ATLANTA — As the Georgia Legislators being their 2018 session there are many issues they will be considering, Religious Liberty being one of them. Hopefully, they will remember that freedom of religion is a cornerstone of the American experiment.
Some legislators may not have much of an appetite for Religious Liberty legislation; and the governor has already thrown advocates of such legislation under the bus by his veto of House Bill 757 in March of 2016, but prominent conservatives have promised to revive the measure again this year.
Baptists, in particular, are prepared to mount a crusade for Religious Liberty. It is in our blood. It is a vital part of who we are.
Kiokee Baptist Church, the oldest standing Baptist Church in Georgia, has produced a video highlighting some of their rich history. The video recounts the founding of the church by Daniel Marshall, who was arrested for preaching the Gospel in Georgia.
Marshall was born in 1706, the son of respectable and pious Presbyterians, in Windsor, CT. He was converted at age 20, became a zealous Christian, and was chosen to serve as a deacon in his church. Life was not without its struggles. He married and lost a wife, by whom he had one son.
When he was 38 years old, Marshall, who had married again and had three children, heard George Whitefield preach. Whitfield’s message was so powerful and compelling, Marshall took his family from civilized society and moved to Onnaquaggy at the head of the Susquehanna and settled among the Mohawk Indians as a missionary. He labored there for Christ with great passion and experienced considerable success.
Over the next several years his ministry took him to a place in Pennsylvania called Conegocheague and then to Winchester, VA where he united with a Baptist church. Marshall and his wife were convinced of the Scriptural fidelity of the Baptists and were baptized by immersion in 1754.
Four years later Marshall was ordained as a pastor and began the gigantic task of evangelizing the southern area of the country. His ministry took him to settlements in Virginia and North Carolina; and in 1762 he moved to Steven’s Creek, SC. In less than ten years he established eight churches and laid the groundwork for countless others.
From Steven’s Creek, near Augusta, he began his work in Georgia. On one of his visits in Georgia, around 1770, Daniel Marshall was on his knees in prayer as he conducted public worship. A young constable arrested him for preaching the Gospel and demanded that someone give security for his appearance in Augusta on the following Monday to answer the charge. Interestingly, the constable who arrested Marshall was won to faith in Christ through his contact with fearless preacher.
The result of the trial was that he was ordered to come no more as a preacher into Georgia, but he simply replied in the sprit of the Apostle Paul, “Whether it be right to obey God or man, judge ye.”
James Lester, in his History of the Georgia Baptist Convention 1822-1972, records the words of Abraham Marshall, who spoke on behalf of his father, Daniel, declaring: “No scenes, however, from the commencement to the termination of hostilities, were so gloomy and alarming as to deter my father from discharging the duties of his station.
“As a friend to the American cause, he was once made a prisoner and put under strong guard. But, obtaining leave of the officers, he commenced and supported so heavy a charge of exhortation and prayer that, like Daniel of old, while his enemies stood amazed and confounded, he was safely and honorably delivered from this den of lions.”
Undeterred by the threats and hostilities from the governing officials and in defiance of the law, Daniel Marshall moved with his family to Kiokee, GA., where he spent the remainder of his life. The next spring a church was established there – the Kiokee Church – the oldest standing Baptist Church in Georgia.
Soon after the trial of Daniel Marshall religious persecution ended in Georgia – at least it ended for over 225 years. In recent years and particularly under the administration of Governor Nathan Deal religious liberty has been under attack.
No one has been incarcerated to my knowledge, but Kelvin Cochran lost his job at Atlanta Fire Chief because he expressed his faith in a book. Eric Walsh lost his job as Georgia Public Health Doctor because of his Christian beliefs. Chike Uzuegbunam was told he could not share his faith on Georgia Gwinnett College campus.
Ruth Malhotra endured ridicule and persecution for her conviction about religious liberty and First Amendment right at Georgia Tech. Savannah University officials booted the student group, Commissioned II Love, off campus after the school’s officials deemed the group’s act of sharing the Gospel as “harassment” and the club’s practice of washing the feet of new members as “hazing.”
The list of examples is much longer, because the freedom of Georgians to believe and live out their beliefs has been attacked by government action. Now more than ever, our First Freedom of religious liberty needs protection through a state Religious Freedom Restoration Act to protect the rights of individuals and businesses to believe and live according to those beliefs.
The Christian Index, in concert with Mike Griffin, our public affairs representative at the Capitol, will be calling upon Georgia Baptists to lead the charge in this fight for religious liberty. Be prepared to lend your support.