A country built on the foundation of Christ
By Rev. Myra Carroll-Pezzella, First Presbyterian Church, Howard Lake
It was 1776, in Maryland, a very different place than the Massachusetts colony that I remember learning about in school. Perhaps, I have forgotten that each of the colonies had unique histories and reasons for being founded.
The Pilgrims and the Puritans were not the only people who came here for freedom. Maryland’s history is intimately tied to the history of Ireland and the Roman Catholic people, who I have been reading about recently.
Specifically, I have been studying Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the only Roman Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence, and a distant cousin.
Around 1625, Lord Baltimore founded a colony, called “Avalon,” on Newfoundland in America. The land was given to him by King James of England.
In Avalon, Baltimore brought both Protestant and Catholic clergy together and they celebrated their separate rites under the same roof. That is, until a Puritan minister notified Plymouth Colony that there were “Popish doings” at Avalon.
Lord Baltimore tried again farther south, on land King Charles I gave him on the Chesapeake. He named it Maryland, and it was to be a place for English Roman Catholic refugees.
Lord Baltimore, like Moses, was not able to see the fruition of his promised land. He died in 1632, but prior to that, he asked all Maryland governors to swear that there would never be discrimination due to religious prejudice (from “Charles Carroll of Carrollton” by Scott McDermott).
Sadly, his dream of true freedom for all religions was undermined by more bigoted men. As fate would have it, by 1776, Protestants had overtaken government positions in Maryland. Still under the British rule, the Protestant minority enforced the English laws regarding the Roman Catholics, who were not able to vote, hold some public offices, function as lawyers, or serve in the military.
In addition, barring Catholics from militia duty was used as a pretext for a double tax on land owned by Catholics. This negative view of Catholicism continued at least through the last generation. There was a great deal of concern when we elected President Kennedy, the first Roman Catholic president in our history.
It seems our history as Americans hasn’t ever been easy, and religion has always played a role in who we are and what we stand for. But, what does this have to do with the church? A lot!
Like it, or not, this country was founded as a Christian nation. Our founding fathers, and mothers, were Christian. They wanted this country to be Christian, and they were strong in their belief that other forms of religion would have the right to worship as they chose.
This nation was founded on the best ideals of Christianity, and the form of government was taken from the Presbyterian form of government with local, state, and national representation. We were founded to be Christian.
Recently, the Supreme Court of the United States of America, in a split decision, “upheld the constitutionality of displaying the Ten Commandments on governmental land. They drew the line on overtly religious displays, saying the key is whether a display has a valid secular purpose.” (Star Tribune)
While I applaud the opportunity to display the Ten Commandments, they will never be displayed as having only a valid secular purpose - they are religious and uniquely Jewish. As Christians, we have taken them and made them our own, as we have done with so many things in what we call the Old Testament, but more accurately should be called the Hebrew Scriptures.
I understand that some pastors do not choose to celebrate national holidays during their worship services. I, however, believe that it is important to highlight the connection between the Christian heritage of our founding parents and our American heritage.
It distresses me to watch as Judaeo-Christian traditions are eliminated in the name of freedom of religion. I long for the day when we had Christmas and Easter vacation, and Sunday was a day when businesses were closed.
Perhaps it is time to reaffirm the connection between religion and our nation. Perhaps it is time to stand with the wise men and women who created the foundation upon which our country was built the foundation of Christ.
Today, I stand with my Protestant Carroll ancestors, I stand with my Roman Catholic Carroll ancestors, I stand with the people who have declared our country a Christian nation with freedom to embrace all races and religions. I stand with those brave men and women who have given their lives so that you and I can live in this land of freedom, and I stand with Christ who was and is the foundation of our country.
I’m proud to live in this country. I take pride in my heritage. I believe we truly live in a land of milk and honey.
So, as you celebrate the Fourth of July and the Declaration of Independence, remember your ancestors, who came to this country hoping for a life of freedom.
Remember, freedom isn’t free; freedom isn’t something that just happens or something that can be imposed on people. Freedom grows from the heart.
When Charles Carroll, the settler, came to this country, he changed the Carroll motto to “Anywhere There Be Freedom.” He wanted to live anywhere there would be freedom.
That place is here.