The Mendicant Orders to The Renaissance

Jesus Christ Savior | The Renaissance, which means rebirth, was the period of phenomenal growth in Western culture in art, architecture, literature, and sculpture. Christian humanism, a rejoicing in man’s achievements and capabilities reflecting the greater glory of God, had its beginning with the Divine Comedy, published in 1320 by Dante Alighieri in Italy.

The twelfth and thirteenth centuries were the peak of the Medieval Age. It was the flowering of Christendom, a time of extraordinary intellectual activity, with the rise of the University and the introduction of Arabian, Hebrew, and Greek works into Christian schools. A new form of order arose whose aim was to pursue the monastic ideals of poverty, renunciation, and self-sacrifice, but also to maintain a presence and convert the world by example and preaching. They were known as friars and called the Mendicant Orders (Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites, Augustinians, and the Servites), because of begging alms to support themselves.

St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) was born to wealth. He loved adventure, but experienced conversion after joining the military. He returned home, and heard a voice saying to him, “Francis, go and rebuild my house; it is falling down.” He adopted a life of poverty, and began to preach the Kingdom of Heaven. Francis loved creation and considered it good, for Christ himself took on flesh in the Incarnation. He loved all living creatures. St. Francis originated the Christmas manger scene. He founded the Franciscan order, and received approval from Rome in 1209. The Poor Clare Nuns began when St. Clare joined the Franciscans in 1212 in Assisi. In 1219 St. Francis risked his life in the Fifth Crusade by calling directly upon the Sultan of Egypt in an effort to convert him and bring peace. He received the stigmata of Christ in 1224, 2 years before his death in 1226.

St. Dominic de Guzman (1170-1221) was born in Calaruega, Spain. On a journey through France he was confronted by the Albigensian heresy (like Manichaeism and the Cathari). As he came with a Bishop in richly dressed clothes on horses, he realized the people would not be impressed with his message. This led him to a life of poverty. He spent several years preaching in France in an attempt to convert the Albigensians. In 1208 in Prouille, France, he received a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary and began to spread devotion to the Rosary. Dominic was a man of peace and converted many through prayer, preaching, and his example of poverty. He founded the Order of Preachers in 1216 known as the Dominican Friars.

The universities in Europe began as guilds of scholars, which first attracted members of the clergy and were supported financially by the Church. The first universities in Europe were founded in Bologna and Paris; Oxford and Cambridge soon followed. Theology, law, and medicine were fields of advanced study. The University of Paris was especially noted for studies in Theology. The age was the time of Scholasticism – of the schools, a method of learning that placed emphasis on reasoning. Important writers at the time were Bonaventure, Duns Scotus, Albertus Magnus, and his student Thomas Aquinas, who became the greatest theologian and philosopher of the age.

St. Thomas Aquinas was a Dominican priest who lived from 1225 to 1274. Born in Roccasecca, Italy to the Aquino family, he joined the Dominicans at the age of 18. He received his doctorate in theology and taught at the University of Paris during the height of Christendom.

One of the greatest contributions by Thomas was his incorporation of the philosophy of Aristotle into the theology of the Catholic Church. Thomas saw reason and faith as one and mutually supportive, and combined the Bible and Church Fathers and the reasoning of Aristotle into one unified system of understanding Christian revelation through faith enlightened by reason.

His most noted work was the Summa Theologica, a five-volume masterpiece. St. Thomas Aquinas presented the classical approach to Biblical Exegesis. Recalling the words of Gregory that Scripture transcends every science, ” for in one and the same sentence, while it describes a fact, it reveals a mystery.” In addition to the literal sense, Thomas described the three spiritual senses of Scripture, the allegorical, the truth revealed, the moral, the life commended, and the anagogical, the final goal to be achieved. His exposition on the Seven Sacraments remains a standard to our present day.

The Renaissance, which means rebirth, was the period of phenomenal growth in Western culture in art, architecture, literature, and sculpture. Christian humanism, a rejoicing in man’s achievements and capabilities reflecting the greater glory of God, had its beginning with the Divine Comedy, published in 1320 by Dante Alighieri in Italy. The Renaissance continued through the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries until William Shakespeare. Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, and Botticelli led the way in art. Brunelleschi revived the ancient Roman style of architecture and introduced linear perspective. The great sculptors were Donatello and Michelangelo. St. Thomas More and Erasmus were leading Christian humanists in literature.

Our anonymous author is a physician and a Masters graduate in Theology and Christian Ministry from Franciscan University, Steubenville, Ohio. He teaches Sunday Bible Class at St. James Catholic Church and serves both Pastoral Care and the Medical Staff at St. Joseph’s Hospital.



Pope Urban II and the First Crusade (1095)

Jesus Christ Savior |  “Undertake this journey for the remission of your sins, with the assurance of the imperishable glory of the Kingdom of Heaven!”

Pope Urban II, in one of history’s most powerful speeches, launched 200 years of the Crusades at the Council of Clermont, France on November 27, 1095 with this impassioned plea. In a rare public session in an open field, he urged the knights and noblemen to win back the Holy Land, to face their sins, and called upon those present to save their souls and become Soldiers of Christ. Those who took the vow for the pilgrimage were to wear the sign of the cross (croix in French): and so evolved the word croisade or Crusade. By the time his speech ended, the captivated audience began shouting Deus le volt! – God wills it! The expression became the battle-cry of the crusades.

Why did Pope Urban II call for the recapture of the Holy Land? Three reasons are primarily given for the beginning of the Crusades: (1) to free Jerusalem and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; (2) to defend the Christian East, hopefully healing the rift between Roman and Orthodox Christianity; and (3) to marshal the energy of the constantly warring feudal lords and knights into the one cause of penitential warfare.

Led by the papal legate Bishop Adhemar of Le Puy, the First Crusade (of eight major efforts) freed Jerusalem on July 15, 1099. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was once again in Christian hands and restored. The four Crusader states of Jerusalem, Tripoli, Antioch, and Edessa were established. The Kingdom of Jerusalem lasted 88 years, until Saladin recaptured the city October 2, 1187. King Richard the Lionheart of England negotiated the Peace Treaty of Jaffa with Saladin during the Third Crusade whereby Christian pilgrims were given free access to Jerusalem.

The four Crusader states eventually collapsed; the surrender of Acre in 1291 ended 192 years of formal Christian rule in the Holy Land.

Our anonymous author is a physician and a Masters graduate in Theology and Christian Ministry from Franciscan University, Steubenville, Ohio. He teaches Sunday Bible Class at St. James Catholic Church and serves both Pastoral Care and the Medical Staff at St. Joseph’s Hospital.



