Saturday, February 21, 2009

Should Holmes have been more tolerant?

Rev. Obadiah Holmes by Sam Behling
The Persecution of Obadiah Holmes in America by J. M. Cramp
Our Baptist Heritage Obadiah Holmes: A Baptist at His Best by Barry W. Jones

"Obadiah Holmes remained adamant that his worship of Christ should not be under the control of a priest or bishop, or a magistrate or government. He and his Baptist contemporaries in Rhode Island opposed any government interference in religion and vice versa. Holmes believed this so strongly that he once took 30 lashes at the hands of magistrates and clergy in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, rather than be denied his right to worship as he saw fit."

At the above links you can read a little about Obadiah Holmes, an early American Baptist who felt so strongly about freedom of religion that he was willing to suffer for it. Men and women of that caliber were the forerunners of obtaining legal freedom of religion in the United States of America.

Today freedom of religion is often confused with tolerance. The modern tolerance seems to hold that all religion is equally valid, and for that reason folks ought to "tolerate" all sorts of beliefs.

Holmes was not "tolerant". He stood for freedom of religion, not tolerance. Tolerance implies someone is superior and in a position to tolerate an inferior. Holmes wanted equality of religion before the governmental authorities. This idea is not based on the equality of all religions, but on religion being between God and man -- not God, man and his government.

Holmes was not ecumenical. He would not be forced to worship with the Puritan Congregationalists, and so signaled by keeping his hat on when hauled into their sanctuary. His freedom of religion required him to believe others should be free to consort with other beliefs if they so wished, but it also meant those who did not so wish should not be forced to.


Anonymous said...

I have never really given much thought to Holmes's hat episode. I guess the question would be, was it respectful of him? But, since he was there against his own will, then according to the belief of individual soul liberty, he had the right to object and protest. They for certain lived in a different day, whereas today we are not persecuted by the Congregational church down the street. (thanks be to God and His Baptists) Have you ever watched the recent movie about Holmes entitled "As with Roses" by Shiloh films? You can find it linked from my blog.

R. L. Vaughn said...

Posting for all a quote from the first link:

One of the constables suggested to the 3 prisoners that if they were free, then all might go together to the Lynn church for evening services. Clarke replied (humor presumably intended) that if they were free, none of this awkwardness would have happened. Yet, he said, we are at your disposal and if you want us to go to church we will go to church. Off they went, but on the way Clarke informed the constable that if forced to attend "your meeting, we shall declare our dissent from you both by word and gesture." Believing this to be a problem for sacred officers, not civil ones, the constable held his peace. Upon entering the church, where services were already underway, the three visitors took off their hats, "civilly saluted", sat down, and put their hats back on again. This action was more than rude; the replacing of hats was an open declaration of disapproval of whatever was being said or done.

Baptistbyconviction, I am interested by your question about the hat episode and it being disrespectful. This interests me because it is something I have mulled over from time to time. From our standpoint of freedom of religion from maybe 350 years later, it is probably hard to relate. I notice the wearing of hats/caps inside by men these days seems to be quite common. I have the etiquette of men not wearing hats indoors ingrained in me enough that I find it annoying when young people do so, though I suppose I'm becoming more used to it. So, anyway, to me I guess the wearing of the hat kind of comes off as simple rudeness. But put back in that time situation, it was a silent protest against forced religion -- something that Baptist folks had to deal with quite commonly.

Thanks for mentioning "As with Roses". I am not familiar with it. What are your thoughts on it?