HOUSES OF WORSHIP
One Window on the World
This is one of my windows on the world.
You can just see the watery blue of the winter sky and the spare beauty of leafless branches of nearby trees. The play of light and shadow reminds me that the sun is shining after several days of rain, filling the window with promise.
My window is one of many that frame the sanctuary of my church in Davidson, the Davidson College Presbyterian Church, where I choose to worship.
During this last day of 2017, taking stock seems to be an important task. We also come to the close of the Christmas season, one of the highest holidays of the Christian calendar, and I think about the years of persecution suffered by early Christians and still occurring today. Worship had to be in secret, if at all. Then, I think about how all religions at times in history have had to exist in secret for fear of reprisals, and many are suffering such today.
But I live in a country in which I can attend the church of my choice. No one tells me that this church demands my membership. I am free to find a place that makes sense to me, and just as free to stay home.
Many in my family and among my friends choose not to go to church, but their citizenship is not called into question. They get to vote and raise their children and experience life’s joys and sorrows on their own terms. Others gather in sanctuaries they define for themselves, from synagogues to mosques to store fronts to open fields. And not one of those temples is required by law.
Freedom of religion is embedded in our constitution, a gift from our country’s founders. In 1779, after Maryland and other colonies passed similar colonial legislation, Thomas Jefferson wrote “The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom,” stating that “all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”
The First Amendment of the Constitution in the Bill of Rights clarifies this same objective: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….”
I grew up with this freedom, but I do not take it for granted. Brothers and sisters who share my beliefs or practice other belief systems have every right and privilege under the law afforded to American citizens. No power in our country can tell them – or me – what to believe, nor diminish them – or me – in the eyes of the law. If our government dictates what we must believe or how we must worship, or even worse, forbids the practice of a religion, we are lost as a nation. The separation of church and state cannot be eroded.
So, when I go to church, sit in my favorite pew beside my friend, listen to the choir, hear the words of my preacher, and look out that window on that corner of the sky, I go with a free and grateful heart. I go because I want to. The only authority to whom I answer regarding my worship is not some faceless elected official, but is mine alone to know. My hope is that all people can find a community of support and love, however it may manifest itself. The fact that I come to this place of my own free will makes it even more profound.
I imagine temples and sanctuaries and homes across the land where Americans have the right to gaze through a window and freely connect their spiritual lives with the world beyond the glass. Whether here in Davidson or thousands of miles away, we are united by this freedom.
The minute someone in government tells you or me what we must believe, how we must worship, and even worse, that some religions are forbidden, we will be lost as a country. The separation of church and state protects every one of us. We are a patchwork of beliefs, countries of origin, color of skin, and culture. That is our strength. The threads that bind us are much stronger because we are not all alike. And out of many, one enduring country.