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“the Contribution of Baptists in the Struggle for Religious Freedom”

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A Research Paper on the “The Contribution of Baptists in the Struggle for Religious Freedom”

Submitted to Dr. Jason J. Graffagnino, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the completion of

CHHI 665 – B04
History of Baptists


Elizabeth Linz Barthelemy
February 1, 2015


Introduction 1

The Baptist Origin 2

The separatists/puritans 2-3

The First Baptists Believers 4-5

The American Baptist Contribution to “religious liberty ideal”...............................................6

Rhode Island, Plymouth, and Pennsylvania Colonies......................................................7-8

The South Colonies and Their Struggle for “Religious Liberty” 9-11

Conclusion 12


Introduction “Religious Liberty” is a good and perfect gift from above. Contrary to populace belief “the separation of church and state,” did not originate with the ACLU but for the most part, it originated with the first British Baptists that arrived in Colonial America they were defenders of true “religious liberty.” Moreover, the distinction between religious liberty and tolerance of religion is significant. “Religious liberty” is a right of every men, however, tolerance is a concession coupled with an understand that “that the state still controls religion.” This paper will examine the contribution of British Baptists in their pursuit for religious liberty. It will first give a brief view of the origin and history of the American Baptists followed by their endurance in the struggle for the settlement of “religious liberty.” It will present the strength of the Baptist faith regarding “religious liberty,” and argue in favor of God’s providential grace and guidance through the process and conflicts between men of goodwill towards religious liberty, and others usurping religious control. It will endeavor to demonstrate God’s purpose to form a country in which “religious liberty” would affect all sectors of the populations’ life and finally prevail. The Baptists wanted all people to know that “where the Spirit of the Lord was present there would be “Religious Liberty.” A progressive description of “religious liberty,” which is a right and not a concession, will be presented. The beginning, the establishment, and the finally the settlement of religious freedom in America that was possible through the congressional approval of the “First Amendment. Certainly, religious liberty was achieved through the agglomeration of different religious leaders who struggled, and took part in vital battles and special events throughout the history of this country. Finally, “religious liberty” in America is a reality, engraved into the Constitution of the United State by the First Amendment with the Bill of Rights—that has become example, to the whole world today. to part of religious activities. The Baptist forerunners fought for “religious liberty” which liberated every man to fully engage in religious activities of their choice, or preference. The Baptist Origin

The origin of the Baptist denomination is directly connected with the English Separatist movement. Furthermore, the English Separatist movement has its roots in the so-called, “left wing” group that favored the reformation of the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century Martin Luther, a Catholic monk was the leader of the Reformation Movement. Nevertheless, soon enough new Christian leaders such as, Calvin, Zwingli, and Brucer began to have religious influence over various dissent groups that found support for specific biblical claims in the university of thoughts through. The invention of the press can be attributed to be most influential in the spreading of the diverse religious thoughts that lead to the development of religious liberty. In the fifteen and sixteen centuries the spread of these independent and innovating theological ideas, encouraged many religious men to stand separated from the Catholic doctrine. As the Reformation gained momentum, a greatest “crisis in Christendom,” took place.” The swelling of this movement throughout Europe brought a patriotic sentiment in the lives of Christian. They would united themselves according to their religious conviction and institute their own church separated from the Roman Catholic Church; England was one of these countries. However, afterwards the church in England, i.e., the Anglican Church failed to meet the Englishman’s religious expectation. They wanted a pure church, and therefore they argued against the Anglican Church for not going far enough in order to create a pure church. The Anglican Church established itself as a state church and began to usurp religious demands upon the British citizens. Therefore, the group of dissents citizens became convinced that, church and state, could never co-operate in religious affairs, only the pure Word of God could rule the citizens, thus the name “Puritans.”

