THERE are in this land a number of very large and growing religious organizations, of which the Christian Endeavor Society, the Christian Citizenship League, League for Social Services, etc., stand as examples. The watchword of these organizations is, Reform.
They see among other things that there is great need of reform in the civil government. They see that corruption is enthroned in politics; that bad men are running the affairs of State. And they come naturally to the conclusion that the remedy is to turn the bad men out of office and keep them out, and put good men in their places. They conclude that they ought to go in and take the political reins into their own hands, and run the government themselves. They are fully confident that if the politicians would only do as they say, this would be a truly Christian Government in a very short time.
The idea is a plausible one, certainly. It seems axiomatic that the good people ought to run the Government; and, of course, the best people are to be found in the church. Whatever dispute there might be on this point, not a doubt of it is entertained in these religious societies. Nor would we imply that the statement is at all doubtful. We believe the best people are in the church.
But of the “best people”—the good and zealous Christian people of the land, who compose the church congregations on Sundays—ought these people to run the government? We think not. But as our arguments on the subject might have but little weight, we will refer to the testimony of history; for history certainly gives an emphatic caution upon this point.
The colonial history of America had its beginning in the efforts of the church people in England to run the government of that country. They made the conditions there so uncongenial for the religious minority, that the latter decided to emigrate to the wilds of North America. The hardships of life in a strange and unsettled country, with separation from kindred and friends, were preferable to the conditions imposed upon them by the government under the control of the religious majority at home.
When Massachusetts had become a flourishing colony, there was one Roger Williams, who, for dissenting from the authority assumed by the civil magistrate, was driven out under a decree of perpetual banishment. The government was in the hands of the church people, and under their management of it Roger Williams founded the society of wild beasts and savage Indians more congenial than that he left behind him in Massachusetts.
Other Baptists, and the Quakers also, found that they would have been much better off under a government of the most irreligious men in the colony, than they were under one run by its “best people.”
When the colonies won their independence, there was a reaction from the theory that government could be best administered under ecclesiastical direction, and statesmen came to the front with principles of government which completely separated religion from the affairs of state; and under those statesmen the government rose to the highest pinnacle of excellence.
Washington, the highest example of American statesmanship, was so little identified with the church that it is a disputed question whether he believed in the Christian religion not. Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, is claimed by the Unitarians, but by the majority of people since his day he has been hardly distinguished from an atheist. Andrew Jackson, that conspicuous exponents of pure democratic government, is equally inconspicuous as regards religion; and the name of Abraham Lincoln is entirely unknown in the country’s religious annals. Yet all must submit that the Government was never run upon better principles than when under the guidance of these statesmen.
The very fact that a religious organization is ready to go into politics and seize the reins of civil power, is unquestionable proof that the organization is ready to join forces with religion, and that for the coercion of dissenters.
But for the idea that the “best people”—the orthodox church people—ought to run the government, that worst of all forms of government—a union of church and state—would never have been.