Baptists and Religious Liberty


On May 16, 1920, ten to fifteen thousand people gathered on the east steps of the National Capitol in Washington D.C. to hear George W. Truett, the pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas. J.B. Gambrell, the President of the Southern Baptist Convention that year, regarded the address, “the most significant and momentous of our day.” Truett proclaimed the Baptist ideal of religious liberty, gave its theological basis, reminded his hearers of the crucial role Baptists played in its American adoption, and emphasized its implications and our responsibilities to uphold the principle. Truett speech rings out today as a relevant cry as we celebrate our American freedoms granted by God’s hand of providence.

Baptists have one consistent record concerning liberty throughout all their long and eventful history. They have never been a party to oppression of conscience. They have forever been the unwavering champions of liberty, both religious and civil. Their contention now, is, and has been, and, please God, must ever be, that it is the natural and fundamental and indefeasible right of every human being to worship God or not, according to the dictates of his conscience, and, as long as he does not infringe upon the rights of others, he is to be held accountable alone to God for all religious beliefs and practices. Our contention is not for mere toleration, but for absolute liberty. There is a wide difference between toleration and liberty. Toleration implies that somebody falsely claims the right to tolerate. Toleration is a concession, while liberty is a right. Toleration is a matter of expediency, while liberty is a matter of principle. Toleration is a gift from God. It is the consistent and insistent contention of our Baptist people, always and everywhere, that religion must be forever voluntary and uncoerced, and that it is not the perogative of any power, whether civil or ecclesiastical, to compel men to conform to any religious creed or form of worship, or to pay taxes for the support of a religious organization to which they do not believe. God wants free worshipers and no other kind.

Let me encourage you to take the time to read the entire speech: Baptists and Religious Liberty by George W. Truett

With our minds on the subject, let me also recommend a sermon by M. E. Dodd, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Shreveport Louisiana. In 1916 he preached a series of eight sermons on “Baptist Principles and Practices.” Following his first sermon on “Baptists and the Bible,” Dodd emphasized “Religious And Political Liberty” as one of Baptist’s most important and distinguishing core doctrinal principles.


Great post Don. Unfortunately, W.A. Criswell stated that separation of church and state was the figment of some infidel’s imagination not too long after this proud event in the history of Baptists!

Great stuff, Don. I actually preached excerpts from this sermon on the Sunday of July 4th weekend last year to my congregation. This year I found some other good stuff on John Leland and the Baptists of Virginia and their struggle for religious liberty and took the time to relate that history on Sunday night. Tremendous. Tremendous. Tremendous.

Concerning John Leland and the Virginia Baptists – I noticed that you posted a biographical sketch of John Leland a month or two back. Since I know you share my interest in Baptist history (though you know much more about it than I do) you might be interested in seeing the remarks I made on my last two posts on The Howling Coyote Blog. I think they are related to some of what you have been posting here lately.