The Puritans and the Separatists

The Separatist group, and other dissent groups originated in England, although many traveled abroad and found asylum in other countries of Europe where similar religious convictions was also advocated, e.g., Holland, Netherlands and others. The reform that Anglican Church underwent did not suffice the heart’s desire of British Separatists; the church and England state’s affairs continued to be very much intertwined. The reform was not radical enough to offer the necessary renew of the church’s life. The Separatists argued that the implementation of necessary changes in doctrine and practice were matters to be decided by for the church’s body. Nevertheless, among the Separatists many radical revolutionary groups arouse. The Puritans, was a highly persecuted group that their goal was “theocracy,” i.e., to have the church be rule the country, whence the name Puritan. Nevertheless, in the midst of these radical group of believers called Puritans, arouse a “less radical,” and mild manner group with a different theory regarding the position of the state government and they separated themselves form the Puritans, thus the name Separatists. They believed that Christians were to be the salt and light of the secular society. Therefore, they sought to live within the rules of the civil government, and be participants of the secular society and bring in the light of Christian living, for God has ordain civil government for this present age. Nevertheless, they also strongly opposed government interference in the matters of religion. There was to be no mingling of secular matters with the church. Furthermore, as these men study the scriptures in the subject of baptism, the leaders of the Separatist movement were convince that submersion, was essential to the nature of baptism. John Smyth (1554-1612), an Anglican priest, decided that the Anglican Church was usurping its power on Christians punishing them or ostracizing the ones that would not conform to the state church. Leaving the Anglican Church, Smyth becoming a prominent leader of the Separatists movement. He associated himself with Thomas Helwys and moved his congregation to Amsterdam. Various disagreements among the two leaders, Smyth and Helwys, and personal conviction lead Helwys’ return to England in 1611, in which occasion Helwys found the first Baptist according to Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez.

The First Baptist Believers

The first Baptists to arrive in Colonial America were fleeing the persecution of the Anglican Church, i.e., British Empire. They have been imprisoned, and denied the right to participate in the British society. These British Baptists felt impelled to look for refuge in New British Colonies, the America. From New England to Georgia, numerous and different Christian groups from England and other parts of Europe, sought to flee to the New World “America.” America became the “desirable place” for dissenters that were looking for a place in which they could live and exercise their faith. Interesting enough this dissenters, some of these groups, as they settled and become to form a community, they often attempted to impose their religion on the other immigrants of different Christian persuasion; they favored a theocratic state, rather then a democratic state. Nevertheless, the first British Baptists arriving in America were vested with experiences, and convictions. They argued in behalf of religious liberty and not tolerance only. They contended for dissenters as well as for the non-conformist, and therefore they became persecuted; this was a “radical religious idea.” These Baptists brought with them to America, first hand religious persecution experiences. Their contributions and handling of such matters were educated and therefore, wise. Their dedication to the cause of religious liberty as well to their involvement in the progress and the prosperity of their communities, earned the admiration of their communities, and the political leaders of the country, e.g., George Washington and James Adam. These Christian leaders strived to help the country attain the proper balanced relationship between “church and state.” The Baptist’s leaders held the conviction that both, church and civil government, were ordain by God. Nevertheless, the church was to be (absolutely) separate from the state, and under the sovereign rule of Jesus Christ as the Lord. The state was to have no saying in the affairs of the church. Thomas Helwys, British Baptist historical figure, prior to his death that took place in the confinement of Newgate prison wrote: "The king is a [mortal] man and not God. Therefore hath no power over [immortall soules] of his subjects, to make [lawes] and ordinances for them, and to set [spiritual] lords over them." This document is considered by Baptist historians to be the first written statement affirming the absolute right of men. Moreover, it clearly proclaims that God alone lords over men. Helwys's argued “religious liberty” for all, whether Christian dissenters and nonconformists. His statement at the time did not do much for the Baptist’s cause. However, it is now celebrated as one of the Baptist distinctives of “religious liberty.” Another factor which is well worthy to be remembered is that, by the middle of the 1700’s, Roger Williams, who once professed being a Baptist, made his ways into Rhode Island one of the few pluralist colonies, as he fled the Puritan theocracy. Moreover, two of the most celebrated Baptist leaders, John Leland and Isaac Backus, were sentenced to jail terms for opposing the use of public funds for private churches, since that could incur dependency for financial support on the part of the church towards the sate. This separation of church and state was indeed the forefront run and conviction of American Baptists to guard “religious liberty” in America.

