A Trip To South Carolina Offers Lessons In Freedom vs. Fundamentalism

I was on vacation last week. My wife, son and I visited Charleston, S.C., where we soaked up a lot of Revolutionary War and Civil War history. (OK, we also spent a day at the beach.)

Charleston is known as the “Holy City,” and although the origins of this nickname are somewhat obscure, there’s no denying that the place is full of historic churches. I was especially struck by the Gothic Revival architecture of the Huguenot Church and the nearby Unitarian Church, the oldest house of worship of that denomination in the South. Of course, we saw plenty of Methodist, Episcopal and Baptist churches as well.

Historically, Charleston has also been home to a thriving Jewish community, and, as we learned at one historic site, the Gullah community along the coast has mixed elements of Christianity with indigenous African worship to create a unique faith expression. At Charleston’s Old Slave Mart, I learned that some of the enslaved people who were abducted and brought to the city were Muslims, while others practiced traditional African religions. (These days, non-believers are represented in Charleston too.)

The Unitarian Church of Charleston, S.C., is just one of several historic houses of worship in that city.

South Carolina is also the home of Charles Pinckney, a politician who helped shape sections of the Constitution. Pinckney, in fact, drafted an entire constitution, which historians call the “Pinckney Plan.” Unfortunately, no copies survived, so it’s hard to say how much influence Pinckney’s version had on the constitution that emerged. But we do know one thing for sure: Pinckney is responsible for the language at the end of Article VI that says there shall be “no religious test” for federal office in America – a key religious freedom provision that helps debunk the Religious Right’s fallacious “Christian nation” myth. We visited the Charles Pinckney National Historic Site in Sullivan’s Island to learn more about this often-overlooked founder.

Once we were back home, I cruised the web a bit to look for church-state news I might have missed while I was away. I soon came across a South Carolina connection in a column by Larry Deeds, who writes about religious topics for a local news site called MyHorryNews.com in the town of Conway.

Deeds’ column was the usual mishmash one often encounters these days from outraged fundamentalist Christians who are angry that not everyone wants to live under their religion. For good measure, he added a generous dose of persecution complex – and he called out Americans United.

“We are in a spiritual warfare, a battle that has an enemy that we cannot see,” Deeds wrote. “It is not a battle for our souls because they are secure in the finished work of Christ. But this is a battle for the souls of the lost and for the conscious and morality of our nation. And we must not surrender.”

He continued, “God’s people are on the offense, not the defense. And if we keep that stance, we will find victory, not an easy victory because as a defeated foe Satan is fighting his final battle, but a victory that has been ordained in eternity past. Too often today we have flown the white flag; we have laid down our arms; we have begun to surrender, often to the gods of culture and the armies of the enemy. … We play dead when anti-Christian groups like the Freedom from Religion Foundation, American Humanists, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and other fringe minorities posture, threaten and intimidate. And even though they have no legal or moral standing, we all too easily give in. We must not surrender!”

(The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, the United Church of Christ minister who has run AU since 1992, and the many religious people who are AU members, would probably be surprised to learn that we’re “anti-Christian.”)

As I learned strolling around the streets of Charleston, there’s no shortage of religion there for those who want it. In fact, the state has a proud tradition of religious diversity and tolerance.

That’s a great legacy. It’s a shame some South Carolinians don’t support it.