Colonial Williamsburg

Colonial Williamsburg has been criticized for neglecting the role of free African-Americans in Colonial life, in addition to those who were slaves. When it first opened in the 1930s, Colonial Williamsburg had segregated dormitories for its reenactors. African Americans filled historical roles as servants, rather than free people as in the present day. In a segregated state, Colonial Williamsburg allowed the entry of blacks, but Williamsburg-area hotels denied them accommodation, and state law forbade blacks from eating with whites in such public facilities as the restored taverns and from shopping in nearby stores. (image: Wikipedia)

Colonial Williamsburg is the home of the living-history museum and private foundation presenting part of the historic district in the city of Williamsburg, Virginia, United States. The Colonial Williamsburg is the best place for you to immerse yourself in America’s history. You can start off by visiting the Colonial Williamsburg area where surviving colonial structures have been restored as close as possible to their 18th-century appearance, with traces of later buildings and improvements removed. Many of the missing colonial structures were reconstructed on their original sites beginning in the 1930s. Animals, gardens, and dependencies (such as kitchens, smokehouses, and privies) add to the environment. Some buildings and most gardens are open to tourists, the exceptions being buildings serving as residences for Colonial Williamsburg employees, large donors, the occasional city official, and sometimes College of William & Mary associates.

Costumed employees work and dress as people did in the era, sometimes using colonial grammar and diction (although not colonial accents). Prominent buildings include the Raleigh Tavern, the Capitol, the Governor’s Palace (all reconstructed), as well as the Courthouse, the George Wythe House, the Peyton Randolph House, the Magazine, and independently owned and functioning Bruton Parish Church (all originals). Colonial Williamsburg’s portion of the Historic Area begins east of the College of William & Mary’s College Yard.

The College of William & Mary, the Courthouse, and the Eastern Lunatic Asylum (now Eastern State Hospital) provide a buck of the jobs for town of Williamsburg. Colonial-era buildings were by turns modified, modernized, protected, neglected, or destroyed. Development that accompanied construction of a World War I gun cotton plant at nearby Peniman and the coming of the automobile blighted the community, but the town never lost its appeal to tourists. By the early 20th century, many older structures were in poor condition, no longer in use, or were occupied by squatters.

The Visitor Center near the Colonial Parkway features a short movie, Williamsburg: the Story of a Patriot, which debuted in 1957. Visitors may park at the Visitor’s Center, as automobiles are restricted from the restored area. Wheelchair-accessible shuttle bus service is provided to stops around the perimeter of the Historic District of Williamsburg, as well as Jamestown and Yorktown, during the peak summer season.

And that’s only the beginning! You can take your Williamsburg Vacation to the next level by adding some adventure and outdoor activities. Williamsburg, VA happens to have the most beautiful theme park in the world, Busch Gardens Williamsburg. Once you are done uncovering all the thrilling rides and adventure at Busch Gardens, you can cross over to experience the fun at Virginia’s largest Water Park, Water Country USA.

Getting There
Historic Williamsburg is a wonderful time in American history and there is no better way to get there if you’re flying than through Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport which is 25–30 minutes driving distance away. Williamsburg is midway between two larger commercial airports, Richmond International Airport and Norfolk International Airport, each about an hour’s distance away.

Colonial Williamsburg operates its own fleet of buses with stops close to attractions in the Historic Area, although no motor vehicles operate during the day on Duke of Gloucester Street (to maintain the colonial-era atmosphere). At night, all the historic area streets are open to automobiles

Where To Stay
There are several Hotels in the area offering incredible incredible discount like the Westgate Historic Williamsburg Resort located at 1324 Richmond Road Williamsburg, VA 23185. You can reach them via this link or call them at 1-800-735-1906.

Where to Eat
Here are selections of places to eat in Colonial Williamsburg.

Christiana Campbell’s Tavern

Reservations: opentable.com
4.6 (276) · $$$ · Southern
101 S Waller St
Closes ⋅ 8PM
Washington dined in the original of this faithfully recreated tavern now serving fine Southern fare.

King’s Arms Tavern

Reservations: opentable.com
4.5 (607) · $$$ · Southern
416 E Duke of Gloucester St
Closed ⋅ Opens 11:30AM Thu
18th-century Colonial reproduction offering hearty American specialties from servers in costume.
Josiah Chowning’s Tavern
Phone: (800) 447-8679
4.4 (793) · $$ · American
109 E Duke of Gloucester St
Reconstructed 1766 tavern set in a white Colonial house with faithful furnishings & a Southern menu.

Fat Canary

Reservations: opentable.com
4.7 (178) · $$$ · New American
410 W Duke of Gloucester St
Refined, green-walled bistro serving upscale American fare & wines, with a cheese shop & patio.

A Chef’s Kitchen

Phone: (757) 564-8500
4.8 (58) · $$$$ · American
501 Prince George St
Closed ⋅ Opens 10AM Wed
Chef John Gonzales combines cooking classes with intimate multi-course meals & wine pairings.


A Brief History of Women’s Rights Movements

Scholastic | In the United States the first definitive position on women’s rights—hitherto intermingled with antislavery issues—was taken in 1848 under the leadership of Elizabeth Cady Stanton at the Women’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls, N.Y. (Gettyimage).

This account of women’s history started since 1776 and even before the Colonial era when the roles of women were ignored not only in textbooks but in all popular documented histories at the time. Women’s rights movements are primarily concerned with making the political, social, and economic status of women equal to that of men and with establishing legislative safeguards against discrimination on the basis of gender. Women’s rights movements have worked in support of these aims for more than two centuries. They date to at least the first feminist publication, in 1792, entitled A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, by British writer Mary Wollstonecraft.

Militant political action among women began in Britain in 1903 with the formation of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) for the right to vote. The organization was led by Emmeline Pankhurst. Women of all ages and classes demonstrated on a massive scale; the demonstrators were jailed, locked out of their meeting places, and thrown down the steps of Parliament. National divisiveness ended in a truce at the outbreak of World War I (1914) with the WSPU’s decision to support the war effort. The ensuing mobilization by the WSPU of thousands of its members for voluntary participation in the war industries and support services was a highly influential factor in overcoming government resistance to WSPU aims. The right to vote was granted in 1918; it was confined to women age 30 and above. In 1928 the voting age was lowered to 21.

In the United States the first definitive position on women’s rights—hitherto intermingled with antislavery issues—was taken in 1848 under the leadership of Elizabeth Cady Stanton at the Women’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls, N.Y. (see Seneca Falls Convention). In 1850 the National Women’s Rights Convention was held, led by Lucy Stone, an early activist. Both groups coalesced in the formation (1863) of the Women’s National Loyal League, under Susan B. Anthony. Anthony wrote and submitted in 1878 a proposed right-to-vote amendment to the Constitution.

In 1890, Wyoming became the first state with women’s suffrage. The movement was accelerated by the formation (1890) of the National American Women’s Suffrage Association and the election (1900) of Carrie Chapman Catt as president. The ensuing campaign attracted many educated, wealthy, and influential women to the cause, with resultant political professionalism, increased funding, and the development of massive parades and demonstrations in the major cities. The Anthony amendment, as written in 1878, was ratified as the 19th Amendment and became law in 1920.

From 1920 to 1960, militancy on behalf of a single issue diffused into a number of women’s political groups, such as the League of Women Voters (1920) and the National Council of Negro Women (1935). Such groups supported various types of liberal reforms related to the rights of both men and women. An equal rights amendment drafted in 1923 by the National Women’s party (founded 1913) remained dormant for another 50 years.