The American Baptist Contributions to “Religious Liberty”

The settlement of “religious liberty” in America was only settled when James Adam, after only four days after the inauguration of George Washington, presented the First Amendment to the Congress and it was signed into the Bill of Rights as an amendment to the Constitution of the United State of America. Although there was an agglomeration of contributions in many levels of society and the participation of different leaders in the Christian community as well as in the state levels of this event, the Baptists were the frontrunners of this accomplishment. The idea of “religious liberty,” had never been experience across one nation. The success of “religious liberty” experienced in small communities in Colonial American, became an example of a harmonious way of life for the entire rising nation of America. Notwithstanding, “for such a time like this,” America seemed to be providentially appointed for the purpose to house a new form of Christendom; one that would be entered by choice made in an individual basis and not by compulsory state order. This new kind of Christendom was to be rule by the Lord Jesus Christ, in which every individual would respond to Christ as the ultimate ruler. From New England through the Middle Colonies, to the Southern Colonies, the Baptist lifestyle, per se, became a powerful witness to all Christians and non-Christians alike. Their example of living Christian principals upholds a nation and encourages society encouraging to seek and pursue peace with all men. The America God-fearful men in power knew that this kind of “innovating religious liberty,” could only be fully enjoyed by a people of faith in the God of the Bible. The Constitution of the United States of America, i.e., testifies and calls on the God of the Bible, as the Only God of America. As this research considers the attraction that Colonial America exerted on the various Christian groups across the world, it proposes that God’s providence was at hand in the formation of the new country of America. The numerous group of Christians that faced the perils of traveling across the oceans, their endurance and perseverance indicates that only divine inspiration could have orchestrated and draw a massive group of Christian peoples, and form the first religious pluralistic Christian society in the world. The denominations such as: Baptists, Presbyterians, Quakers, Puritans, Pilgrims but also Anabaptists and Mennonites, Catholics and even Anglicans, besides others found themselves impelled to come and settled in America. Indeed the collecting of many significant events and names of courageous men contributed for the victory of America religious pluralism. However, this paper will give synopses on a few of the Baptist significant accomplishments and contributions. In the colonies Rhode Island, Plymouth (Boston), Pennsylvania, and the names, Helwys, John Murton, Roger William, John Leland, and Isaac Backus are a few excerpts worthy to mention on the study of “religious freedom.” These offered remarkable and influential contributions to the final victory of “religious liberty” in America. The voices of dissents, often Baptist, began by urge tolerance at first in places such as, England, Netherlands, also Rhode Island, a colony of the New World—America, where it is argued that “religious liberty” sentiments in America begun in Rhode Island.

Rhode Island

Rhode island was specifically anti-theocratic government from its early years. Notwithstanding, it also hoped to establish a holy commonwealth built on the principal of tolerance observed by the Quakers. These ideologies included religious tolerance, nonviolence, and democratic government. Nevertheless, the civil government would not be theocratic ruled. The Baptists theology in this region was influence by the Dutch Mennonites and Roger William (while he was a Baptist), who was influenced by John Murton’s writings. Nevertheless, in the middle of the 1600’s, a cobbler named William Wickendon, claiming to be commissioned by Christ, baptized a group of in the river. He was promptly fine and banished although he had the support of the sheriff of Flushing, the town in which the occasion took place. Rhode Island had anti-theocratic structure designed for the government of the colony that was approved by the colonists (1641-1642), also it was reinforced by London. Roger Williams, a Baptist then, published a book that argued for “freedom of conscience and of religious practices,” and the “ persecution in The [Blovdy] Tenent. Williams practically verbatim John Mutton writings; he indeed revived John Mutton’s argument towards tolerance in the colony. Rhode Island provided a significant point of struggle in the point of entry to the “religious liberty” sentiment in America with the participation of the Baptist’s conviction. Not loosing heart, the Baptist denomination persevered. Desiring to shape and direct the Baptist theology for the betterment and unity of the denomination, they founded in 1770, a Baptist college in Rhode Island. This college started the sending out of home missionaries, these in turn interconnected the Baptists throughout America displaying a cohesive way of Baptist lifestyle. Their ultimate goal was to organize Baptists in a way that their lifestyle would be consistent all over the country besides bring glory to Christ. At the time, that was a necessary and decisive movement. This action organized and paved the way for the success of the Baptist denomination. It is worthy to mention that in 1714 the New York (New Netherland) in 1714 became the official place of the First Baptist Church of New York. With the support of the governor of New York, a series of women baptisms took place, as a public display of the Baptist’s conviction regarding “believer’s baptism.” Eyres, a pastor later ordained by the denomination, used his home as the location for this church.

