been told were the unquestionable word of God – both sets of beliefs. It was and remains an ongoing process, but at a very early age I came to the conclusion that whatever relationship I have with God is between me and God. When I hear intolerance about religious differences, when I see judgment passed on faith of a “lesser” quality, I feel the anger start to boil within. Over the past several years, that anger has been a more and more common companion of mine.
At the 1992 Republican convention Pat Buchanan gave a speech wherein he proclaimed that this nation is in a “religious war.” He’s right – and he’s one of the primary instigators of that war. Buchanan, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, Robert Simonds, D. James Kennedy and an ever-growing list of fanatics, liars and hucksters are leading ambushes on religious freedom in America. They and their followers are out to convert you and me to their beliefs, and they have vowed to take no prisoners. They decry the separation of church and state, sometimes claiming that it has never existed, other times calling out to “tear down this wall.” They want obligatory religious faith, legislated religious conformity and mandated piety, with severe penalties for those of us who might waiver.
The legislation they demand cannot create faith, it can only coerce shallow and insincere lip service to faith. Government cannot codify and define God in a way that everyone will accept, and it has no moral authority to attempt even that. When I consider issues of faith and conscience, something I’ve done very often for more than forty years, sometimes in the dead of night, I know that I have the absolute and inalienable right, and I would argue a responsibility, to come to terms with my own relationship with God as I see that relationship and that God. I allow for no government stamp of approval or participation in that process, and I will not submit to a “litmus test” of faith to judge my worth as a citizen, a person or a man. I am free to condemn myself to hell or seek salvation by any means my mind and soul can devise, and I will do so without the intolerance and condemnation of the zealots who are currently seeking political influence in the name of God – their god.
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