At the international level, however, the women’s rights movement made progress. The preamble to the United Nations (UN) Charter (1945) referred to equal rights for women; in 1948 the UN Commission on the Status of Women was established; in 1952 the UN General Assembly held a convention on the political rights of women. The United Nations Decade for Women (1976–85) emphasized the international scope of the women’s rights movement. Three related conferences—in Mexico City (1975); Copenhagen (1980); and Nairobi, Kenya (1985)—did the same. Beijing was host to the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995. That conference endorsed a nonbinding “Platform for Action.” The platform would serve as a blueprint for promoting women’s rights in the 21st century. In September 2010, UN secretary-general Ban Ki Moon appointed former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet to the new UN position of undersecretary-general for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women).

During the 1960s a militant feminist trend emerged in the United States. It was encouraged by significant feminist studies, such as The Second Sex (1953) by Simone de Beauvoir and The Feminine Mystique (1963) by Betty Friedan; it was also aided by a general legislative climate favorable to minority rights and antidiscrimination movements. Militant women’s groups were formed. The Women’s Liberation Movement, which was social rather than political and was manifested in literature and demonstrations by radical feminists, may have raised the awareness of the nation to the prevalence of discriminatory beliefs and attitudes.

More significantly, feminist political organizations arose that developed into a full feminist movement by the 1970s. These included the National Organization for Women (NOW), formed in 1966 under the leadership of Betty Friedan; the National Women’s Political Caucus (1971), composed of such nationally known feminists as Bella Abzug, Shirley Chisholm, and Gloria Steinem; the Equal Rights Amendment Ratification Council (1973); and the Coalition of Labor Union Women (1973).

The force of the women’s rights movement, spearheaded by NOW, was brought to bear on the major issue of the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the Constitution. The ERA was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives in 1971 and by the Senate in 1972. On June 30, 1982, however, ratification of the ERA fell three states short of the 38 needed by that deadline. Later congressional efforts to reintroduce the measure have failed, although a number of states have added equal-rights clauses to their constitutions.

Since the 1980s the women’s movement has focused on diverse issues. These include reproductive rights, that is, preserving a woman’s right of choice to have an abortion against the fervent pro-life movement; sexual harassment; and the “glass ceiling” that impedes women in corporate advancement.
Women continue to make advances in the political field. In 2008, Sen. Hillary Clinton made a historic bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. Although she was defeated in the primaries by Sen. Barack Obama, she won some 18 million votes in those polls. In 1984, Geraldine Ferraro was the first female Democrat to be nominated for the vice-presidency. Sarah Palin followed her as the first female Republican nominee for that office in 2008.

Women have made considerable gains in the other political arenas. In 1991, there were 2 women serving in the U.S. Senate and 28 in the U.S. House of Representatives. Following the 2010 elections 17 female senators and 75 female representatives were serving, including 3 nonvoting delegates. In January 2007, Rep. Nancy Pelosi became the first woman selected Speaker of the House. She was chosen House minority leader after the Republican party won control of the House in 2010. Also, 6 women were governors in 2011. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan appointed the first woman, Sandra Day O’Connor, to the U.S. Supreme Court. Ruth Bader Ginsburg followed her to the nation’s highest bench in 1993. In 2009, President Barack Obama appointed Sonia Sotomayor as the third woman and the first Hispanic American Supreme Court justice. Elena Kagan became the fourth woman to join the high court in 2010. Madeleine Albright was the first woman to serve as secretary of state (1997–2001); Condoleezza Rice held that post during the George W. Bushadministration. In January 2009, Hillary Clinton succeeded Rice as secretary of state.

  1. H. Roy Merrens and George D. Terry, “Dying in Paradise: Malaria, Mortality, and the Perceptual Environment in Colonial SouthCarolina,” Journal of Southern History (1984) 50: 533–50,
  2. “The Virginia Dare Story”. Virginia Dare. Archived from the original on April 23, 2015. Retrieved June 14, 2015.
  3. “Claiming Their Citizenship: African American Women From 1624–2009”. Nwhm.org. Retrieved June 29, 2011.
  4. Martha Saxton, Being Good Women’s Moral Values in Early America (2003), pp. 82-86.
  5. “Women’s Rights Movements.” Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia. Grolier Online, 2014. Web. 1 July 2014. (use the date you accessed the page).
  6. Alan Brinkley (1998). Liberalism and Its Discontents. Harvard University Press. p. 34. ISBN 9780674530171.
  7. “Women’s Rights Movements.” Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia. Grolier Online http://gme.grolier.com/article?assetid=0314735-0 (accessed July 1, 2014). (use the date you accessed the page).
  8. “Archived copy”. Archived from the original on February 23, 2009. Retrieved March 14, 2009.
  9. Women’s Rights Movements. (2014). Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia. Retrieved July 1, 2014, (use the date you accessed the page) from Grolier Online http://gme.grolier.com/article?assetid=0314735-0.
  10. “Women Airforce Service Pilots; Becoming a WASP”. www.kcdawnpatrol.org. Retrieved January 7, 2013.


Being ECWA Today: ECWA Identity and Sense of Belonging in Christ in an Age of Challenge

by Emmanuel Datiyong Akanet | Reclaiming ECWA Believers’ Identity and Sense of Belonging in Christ: A Problem of Christian Identity
Download Reclaiming ECWA Believers’ Identity and Sense of Belonging in Christ
I had the privilege of participating in the Lord’s ministry in Nigeria for twenty-eight years before I came to Asbury Theological Seminary in the fall of 2004, and I realize that the Lord enables me to serve better in the areas of teaching, preaching, and writing Christian literature. I served as a teacher and principal in one of my denomination’s Bible schools as well as pastoring several churches at various locations and times.

A mission body known as the Sudan Interior Mission (SIM) founded the denomination to which I belong: the Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA) back then but now known as the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) in Nigeria. My previous observations and experiences as well as the history of the church shows that early congregations started on a solid foundation, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, with a desire to grow towards maturity in Christ. At the beginning believers were known for what they profess to be believers in Christ otherwise called “Christians.” They were not afraid to share their faith with others in obedience to the Lord’s command to preach the gospel to all nations of the world (Matt. 28: 18-20). They were continuously striving and engaging in Bible studies, evangelistic activities, and constant fellowship in community settings. They collaborated with the missionaries in building and sustaining the body of Christ.

Nevertheless, the time came when missionaries handed over the church leadership to nationals who followed the examples set forth by the founding fathers. The work continued well. Leaders gave their time and resources in selfless service in the Lord’s vineyard, and the congregations trusted them and their leadership. Fifty years after the handover to the nationals, several problems seem to have crept into the life of the church. The spiritual state of believers appears to be declining, and some of the leaders seem to be deviating from the mission of the church which is to glorify God in life and service. Sensing the problem is what prompted me to be devoted in preaching, teaching, and writing.