The Plymouth Colony

The Plymouth Colony, contrary to Long Island was on the other hand, founded by the Pilgrims in 1620, with the objective to form a Pilgrim colony. Plymouth received a petition from the General Court for religious liberty in 1645. This petition was most likely, was agreed by magistrates who represented the colony as a whole even though the majority of their population were Pilgrims. Although they actively sought to proselytize Christians of different persuasions, they also believed in the free will of man. They envisioned a full and free society with tolerance of religion for all. The colony had a reputation of being a respectful community of God-fearing men and they endeavor to preserve the communities’ civil peace and harmony. William Vassal, from the town of Scituate, and his brother Samuel were some of the strongest proponents of religion freedom in the colony, which signed a petition for tolerance of other Christian denominations. In 1647, the he traveled to England and came back from London demanding absolute religious freedom for the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Knowing that his opposition to the “status quo” of the colony would bring imprisonment at his return, he sought refuge in Massashuttes Bay and named the place of his stay “Providence” which remains to this day. He believed the Lord had provided a place of refreshing in his time of great distress.

The Pennsylvania Colony

The colony of Pennsylvania became an experimental lab, per se, to the innovating idea of religious liberty, and therefore requiring religious’ pluralism. William Penn governed the colony of Pennsylvania he received it as a payment from King Charles II. This parcel of land in the Colonies of America was granted because of a debt owed to his father. Pen was then determined to rule the colony by Quakers’ principal, i.e., religious tolerance, pacifism stances, and democratic government. Most denominations found asylum in under Pen’s government and later on headquartered there, the Baptists were no exception. There is no other place in America that the Baptist denomination grew and prospered so much as in Pennsylvania. The Philadelphia Baptist Association was the first Baptist established in America in 1707. Nevertheless, by 1699, Penn was disgusted with the attitude of the colonist and in disgust provided a constitution to Pennsylvania, giving the power to self-govern to the colony and then returned to England. In Pennsylvania, the Baptist prospered like nowhere else. Actually, in spite of a few glitches along the way, the overwhelming success of Pennsylvania in all sectors of society became an inspiration to other colonies. The Baptists denomination was greatly benefited by the religious pluralism enjoyed in Pennsylvania. When considering the turmoil of the times and yet the successful accomplishment of the Baptist denomination in Pennsylvania, one can perceive that Providence was leading the denomination into be settled so they would continue to accomplish God’s will, i.e., “religious liberty,” in the New World, America. Finally, It is clear that Rhode Island pioneer the process of fixing boundaries of theological influence in their state government at first. William Vassal, from the town of Scituate is a clear example of a relentless fighter who demanded religious liberty all men alike. At his return from London, and demand upon the Plymouth colony for religious liberty, knowing that he could not yet win the battle, he found a town that he named “Providence,” demonstrating his great gratitude for God’s merciful providence during his time of disaster.

The South Colonies and Their Struggle for “Religious Liberty”

The beginning of the Southern Colonies for “religious liberty” was not an easy one. In the midst of a falling economy, caused by the lost of the “Civil War,” and the leftover of the WWI, the Baptists in the south were found in great turmoil. The combined displacement of a great number of ethnic groups in the country was overwhelming to the south. Such as Irish, Scottish and slaves, the Baptists in the south had a lot to give an account for as corn to
The governments of Europe and America wanted to suppress dissent in the seventeenth-century. In their view, they had an obligation to protect the public from the dissent’s ideal, and to maintain spiritual harmony. The governments’ goals could only be achieved by suppressing the dissent minority’s convictions. It seems that struggle in matters of religion always bring rewards rather then a life of easy, e.g., the Act of Tolerance signed by the parliament in England. The Tolerance Act, although brought significant improvement in many sectors of the Baptists British they nevertheless were denied any privilege of public recognition of the denomination. In other words, the Tolerance Act was just enough to take the edge of the struggle that kept fuelling the fire for the fight of religious liberty. As the rationale for the struggle was eased, complacency began to take place in the lives of British Baptists. Turning to America however, the Revolution, took a tool on all denominations, from the Puritans, Congregationalists, Dutch Swedish Protestant, Quakers, Catholics, and the Baptists a like. They all experienced spiritual bigotry from within and without. The struggle for power, and a place in the scenario of the future country of America, preoccupied the minds of many and different leaders. If America, would not had take a stance on the issue of separation of church and state, and the “religious liberty,” the right of every citizen no matter what kind of persuasion anyone held, the young republic probably would not have survive. Here, the contribution of the Baptists in the war was second to no other denomination. Baptist beliefs, had always upheld the compliance with all civil laws that would bring harmony to all citizens. Their full participation and involvement in the Revolution, was noticeable and able to gain them a part in the action that establishment of the new nations constitution.


