Saturday, December 16, 2006

Top Baptist Leader on Swearing in Congressman Ellison on the Qur'an

Walter B. Shurden, a highly respected Baptist leader in the United States is the author of The Baptist Identity: Four Fragile Freedoms. He is the Director of the Center for Baptist Studies at Mercer University. I am posting his entire article on the Swearing in of Congressman Keith Ellison here. It is worthy or careful reading and serious reflection.

"Should We Swear Congressman Ellison in on the Quran?"
By Walter B. Shurden, Director of the Center for Baptist Studies, Mercer University

Some Christians have a hard time understanding that the United States of America is NOT a Christian nation but a democratic republic that allows religious freedom for all its citizens.

The issue surfaces again in the controversy over Minnesota Congressman-elect Keith Ellison’s desire to be sworn in by placing his hand on the Quran rather than the Bible.

Should he be able to do that? YOU BET!
Should Jews be able to use the Hebrew Bible? YOU BET!
If Mormon faithful Mitt Romney is elected the president of the United States in 2008, should he be able to use the Book of Mormon? YOU BET!
If an atheist wants only to swear on the Constitution of the United States, should she be able to do that? YOU BET!

Of all people we Baptists ought to understand and endorse Ellison’s call for free expression of religion! Our ancestors went to jail for that kind of freedom! Our ancestors suffered idiotic indignities for that kind of freedom. Our ancestors struggled for a century and a half in this country for that kind of freedom!! Some of our ancestors suffered physical abuse for that kind of freedom.

Do we Baptists not remember any of our history at all?

Have we really forgotten the sorry saga of Roger Williams being chased out of Massachusetts by Christian zealots and his subsequent heroic founding of Rhode Island where religious freedom could flourish?

Have we forgotten the sad tale of Baptist fathers John Clarke, Obadiah Holmes, and John Crandall being jailed for conducting a worship service in a blind man’s house in Lynn, MA?

Have we forgotten John Clarke’s bloody whipping on the streets of Boston?

Do we not remember that long list of jailed Baptist ministers in eighteenth century Virginia?

But even if we were not Christians and even if we were not Baptists, if we were only good citizens of this republic with no religious faith at all, we ought to understand that call for religious freedom that Congressman Ellison wants. Article VI of The Constitution of the United States says, “The Senators and Representatives . . . shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

Christmas may be the best of opportunities for Christians to act Christianly toward persons of minority religions or no religion in the United States. Give yourself a very expensive Christmas gift during this season. Paste the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States to your computer and read it daily: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. Those are forty-five very expensive words.

Thank God for that amendment, birthed partially because of the hard work of our Baptist ancestors. Let that noble idea of freedom find a place to lay its fragile head on your Christian, Baptist, and American heart this Christmas. Let’s be more than good citizens this Christmas; let’s try to be good Baptist Christians.


At 8:20 PM, Blogger Carla said...

I agree with this leader and thank you for reprinting his statement. I'm Southern Baptist, and all I'd heard was murmurings of shock about this man who wanted to be sworn in on the Quran. Just as for me, putting my hand on a Quran and taking an oath would be a meaningless geature, so it would seem quite silly to ask this man to swear on a Bible that he had no faith in. May the same freedom always be accorded me.


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