This report includes a brief history of Nigeria and the church, biblical and theological foundations for the research, a literature review on leaders, leadership tasks, leadership approaches, the qualities, competencies as well as the spirituality required of a leader. The ministry intervention aimed at helping ECWA believers reclaim their identity and sense of belonging in Christ and to one another. Assessments confirmed the existence of spiritual decline among ECWA believers and the need for leaders with spiritual vision and direction to lead the church in reclaiming ECWA believers’ identity and sense of belonging in Christ and to one another. The ministry intervention of this research was designed with a need for spiritual and visionary leaders to provide learning environments that would facilitate a learning process in helping ECWA believers reclaim their identity and sense of belonging in Christ and to one another. This need, which has been a burden upon my wife and I, led us into starting a Servant Leadership Ministry to the disable persons, widows/widowers, orphans, senior citizens, and the poor in Madakiya community in which we were brought up and to which we belong.

Ministry Intervention
The distinctly Christian response to any need is a ministry response (i.e., a servant response). Jesus conceived of his own ministry as a response to specific human need. He articulated this construal of his ministry in his explanation of his unconventional behavior of “eating with tax collectors and sinners” (Mark 2:13-17). He responded to questions about this behavior in terms of the link between human need (the “sick” and their need of a “physician“) and his own purpose (why he “came” [Mark 2:17]). Similarly, in his programmatic statement summarizing his whole ministry, he claimed he had come “not to be served but to serve” and to “give [his] life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Therefore, a most fitting response to the perceived need in ECWA is along the lines of the following design, judging from the research.

Encouragement from Greater Africa and a Testimony
The need for trans-formative leaders seems to be of great concern among many ecclesiastical leaders in many African countries. Other Africans are leading awakenings like that proposed in this study. Two ministry initiatives that are taking place in Africa today encourage one to think that a ministry intervention of the sort here proposed has, by God’s grace, a reasonable likelihood of success.

Calembo’s International Leadership Institute of Southern Africa (ILISA)
A premier example of these African ministries is the International Leadership Institute of Southern Africa founded and led by Alfred Calembo. His ministry aims at recruiting and training potential leaders who would also train others in their localities. The ministry appears to be flourishing, apparently meeting well the needs of adult learners and meeting perceived leadership needs. Calembo demonstrates the servant leadership attitude needed to be able to influence leaders in a community. His ministry is administered at the national and international levels. Its main aim is influencing the direction of his denomination by shaping leaders who would go and shape others, too.

The core values of Calembo’s ministry emphasize the importance of visionary leadership, relevant evangelism, stewardship, and leadership multiplication processes that seek and train men and women who, in turn become leaders of leaders who will effectively train others. According to Calembo, the curriculum emphasizes the importance of character and integrity because credible leaders exert greater influence on their followers. His ministry focus is based on:

  • Training and mobilizing leaders of leaders,
  • Evangelization and Church planting,
  • Ministering to HIV/AIDS, widows/orphans and vulnerable children,
  • Community health,
  • Education, and
  • Economic empowerment and emergency food relief

Producing leaders with a vision such as Calembo’s who will lead transformational learning programs like his is the goal of this proposed ministry intervention. Calembo exemplifies the fruit anticipated when ECWA believers find their identity and sense of belonging in Christ and to one another.

Akanet’s Servant Leadership Ministry
My own experience encourages me to think that new awareness of ECWA’s identity in Christ, of belonging to Christ and to one another, can take hold across the denomination from national to local grassroots levels to energize and shape local ministries and Christian witness. Based on my understanding of the gospel, which offers full liberation from the ravages of sin and the call to Christian leadership as a call to serve, my wife and I started a “servant leadership ministry” in the community in which we were raised. This ministry extends God’s grace and love to the disabled, the sick, the less privileged, and to HFV/AIDS victims and other needy persons within the range of our influence. The ministry focuses on the following:

  • To support and encourage young widows struggling with young children ages 1-15;
  • To support and encourage disabled persons and the disadvantaged to be self-supportive and self-reliance;
  • To support and encourage young persons in leadership positions to strive towards excellence, able to balance their lives between family and ministry demands;
  • To encourage and support senior citizens who have no relatives to support and care for them.
  • To help and support the sick who have much difficulty or no means of getting medical care; and,
  • To provide economic empowerment and emergency food relief to the diverse groups as described above.

The ministry is microcosm, done in a neighborhood environment that could be done at regional and national levels. However, the success and positive response to our limited efforts has encouraged me to think similar ministries could be creatively replicated in many local ECWA congregations. The spirit and direction of the holistic ministry could also set the tone and direction for national and regional leadership and would be a harbinger of spiritual renewal in ECWA.

Connect with Emmanuel Datiyong Akanet @datiyongx



The Radical Christian Faith of Frederick Douglass

by D. H. Dilbeck | The great abolitionist spoke words of rebuke—and hope—to a slaveholding society. (image: iStock)

As Frederick Douglass looked out on the boisterous crowd that had gathered to celebrate America’s independence, he thought of Psalm 137.

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How can we sing the songs of the Lord
while in a foreign land? (v. 1–4)

The Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society had invited Douglass to deliver the keynote address for their Fourth of July celebrations in 1852. Fourteen summers earlier, Douglass had escaped from slavery. Now, at only 34, he was America’s most famous abolitionist orator.

Douglass usually felt a certain anger and sadness on the Fourth of July. That day, as he stood behind the speaker’s lectern, he felt like an Israelite in exile called upon to sing for his Babylonian captors.

The crowd wanted him to venerate the Founding Fathers and celebrate their heroic deeds. At the start of his speech, Douglass seemed happy to oblige. But those who listened closely might have shifted uneasily in their seats if they noticed how Douglass used the word your. He spoke of your independence, your freedom, your nation, your fathers. The Founders succeeded in creating a new nation, Douglass said, “and today you reap the fruits of their success.”

To the slave, Douglass told his white audience, “your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mock; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.”

He reserved his harshest judgment for the nation’s churches. Nearly every white Christian either defended slaveholding or refused to speak against it. Douglass ridiculed their pretensions to righteousness with a warning from Isaiah: “And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood” (1:15, KJV).

Forgotten Prophet

February marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Frederick Douglass. Born a slave on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Douglass fled to freedom in 1838 and became a champion of liberty and equality.

In his 77 years, Douglass delivered thousands of speeches. He published three autobiographies. He founded and edited newspapers. He attended the first great women’s rights convention, in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. He met with President Abraham Lincoln to lobby for emancipation. He championed the cause of African American civil and political equality after the Civil War. He lived to see the tragic onset of Jim Crow and fought the oppressive system of racial segregation, disenfranchisement, and violence until he died in 1895 (a year before the notorious Supreme Court decision Plessy v. Ferguson, which upheld segregation under the “separate but equal” doctrine).

Yet there’s a side of Douglass that’s not often remembered or celebrated: his radical Christian faith. Douglass was a kind of prophet crying in the wilderness of Christian slaveholding America. It’s no coincidence that in the most famous speech of his life—“What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”—Douglass quoted the prophet Isaiah at length. He aspired to speak to America as biblical prophets once spoke to their people: with words of warning and rebuke, grace and hope.

Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann has written that ancient Hebrew prophets “nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture.” They offer “an alternative perception of reality,” one that allows people to “see their own history in the light of God’s freedom and his will for justice.”

Douglass tried to do the same thing in his long struggle against bondage. Slavery, as an elaborate system of racial oppression, offered a flawed “perception of reality,” a poisonous account of who we are as human beings and how we ought to live together. Douglass spent a lifetime pleading with white Christians, as members of the dominant culture, to acknowledge how thoroughly slavery had distorted their view of reality and kept them from loving as Christ loves.

He had no illusions about the possibility of eradicating all evil and fully realizing the kingdom of God on earth. But, in hopeful anticipation of a world without slavery, the prophetic Douglass implored his fellow Christians to hew to the narrow path of doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God.

‘Not Color, but Crime’

The crucible of Douglass’s prophetic Christian faith was his childhood suffering as a slave. Before his escape at age 20, Douglass witnessed and endured great cruelty, especially at the hands of Christian masters.

Young Douglass spent most of his earliest childhood days on the sprawling plantation of the Lloyd family, one of Maryland’s wealthiest slaveholders. There, Douglass first saw the grotesque violence and depravity that accompanied slavery: brutal whippings, cold-blooded murder, the daily trials of physical and psychological abuse.

Early one morning, Douglass woke to the desperate cries of his aunt Hester. A 15-year-old girl of striking beauty, Hester had been courted by Ned Roberts, a Lloyd family slave. Aaron Anthony, the slavemaster, commanded Hester to stop visiting Ned, but she continued, which incited Anthony’s rage. When Douglass peered out of his bedroom, a closet in the Anthony kitchen, he saw Hester stripped to the waist, her wrists bound together and fastened to the ceiling above her head. Anthony cursed Hester as he methodically delivered blow after blow with his three-foot-long cowskin whip. Blood flowed down her back as she pleaded for mercy. Douglass watched in terrified silence as Anthony delivered 30 or 40 lashes, before untying Hester and letting her body fall bloody and exposed on the kitchen floor.

How is a child, no more than six or seven, supposed to make sense of such violence? Douglass was a bright boy, so he soon asked the hardest questions: Why am I a slave? Why must slaves like Hester endure such pain, even unto death? Where is God? Why is he silent in our suffering?

Douglass suspected that the answers he heard from white southern Christians could not be right. How could God, in perfect wisdom and goodness, have made black people to be slaves and white people to be masters? Perhaps, he thought, it “was not color, but crime, not God, but man” that created slavery.

In 1826, Douglass was sent to Baltimore to live with Hugh and Sophia Auld. Late one Sunday night, he woke to the sound of Sophia, a devout Methodist, reading from the first chapter of the Book of Job. Douglass heard about a man who feared God and eschewed evil yet still lost everything—his livestock, servants, and children. Half-awake under a table on the Auld floor, Douglass decided he had to know more about this man Job—how he could say, despite his suffering, “blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Sophia began to teach Douglass the alphabet, but Hugh forbade the lessons. So Douglass secretly taught himself, laboring over well-worn and well-hidden copies of Webster’s spelling book and Methodist hymnals. By the time he was 13 or 14, he could capably read and write. Soon after, he formally converted to Christianity, shepherded by free black Methodists. Within the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Douglass first learned that there might be more to the call of Christ than the proslavery gospel he had heard his entire life.

Salvation, though, came slowly. For several weeks, tortured by the knowledge of his sin, Douglass remained “a poor, broken-hearted mourner, traveling through the darkness and misery of doubts and fear.” But once he cast all his cares upon God, Douglass wrote, he found faith in Christ as “Redeemer, Friend, and Savior.”

Not long after, in March 1833, Hugh Auld unexpectedly sent Douglass back to the Eastern Shore. For the next three years, Douglass labored for the first time as a field hand, physically and spiritually exhausting work. During this time, he saw just how completely slaveholders distorted the Christian faith to justify their violence and oppression. His most outwardly religious masters were the most depraved in their cruelty.

On Sabbath mornings, Douglass often stood on the banks of the Chesapeake Bay and gazed upon the white sails of vessels that traveled the globe untrammeled. The sight tormented him. One Sabbath, in his misery, with no audience but God, he cried out a psalm of lament: “O, why was I born a man, of whom to make a brute! The glad ship is gone; she hides in the dim distance. I am left in the hottest hell of unending slavery. O God, save me! God, deliver me! Let me be free! Is there any God? Why am I a slave?”

In his brokenness, comfort slowly came. Douglass’s sorrow that morning transformed into hope for deliverance. He felt God’s presence and resolved on the banks to do his part to win his freedom: “I will run away. . . . God helping me, I will. It cannot be that I shall live and die a slave.”

Douglass took few possessions on his long journey to freedom. He left behind his chains, but not his prophetic Christian faith that first took root in slavery. At the foundation of that faith rested certain assurances: that God suffers with the oppressed and will not tolerate injustice forever; that slaveholders perverted the Christian faith in their religious justifications of oppression; that Christ, in bidding all to come and die, offers a new way to live, radically different from the world’s hatred and violence.

‘The Christianity of Christ’

Douglass would settle in New Bedford, Massachusetts, hoping only to earn a fair wage as a caulker. But he soon gravitated toward the abolitionist movement. He avidly read William Lloyd Garrison’s Liberator, the nation’s leading antislavery newspaper, which “took its place with me next to the Bible,” Douglass wrote, because of its bold condemnation of “hypocrisy and wickedness in high places.”

In 1841, Douglass became a paid lecturer of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. The society’s president offered Douglass the job after hearing him make an impromptu speech at an abolitionist rally. Douglass would now make a living traveling through the North, telling the story of his life and denouncing slavery and its defenders. His task was to convince Americans to see the antislavery cause as a great moral necessity. To that end, he repeated a chastening refrain: “Between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference.”

Douglass delivered this message to greatest effect in his first autobiography, the iconic Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Published in 1845, the book was an instant hit, selling 30,000 copies within five years. Douglass’s Narrative is one of the great texts of the black prophetic Christian tradition, full of scorn for religious hypocrisy and oppression but also full of hope that Americans might still commit themselves to the path of true righteousness.

In the famous “Appendix,” Douglass condemned the “corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity” everywhere present in America. As Douglass knew from direct experience, the cruelest slaveholders were also often the most ardent churchgoers. “The man who wields the blood-clotted cowskin during the week fills the pulpit on Sunday,” Douglass scoffed, “and claims to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus.”

But the tragedy went deeper than the fact that individual slaveholders professed Christianity while failing to live up to Christ’s commands. Every believer shared that failure. Far worse was how, at an institutional level, slavery and the Christian church—in the North and South—remained inextricably connected. “The slave auctioneer’s bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master,” Douglass lamented. The slaveholder fills church coffers with gold, and, in turn, the pastor “covers his infernal business with the garb of Christianity.”