Conclusion, apart from the agglomeration of events such as, different battles fought in behalf of religious freedom, and the strong intervention of well-known Baptist’s individuals, the Constitution of the United State of American would probably be silent on the subject of “religious liberty.” The First Amendment to the Constitution signed into the Bill of Rights by James Adam would never taken place, if it was not the refusal of Baptist leaders, such as, .... If so, America would have been just one more name among many countries in the New World. The “religious liberty” that America enjoys today must be celebrated and the study of its occasion—highly encouraged and promoted. The historical facts proceeding the grafting in of the “religious liberty,” clause, demanded by the Baptist leaders, can be only attributed to God’s providence and to the enduring work of Baptist personages that refused to yield to the expedience of the proposed Constitution. Unfortunately, America is quickly loosing the understanding of this arduous and long journey that lead to “religious liberty.” The God fearing convictions held by the forerunners are no longer taught or upheld. Many fail to understand that tolerance was never the objective goal of the First Amendment but “religious liberty.” Everyone who has an educated understanding of the cost of “religious liberty,” must be compelled to teach and admonish others of their inheritance, i.e., religious liberty. The present events regarding religious liberty in America have demonstrated that religion have come under the attack of powerful and well-organized institution; the liberty offered in the constitution of the United States have been misconstrued. America has never been so divided and antagonistic against than in this generation. Although the problem is complex in the practical world and many may offer a pragmatic solution, the spiritual real is often ignored.

1. Adams, David Keith, and Cornelis A. van Minnen. Religious and Secular Reform in America : Ideas Beliefs and Social Change. Edinburgh: Mainstream, 1999. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed February 1, 2015).

2. Blackwell, J. K. "Religious Liberty." Vital Speeches of the Day 70, no. 1 (Oct 15, 2003): 5-10,

3. Bowker, John. "Radical Reformation.” In The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. : Oxford University Press, 2000.

4. Davis, Derek, and Barry Hankins. New Religious Movements and Religious Liberty in America. Waco, Tex: Baylor University Press, 2003. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed January 30, 2015).

5. William R. Estep, Revolution within the Revolution: The First Amendment in Historical Context, 1612-1789 (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 105-19, 157-60.

6. Flynt, J. Wayne. "Baptist contributions to American life." Baptist History and Heritage 44.3 (2009): 23+. Academic OneFile. Web. 21 Feb. 2015.

7. Jones, Steven L., and Ann W. Duncan. Church-state Issues in America Today. Westport, Conn: Praeger, 2008. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed February 1, 2015).

8. Leonard J. Bill, "Baptist Beginnings." Baptists in America. New York: Columbia University Press, Columbia Contemporary American Religion Series. Gale Virtual Reference Library, 2005 [7] Web. 30 Jan. 2015.

9. Lynn, Barry W., et al. The Right to Religious Liberty : The Basic ACLU Guide to Religious Rights. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1995. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed January 30, 2015).

10. Marty, Martin E. Religious Crises in Modern America. Waco, Tex: Baylor University Press, 1981. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed February
1, 2015).

11. Muñoz, Vincent Phillip. God and the Founders : Madison, Washington, and Jefferson. Cambridge, GBR: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Accessed January 30, 2015. ProQuest ebrary.

12. Rasor, Paul, and Bond, Richard E., eds. From Jamestown to Jefferson : The Evolution of Religious Freedom in Virginia. Charlottesville, VA, USA: University of Virginia Press, 2011. Accessed February 1, 2015. ProQuest ebrary.

13. University of Northern Iowa Religious Liberty Source: The North American Review, Vol. 104, No. 215 (Apr., 1867), pp. 586-597 Published by: University of Northern Iowa Stable URL:

14. "THE DEVELOPMENT OF RELIGIOUS LIBERTY IN AMERICA." Westminster Review, Jan.1852-Jan.1914 128, no. 1 (04, 1887): 38-47,

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