Roger Williams Takes on the Tea Party
As part of the ongoing spiritual pilgrimage that I describe in my book Jesus Died for This?, I ended up serendipitously in the Philadelphia area on both Memorial Day and Independence Day. Like the rest of the lamestream media, I somehow missed Sarah Palin's half-hour secretive tour of Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.
However, on July 4, I did catch snippets of patriots waving "Don't Tread on Me" flags. At first, I assumed they were simply part of the cheesy celebrations commemorating both the Fourth of July and the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. But then I stumbled upon the Independence Hall Tea Party Association's "The Energy Independence Day Tea Party."
I didn't see any visible signs of Americana Jesus at this event, though liberty-minded booths proclaimed the same "Take Back America" rhetoric espoused by David Barton of Wallbuilders, rhetoric that drapes the cross in the American flag. For those who still harbor the notion that the Tea Party is primarily a Libertarian-leaning secular grassroots movement, Sarah Posner, Julie Ingersoll and others at Religion Dispatches continue to illuminate the religious components of the Tea Party.
While walking by the booth proclaiming Ron Paul to be a "President for Peace," I began to wonder what my ancestor the Rev. Roger Williams might think of this quest to reclaim a vision of a Christian America that only exists in evangelical theme parks. Unlike revisionist historians, I'm well aware that one cannot simply transfer Williams' per-Enlightenment ideology on to a post-secular society without reducing the endeavor to religious rubbish. Still, he affords me some much-needed perspective as I try to navigate my way through contemporary church-state debates.
When Williams set sail for the New World in search of religious tolerance back in 1631, he soon found himself entangled with Governor John Winthrop (1587/8-1649), who employed biblical language to anoint the Massachusetts Bay Colony as a "City on the Hill" that was blessed by God (Matthew 5:14) and free from any and all religious dissent. Like any good Puritan, Winthrop desired to "purify" the church from Anglican excesses, but he wanted to remain on good graces with the crown.
Becky Garrison's books include Jesus Died for This?: A Satirist's Search for the Risen Christ, Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church, and Ancient Future Disciples: Meeting Jesus in Mission-Shaped Ministries (Forthcoming). Her additional writing credits include work for Killing the Buddha, The Washington Post's On Faith column, the Guardian, The Revealer, and Religion Dispatches.