Douglass then quoted from Matthew 23, where Jesus Christ calls the scribes and Pharisees “whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness” (v. 27, KJV). Douglass insisted that Christ’s words held true for “the overwhelming mass of professed Christians in America.” Slaveholders and their apologists “attend with Pharisaical strictness to the outward forms of religion, and at the same time neglect the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith.” They had utterly abandoned the true Christianity of Christ and invited the wrath of a just and avenging God.

Hope of Redemption

Douglass rejoiced in 1865 when the Union triumphed in the Civil War and the nation ratified the Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery forever. But he did not believe his prophetic work had ended. At the end of his life, equality under the law remained an aspiration, not a reality. African Americans and women were denied the right to vote. The ghost of slavery lived on in oppressive economic arrangements like sharecropping. Jim Crow carved rigid lines of racial segregation in the public square. White mobs lynched at least 200 black men each year in the 1890s.

He had good reason, then, in 1889, to mourn how the “malignant prejudice of race” still “poisoned the fountains of justice, and defiled the altars of religion” in America. Yet Douglass also rejoiced in the continued possibility of redemption. A new way of seeing the world, and living in it, still remained—one that rested, Douglass said, on a “broad foundation laid by the Bible itself, that God has made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on all the face of the earth.”

In these unsettled times, it’s only natural to want to summon Douglass from the grave—to have him speak directly to the particular problems that still fester at the intersection of race and religion in American life.

That desire reminds me of a story about a great 20th-century American historian, Don Fehrenbacher. As the story goes, he once was lecturing in Boston during the mounting crisis over forced busing to integrate public schools. After his talk, a man asked, “What would Abraham Lincoln say about busing?” Fehrenbacher replied: “I think he would probably say, ‘What’s a bus?’ ”

Douglass’s America is not our America. A chasm of historical change separates us, much of it nearly unimaginable when Douglass died. And yet, we’re still heirs of the history Douglass faced and forged. The “malignant prejudice of race” lives on, a mockery of our common Creator and the likeness of the God we share.

If he could stand before us today, I doubt Douglass would presume to offer simple solutions to our racial dilemmas. But I suspect he would remind us of the promise made in Isaiah: “Cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (1:16–18, KJV).

D. H. Dilbeck is a historian living in New Haven, Connecticut. This article is adapted from his book, Frederick Douglass: America’s Prophet (The University of North Carolina Press).



ECWA USA History

by Sunday & Grace Bwanhot | ECWA formerly launched its foreign missions during the centennial celebrations in December 1993 when its own ‘three pioneer couples’:  Simon & Ruth Yako, Joshua and Joanna Bogunjoko, and Sunday & Grace Bwanhot were commissioned at the Jos township stadium.

ECWA grew out of SIM’s ministry (formally Sudan Interior Mission; Now: Serving In Missions). It began its work in Nigeria in December 1893 through the pioneering efforts of Rowland Bingham, Thomas Kent and Walter Gowans. The Church planted then was called SIM church but it was handed over to nationals in 1954. ECWA was registered in Nigeria as Evangelical Churches of West Africa on June 11, 1956. Later the name was amended to be: Evangelical Church of West Africa and now: Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA).

With the exception of some EMS (Evangelical Missionary Society) missionaries working in some countries in West Africa and the few churches in the USA and Britain, ECWA has largely remained a Nigerian church. It is to be noted that EMS of ECWA is the single largest indigenous mission agency in Africa. Although ECWA, through its mission agency, EMS, has a foreign mission policy, the policy continues to remain in the back burner of ECWA.

Officially, ECWA formerly launched its foreign missions during the centennial celebrations in December 1993 when its own ‘three pioneer couples’:  Simon & Ruth Yako, Joshua and Joanna Bogunjoko, and Sunday & Grace Bwanhot were commissioned at the Jos township stadium. The Yakos proceeded to Togo (Now in Nigeria), the Bogunjoko’s to Niger (Now in USA) and the Bwanhots in the USA. God made the move in spite of ECWA’s non committal to global evangelization. While God was using Rev. James Gabis to initiate ECWA’s ministries in the UK, God worked also through individuals here in the US to establish the ministry. Currently Israel and Gambia are the latest mission fields where ECWA is engaged in church planting.

ECWA Church New York

Late Elder Francis (left) and Grace Dada (Right), ECWA NY

Late Elder Francis (left) & Grace Dada (Right), ECWA NY, 1987

This is the first ECWA Church to be planted in the US in 1987 through the inspiring work of Elder Francis Dada’s father in-law. The church uses a rented facility located at 966 Fulton Street, Brooklyn, NY. Attendance at its peak averaged 60 to 75 people. The biggest challenge of this church has been a lack of a resident pastor. They have had several people fill in for brief periods of time. There was a conflict that led to several leaving the church and till today the church is yet to recover from that. Attendance currently is about 10 people.

 

ECWA Church Maryland

ECWA Church MD

ECWA Church MD, 1997

This is the second ECWA church planted in the US in January 1997 and it is currently the largest of all our churches with attendance in the neighborhood of 75 or more. The church bought a property that is being used for worship services and is located at: 5526 Marlboro Pike, District Heights, MD 20747. Rev. George Adekeye has been the pastor of the church since its inception.

 

ECWA Church Chicago

ECWA Church Chicago, At Handover, Jan 7, 2007

ECWA Church Chicago, At Handover, 2007

This is the third ECWA church planted in the USA on June 1, 1997. The church has been meeting in the lower level of Uptown Baptist Church at 1011 W. Wilson Avenue, Chicago, IL 60640. Attendance is between 40 and 50 and members come from several different countries. On January 7, 2007 Rev. Dr. Isaac Laudarji took over as the pastor from Rev. Sunday Bwanhot who started the church and pastored it till then.

 

First & Second ECWA Church Louisville

First & Second ECWA Church, Louisville, KY, 2001

First & Second ECWA Church, Louisville, KY, 2001

This is the fourth church planted in the US and is being pastored by Rev. Dr. Stephen Awoniyi. The church was officially inaugurated April 15, 2001. The church worships at 5007 Southside Dr. Louisville, KY 40214. Although attendance has declined from the average of 40 in the main church, the blessing of having the 2nd ECWA Church – Swahili speaking congregation under the leadership of Rev. Jean Nzeyimana is highly appreciated.

 

ECWA Church, Atlanta

ECWA Church, Atlanta, GA, 2007

ECWA Church, Atlanta, GA, 2007

This is the fifth ECWA Church in the USA. It was officially inaugurated on Sunday September 2, 2007 under the leadership of Rev. Innocent Nwaobasi. The church currently meets at the home of Elder Josiah Osasona. Attendance is still low – under 20. Property was purchased early this year and Lord willing the church will move to its permanent site in due course.

 

 

Prayer Houses

ECWA Prayer Cell, Columbia, SC, 2006

ECWA Prayer Cell, Columbia, SC, 2006

While several Prayer houses have been started across the country, there is a general struggle to keep these prayer houses going:

  • Prayer House, Columbia SC, 2006
  • Prayer House in Los Angeles CA,
  • Prayer House in Dallas/Fort Wayne TX
  • Prayer House in Houston, TX, 2012
  • Prayer House, Xenia, OH, 2012
  • Prayer House in Minneapolis/St. Paul’s area, MN.

