Monday, September 05, 2016

The Founders and Ministers, Some Thoughts

John Fea has demonstrated that at the state level some ministers were banned from public office. At the federal level, I'm not aware of America's Founders adopting such a policy as it might (?) violate Article VI's "no religious test" clause.

Only one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, John Witherspoon, was an active minister. David Barton wrote an article where the best evidence he could muster was that a few others WERE ministers in the past, but not at the time the DOI was written.

Yet, I don't think America's Founders so much minded ministers being involved in public political life provided they were supporting the right political theology. Even the more heterodox founders offered qualified support to the work George Whitefield or even Jonathan Edwards did ministering to folks; though they disagreed with the theology, and wished such Protestantism to further reform to a creed more enlightened, liberal for the era.

But some ministers like the heterodox ones Joseph Priestley, Richard Price, Jonathan Mayhew, Charles Chauncy, orthodox ones like John Witherspoon, Ezra Stiles, or those in between like Bishop James Madison played key roles in expositing America's Founding political theology.

The politics were a synthesis: it was citing the Bible, with Lockeanism and Whig thought, and essences discovered in "nature," which is a tradition that Aquinas whom they never cited because they didn't cite Roman Catholics incorporated from Aristotle, whom they did cite. But "nature" also provided the grounds for Lockean teachings, which arguably broke from that earlier tradition. Or at least introduced new things into it.

This Whig political theology was extremely self serving in how it understood the faith. You had to have the "right" understanding of Romans 13. Which is such a text, properly understood, does not stand in the way of what America did when it revolted against Great Britain.

I don't get the sense that America's Founders minded the political involvement of these ministers because they taught what they wanted the public to hear.

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