The "fighting parson" was a common sight in the American Revolution. Why? Because American Christianity—anchored in a Protestant understanding of religious freedom—gave its blessing to democratic self-government. For many evangelical ministers, unconstrained British rule not only represented an oppressive monarchy that trampled on their civil rights. It supported a national church, the Anglican Church, which they feared would impose its doctrines and practices on the colonies if given half a chance.Where did they get their ideas?
In this, preachers such as Elisha Williams of Wethersfield, Conn., drew as readily from political philosophers as they did from the Bible to defend a "natural and unalienable right of private judgment in matters of religion." English philosopher John Locke was quoted frequently in evangelical sermons ...However, Loconte denies the influence of the Enlightenment:
It is now widely assumed that religious toleration—a hallmark of the secular, democratic West—grew out of the 18th-century Enlightenment. This may be true in much of Europe, but not in the United States.Locke, the founder of British Empiricism, is generally considered a founding figure of the Enlightenment although I’ve seen the term used in a restricted sense. It appears that I wasn't the only one confused by this argument. David W. Opderbeck, Seton Hall University School of Law, writes in a letter to the editor:
Well, could it be that the evangelical preachers were interpreting their Bibles through the eyes of the quintessential Enlightenment philosopher John Locke? Indeed they were. More careful historians of early American evangelicalism have demonstrated the ties between certain strands of Enlightenment thought and early evangelical theology ...It's well worth reading both Loconte's article and Opderbeck's letter.