We need to pray for these Prayer Houses to stand.

 

How We Got Organized

Steering committee members that helped in mobilizing ECWA in the US.

Steering committee members that helped in mobilizing ECWA in the US, 1999

The first two churches planted came about because of the efforts of some ECWA individuals who felt the Lord leading them to do that. There was no organization, no plan or strategy for church planting for ECWA here in the US. The two churches existed independently of each other and of ECWA Headquarters.

Rev. Panya Baba (former ECWA President) visited the US and he and Rev. Bwanhot had a discussion. The outcome of which was a February 15, 1997 meeting in MD with the following in attendance: Rev. Panya Baba, Rev. George Adekeye, Mr. Sunday Buge, Rev. Innocent Nwaobasi, Elder Henry Bello, Dr. James Angbazo, Rev. Joseph Obielodan and Rev. Sunday Bwanhot. Our agenda was to consider our role as ECWA members in the spiritual well-being of our people and others in the US. A Sub-Committee was appointed to plan a big ECWA Family Reunion for July 2-5, 1999.



ECWA History

ECWA is the result of several missionaries that traveled to Africa from Canada and the United States in the late 1800’s. ECWA is currently the largest Protestant denomination in Nigeria with over 6,000 churches having an adult membership of 2.5 million and nearly 5 million in total attendance.

The Evangelical Church of West Africa was renamed “Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA)” because of its wide spread to beyond its scope. It was a result of ministry history and the wide spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ in Africa by several missionaries who came from several places in the Canada and the United States of American on what can be termed “evangelical suicide mission” which was coined by Oji Chukwudimma Chukwudike because it will be glaring to see that West Africa, at that time, was known to be heavily infested with malaria and there is almost a 100% possibility that a white man will not survive it as they even called the West African region “the white man’s grave.” These missionaries braved malaria and yellow fever to preach the gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ under the auspices of the Sudan Interior Mission (SIM) and planted several churches as they preach along like Paul the Apostle and around mid 20th century these churches became independent to carry on the gospel. ECWA has the largest mission organization of any African church living up to its name Evangelical which by name Evangelical Mission Society (ESM) has sent out over 1,400 missionaries.

Throughout Nigeria, but especially in the central regions, ECWA churches are growing rapidly. Some churches have experienced as much as 400% growth in the last several years. Churches in the Northern (traditionally more Islamic) parts of the country are also growing. There are currently more than five thousand ECWA congregations with more than five million attendees and a church membership of over three million people. ECWA has over eighty District Church Councils called DCC’s and a number of Local Church Councils called LCC’s.

ECWA has three Theological Seminaries: ECWA Theological Seminary, Kagoro was established in 1931, ECWA Theological Seminary, Igbaja in 1941, and Jos ECWA Theological Seminary in 1980. There are also eight Bible colleges and fifteen theological training institutes. ECWA’s Medical Department coordinates a wide network which includes four hospitals, a Community Health Program with over 110 health clinics, a Central Pharmacy and the School of Nursing and Midwifery. It is also involved in radio, publications for outreach and discipleship, rural development, urban ministries, and cross-cultural missions. There are more than 1,600 missionaries from ECWA churches who serve in Nigeria and other countries with the Evangelical Missionary Society (EMS), the missionary arm of ECWA.

There has been a serious confrontation between evangelical Christians standing in opposition to the expansion of Sharia law in northern Nigeria by militant Muslims since 1999. The confrontation has radicalized and politicized the Christians. Violence has been escalating.



America’s True History of Religious Tolerance

Above Left : During the 1944 campaign for president, anti-Semites scrawled hate messages on a shop window in the Bronx, New York. (FPG / Hulton Archive / Getty Images)
Above Right: In 1844, an anti-Mormon mob murdered Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum while they were held in an Illinois jail cell. (Granger Collection, New York)
By Kenneth C. Davis | The idea that the United States has always been a bastion of religious freedom is reassuring—and utterly at odds with the historical record

Wading into the controversy surrounding an Islamic center planned for a site near New York City’s Ground Zero memorial this past August, President Obama declared: “This is America. And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country and that they will not be treated differently by their government is essential to who we are.” In doing so, he paid homage to a vision that politicians and preachers have extolled for more than two centuries—that America historically has been a place of religious tolerance. It was a sentiment George Washington voiced shortly after taking the oath of office just a few blocks from Ground Zero.

In the storybook version most of us learned in school, the Pilgrims came to America aboard the Mayflower in search of religious freedom in 1620. The Puritans soon followed, for the same reason. Ever since these religious dissidents arrived at their shining “city upon a hill,” as their governor John Winthrop called it, millions from around the world have done the same, coming to an America where they found a welcome melting pot in which everyone was free to practice his or her own faith.

The problem is that this tidy narrative is an American myth. The real story of religion in America’s past is an often awkward, frequently embarrassing and occasionally bloody tale that most civics books and high-school texts either paper over or shunt to the side. And much of the recent conversation about America’s ideal of religious freedom has paid lip service to this comforting tableau.
From the earliest arrival of Europeans on America’s shores, religion has often been a cudgel, used to discriminate, suppress and even kill the foreign, the “heretic” and the “unbeliever”—including the “heathen” natives already here. Moreover, while it is true that the vast majority of early-generation Americans were Christian, the pitched battles between various Protestant sects and, more explosively, between Protestants and Catholics, present an unavoidable contradiction to the widely held notion that America is a “Christian nation.”

First, a little overlooked history: the initial encounter between Europeans in the future United States came with the establishment of a Huguenot (French Protestant) colony in 1564 at Fort Caroline (near modern Jacksonville, Florida). More than half a century before the Mayflower set sail, French pilgrims had come to America in search of religious freedom.

The Spanish had other ideas. In 1565, they established a forward operating base at St. Augustine and proceeded to wipe out the Fort Caroline colony. The Spanish commander, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, wrote to the Spanish King Philip II that he had “hanged all those we had found in [Fort Caroline] because…they were scattering the odious Lutheran doctrine in these Provinces.” When hundreds of survivors of a shipwrecked French fleet washed up on the beaches of Florida, they were put to the sword, beside a river the Spanish called Matanzas (“slaughters”). In other words, the first encounter between European Christians in America ended in a blood bath.

The much-ballyhooed arrival of the Pilgrims and Puritans in New England in the early 1600s was indeed a response to persecution that these religious dissenters had experienced in England. But the Puritan fathers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony did not countenance tolerance of opposing religious views. Their “city upon a hill” was a theocracy that brooked no dissent, religious or political.

The most famous dissidents within the Puritan community, Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson, were banished following disagreements over theology and policy. From Puritan Boston’s earliest days, Catholics (“Papists”) were anathema and were banned from the colonies, along with other non-Puritans. Four Quakers were hanged in Boston between 1659 and 1661 for persistently returning to the city to stand up for their beliefs.

