Sunday, March 6, 2016

Anglicanism & the American Founding

Here is an article from WorldNetDaily (not a bad one by their standards) that discusses, among other things, Anglicanism and the American Founding. It also talks about the Presbyterians. That was the interesting thing about the American Founding; it had a bunch of different sects, some of which predominated and were established at the state level, but none at the national level. As I understand the historical record, the zeitgeist of the national founding as it related to religion was to sympathize with the dissenters. But a sect established in one state, could be a dissenter in another.

The article makes what I see as one glaring error. I won't mention it in this original piece, but you can view the comment I made at the author's blog where I pointed it out.

But here is what the author wrote on Anglicanism:
Our nation’s founding was born of men and women seeking religious freedom from England and its one-size-fits-all Anglican state church. They sought the right to worship with whatever church they wished.

As we know, England and particularly the crown would have none of that. How dare an English colony put anything before the king or be a member of any religion other than Anglican, the British state religion.
Most if not all of the different sects (groups like the Quakers non-withstanding), at least in their official doctrines had a "one-size-fits-all" mentality regarding the proper understanding of the faith. And once they got into power, they, if not imposed it, privileged it. That was the problem. No need to single out and pick on Anglicans as anything special in this regard, other than it was the creed of the mother country from which America rebelled.

(Roman Catholics actually were viewed as the "worst" of the offenders. And the non-Presbyterians tended to think of the Presbyterians -- at least in those places where they were the dominant, established sect -- as almost as bad.)

Interestingly, as I noted to the author, a great deal of "our nation's founders" were themselves Anglicans. If we want statistical data regarding sect affiliation, see here and here. If the numbers crunched in the 2nd link are accurate, 54.7% of America's Founders were Anglicans.

That leads to a fascinating observation: they rebelled against the official political theology of the very church with which they were affiliated.

Patrick Henry, John Jay, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and John Marshall. (There are plenty of other names I could have added; but this group seems representative enough.)

There are only two things these men have in common. No it's not they were all Virginians (John Jay wasn't; the rest were). Or that they were all "Federalists" who supported the Constitution (Patrick Henry was an Anti-Federalists, opposed to the US Constitution. Jefferson was in France. I don't think he was an Anti-Federalist, but he seemed more sympathetic to their concerns than did the partisan Federalists who got the Constitution to pass.)

Rather it was 1. they were all Whigs who rebelled against Great Britain; and 2. they were all Anglicans whose official political theology preached Toryism, the very thing they rebelled against.

So with this group we end up with Jefferson who bitterly rejected every single doctrine of orthodoxy; Marshall who was an adult unitarian until he apparently converted to something more orthodox on his deathbed; Henry and Jay who apparently settled into something more traditionally orthodox; and Washington and Madison whose words indicate they believed in a generally theistic ecumenicism, but didn't take an official position on any of the orthodox doctrines that Jefferson so bitterly rejected.

So even with the more apparently orthodox Founders (Jay and Henry), that they were members of a church whose official doctrines they stood against caused issues for their Christianity. As I noted in my past post, "[d]uring the Founding era the 'religiously correct' orthodox forces would write off those who didn't make the cut as 'deists.'" And indeed, Patrick Henry was so accused. (A charge he vehemently denied while affirming both his Whig and Christian identity.)

Likewise with John Jay. I think he was an orthodox Trinitarian Christian. But he wasn't a "by the book" Anglican on this matter either. If he were, he would have simply lauded how St. Athanasius (one of the heroes of "by the book" Anglicanism) handled the matter of the Trinity and that would have been that. But he didn't.

Final thought on this notion of a "one-size-fits-all" mentality of the faith. Back in mother England, before and around the time of America's Founding, many "dissenters" in the Anglican (and other churches) engaged in the same kind of "freethinking" on doctrinal matters (including but not limited to disregard of the Trinity) as noted above.


Tom Van Dyke said...

Since Anglicanism mutated into Episcopalianism, this is all rather moot.

Anonymous said...

You are right to note that the idea of "one size fits all"--i.e. religious uniformity--was standard practice. Which makes this claim by the author a half truth at best:

"Our nation’s founding was born of men and women seeking religious freedom from England and its one-size-fits-all Anglican state church. They sought the right to worship with whatever church they wished."

That is true enough for the Puritans, who fled England for New England by the tens of thousands when the Anglican Church began an aggressive campaign against them under Archbishop Laud.

The shoe was on the other foot during and after the English Civil War. The Puritans triumphed, Laud was executed, and Anglicans fled Puritan rule by the tens of thousands to Virginia.

Jonathan Rowe said...

RR spot on. And it was those Anglicans in VA who had a claim to the colony's historical turf who engaged in terrible prosecution of dissident sects that lead to Jefferson's/Madison's and the Baptists' work done in the 18th Century to overcome that problem.

Tom Van Dyke said...

They also 'invaded' Maryland and oppressed the Catholics.