Isn’t it interesting that the term “The Separation of Church and State” can be traced back to responsive letters written by Roger Williams and Thomas Jefferson or even the prophet Isaiah? Each man was answering the questions of the day with their opinions. The Founder of Rhode Island, Roger Williams responding to Mr. John Cotton in 1644. President Thomas Jefferson responding to the Danbury Baptist Association on Jan 1st 1802. Should you take Roger’s words back to his inspiration from Isaiah 5 in the Old Testament? These men were not prone to short statements. I present each man’s original sentence before the metaphor, the Separation of Church and State became common.
Isaiah 5 verse 1-7
The Song of the Vineyard1 I will sing for the one I love
a song about his vineyard:
My loved one had a vineyard
on a fertile hillside.
2 He dug it up and cleared it of stones
and planted it with the choicest vines.
He built a watchtower in it
and cut out a winepress as well.
Then he looked for a crop of good grapes,
but it yielded only bad fruit.
3 “Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard.
4 What more could have been done for my vineyard
than I have done for it?
When I looked for good grapes,
why did it yield only bad?
5 Now I will tell you
what I am going to do to my vineyard:
I will take away its hedge,
and it will be destroyed;
I will break down its wall,
and it will be trampled.
6 I will make it a wasteland,
neither pruned nor cultivated,
and briers and thorns will grow there.
I will command the clouds
not to rain on it.”
7 The vineyard of the Lord Almighty
is the nation of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are the vines he delighted in.
And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed;
for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.
Roger Williams: To Mr. Cotton’s Letter Lately Printed, Examined and Answered.
“First, the faithful labor of many witnesses of Jesus Christ, extant to the world, abundantly proving, that the Church of the Jews under the Old Testament in the type, and the Church of Christians under the New Testament in the anti type, were both separate from the world; and that when they have opened a gap in the hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the Church and the wilderness of the world, God hath ever broke down the wall itself, removed the candlestick, etc., and made his garden a wilderness, as at this day.” A 96 word sentence, now squeezed into a 6 word metaphor.
President Thomas Jefferson’s Reply: Messrs. Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins, and Stephen s. Nelson.A Committee of the Danbury Baptist Association, in the State of Connecticut.
“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that the act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature would “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.” An 83 word sentence, now squeezed into a 6 word metaphor.
Do you think that we may have lost the original concepts of these men along the way? Personally, researching the metaphor made my head hurt. So I looked for something simple to explore. THE HEDGE. It was then that the symbolism hit me square in the eyes. The grounds around the Rhode Island Statehouse in Providence, Rhode Island has distinctive hedges and walls separating the building from the gardens and wilderness around it. The First Baptist Church in America that Roger Williams founded in 1638 has a hedge around one side separating the church from the street.
Was this created on purpose to reflect Roger Williams vision? I lived in Rhode Island from age 6 to 46. Class trips to the statehouse. Driven by and walked the grounds numerous times. Not a clue as to the potential significance. But right there and then, I knew that I had a theme for a 50 State Capitol trip.
Research on the building of this Capitol or the First Baptist Church in America does not indicate any intent behind the wall and hedge. Symbols do not need human intent to have meaning. Organic symbols can speak louder. As I explored this space and connected the dots of history associated with Providence, Rhode Island, the symbols became a bullhorn to my ears. The rabbit hole of my curiosity gets deeper with each peek I take.
For this trip, coming in from Boston, Massachusetts I had the distinct privilege's of 4 guests to join me on a Capitol stroll to where the church bells toll. Lorelei Flanagan, Mike Silvia, Karen and Diane Morra joined for a walk around the statehouse, to the closest church, Roger Williams National Memorial park, and The First Baptist Church in America.
Gloria Dei Lutheran Church was the physically closest, tucked between Providence Place Mall, Moran shipping, and Renaissance Hotel. The walk up Francis street on the west side was along the hedge and wall separating the Capitol from the street. Around to the front of the Capitol on Smith street and down the hill crossing the river to The Roger Williams National Memorial Park. then down N. Main street to the First Baptist Church.
With that I finished the journey to all 51 US Capitols and their closest churches. Separations and connections litter the landscape. The journey was fascinating and a deep dive into subjects that I had never contemplated. Understanding will never be complete, and that is okay. In fact, it is likely the conclusion that Roger Williams himself came to. A lifelong pursuit of life truths is just that, a lifelong pursuit that doesn't need a perfect ending. Some day we will understand.