Throughout the colonial era, Anglo-American antipathy toward Catholics—especially French and Spanish Catholics—was pronounced and often reflected in the sermons of such famous clerics as Cotton Mather and in statutes that discriminated against Catholics in matters of property and voting. Anti-Catholic feelings even contributed to the revolutionary mood in America after King George III extended an olive branch to French Catholics in Canada with the Quebec Act of 1774, which recognized their religion.

When George Washington dispatched Benedict Arnold on a mission to court French Canadians’ support for the American Revolution in 1775, he cautioned Arnold not to let their religion get in the way. “Prudence, policy and a true Christian Spirit,” Washington advised, “will lead us to look with compassion upon their errors, without insulting them.” (After Arnold betrayed the American cause, he publicly cited America’s alliance with Catholic France as one of his reasons for doing so.)

In newly independent America, there was a crazy quilt of state laws regarding religion. In Massachusetts, only Christians were allowed to hold public office, and Catholics were allowed to do so only after renouncing papal authority. In 1777, New York State’s constitution banned Catholics from public office (and would do so until 1806). In Maryland, Catholics had full civil rights, but Jews did not. Delaware required an oath affirming belief in the Trinity. Several states, including Massachusetts and South Carolina, had official, state-supported churches.

In 1779, as Virginia’s governor, Thomas Jefferson had drafted a bill that guaranteed legal equality for citizens of all religions—including those of no religion—in the state. It was around then that Jefferson famously wrote, “But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” But Jefferson’s plan did not advance—until after Patrick (“Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death”) Henry introduced a bill in 1784 calling for state support for “teachers of the Christian religion.”

Future President James Madison stepped into the breach. In a carefully argued essay titled “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments,” the soon-to-be father of the Constitution eloquently laid out reasons why the state had no business supporting Christian instruction. Signed by some 2,000 Virginians, Madison’s argument became a fundamental piece of American political philosophy, a ringing endorsement of the secular state that “should be as familiar to students of American history as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution,” as Susan Jacoby has written in Freethinkers, her excellent history of American secularism.

Among Madison’s 15 points was his declaration that “the Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every…man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an inalienable right.”

Madison also made a point that any believer of any religion should understand: that the government sanction of a religion was, in essence, a threat to religion. “Who does not see,” he wrote, “that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects?” Madison was writing from his memory of Baptist ministers being arrested in his native Virginia.

As a Christian, Madison also noted that Christianity had spread in the face of persecution from worldly powers, not with their help. Christianity, he contended, “disavows a dependence on the powers of this world…for it is known that this Religion both existed and flourished, not only without the support of human laws, but in spite of every opposition from them.”

Recognizing the idea of America as a refuge for the protester or rebel, Madison also argued that Henry’s proposal was “a departure from that generous policy, which offering an Asylum to the persecuted and oppressed of every Nation and Religion, promised a lustre to our country.”

After long debate, Patrick Henry’s bill was defeated, with the opposition outnumbering supporters 12 to 1. Instead, the Virginia legislature took up Jefferson’s plan for the separation of church and state. In 1786, the Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom, modified somewhat from Jefferson’s original draft, became law. The act is one of three accomplishments Jefferson included on his tombstone, along with writing the Declaration and founding the University of Virginia. (He omitted his presidency of the United States.) After the bill was passed, Jefferson proudly wrote that the law “meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew, the Gentile, the Christian and the Mahometan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.”

Madison wanted Jefferson’s view to become the law of the land when he went to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787. And as framed in Philadelphia that year, the U.S. Constitution clearly stated in Article VI that federal elective and appointed officials “shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution, but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

This passage—along with the facts that the Constitution does not mention God or a deity (except for a pro forma “year of our Lord” date) and that its very first amendment forbids Congress from making laws that would infringe of the free exercise of religion—attests to the founders’ resolve that America be a secular republic. The men who fought the Revolution may have thanked Providence and attended church regularly—or not. But they also fought a war against a country in which the head of state was the head of the church. Knowing well the history of religious warfare that led to America’s settlement, they clearly understood both the dangers of that system and of sectarian conflict.

It was the recognition of that divisive past by the founders—notably Washington, Jefferson, Adams and Madison—that secured America as a secular republic. As president, Washington wrote in 1790: “All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunity of citizenship. …For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens.”

He was addressing the members of America’s oldest synagogue, the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island (where his letter is read aloud every August). In closing, he wrote specifically to the Jews a phrase that applies to Muslims as well: “May the children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants, while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

As for Adams and Jefferson, they would disagree vehemently over policy, but on the question of religious freedom they were united. “In their seventies,” Jacoby writes, “with a friendship that had survived serious political conflicts, Adams and Jefferson could look back with satisfaction on what they both considered their greatest achievement—their role in establishing a secular government whose legislators would never be required, or permitted, to rule on the legality of theological views.”

Late in his life, James Madison wrote a letter summarizing his views: “And I have no doubt that every new example, will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Govt. will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.”

While some of America’s early leaders were models of virtuous tolerance, American attitudes were slow to change. The anti-Catholicism of America’s Calvinist past found new voice in the 19th century. The belief widely held and preached by some of the most prominent ministers in America was that Catholics would, if permitted, turn America over to the pope. Anti-Catholic venom was part of the typical American school day, along with Bible readings. In Massachusetts, a convent—coincidentally near the site of the Bunker Hill Monument—was burned to the ground in 1834 by an anti-Catholic mob incited by reports that young women were being abused in the convent school. In Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, anti-Catholic sentiment, combined with the country’s anti-immigrant mood, fueled the Bible Riots of 1844, in which houses were torched, two Catholic churches were destroyed and at least 20 people were killed.

At about the same time, Joseph Smith founded a new American religion—and soon met with the wrath of the mainstream Protestant majority. In 1832, a mob tarred and feathered him, marking the beginning of a long battle between Christian America and Smith’s Mormonism. In October 1838, after a series of conflicts over land and religious tension, Missouri Governor Lilburn Boggs ordered that all Mormons be expelled from his state. Three days later, rogue militiamen massacred 17 church members, including children, at the Mormon settlement of Haun’s Mill. In 1844, a mob murdered Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum while they were jailed in Carthage, Illinois. No one was ever convicted of the crime.

Even as late as 1960, Catholic presidential candidate John F. Kennedy felt compelled to make a major speech declaring that his loyalty was to America, not the pope. (And as recently as the 2008 Republican primary campaign, Mormon candidate Mitt Romney felt compelled to address the suspicions still directed toward the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.) Of course, America’s anti-Semitism was practiced institutionally as well as socially for decades. With the great threat of “godless” Communism looming in the 1950s, the country’s fear of atheism also reached new heights.

America can still be, as Madison perceived the nation in 1785, “an Asylum to the persecuted and oppressed of every Nation and Religion.” But recognizing that deep religious discord has been part of America’s social DNA is a healthy and necessary step. When we acknowledge that dark past, perhaps the nation will return to that “promised…lustre” of which Madison so grandiloquently wrote.

Kenneth C. Davis is the author of Don’t Know Much About History and A Nation Rising, among other books.