Monday, February 8, 2010


 By (c) Russ Barnes

In the aftermath of 9/11, sectarian vandals defaced the Southern Maryland Islamic Center in Prince Frederick.  You see, the pendulum still swings in Maryland today between the two extremes -- of tolerance on the one hand and intolerant sectarianism on the other -- very much the way it did in colonial times.

In the months after 9/11, following the best tradition of Maryland, Trinity Church in Historic St. Mary's City reached out and invited the congregation of the Islamic Center to its church functions. And the Islamic Center returned the invitation with graciousness and a meal that was a delicious Middle Eastern feast, accompanied by heartful conversation.


Regarding this oscillation between tolerance and intolerance, my guide, Pete Himmelheber observed, "In colonial Maryland, religious tolerance and intolerance acted like a see-saw." Which is still the case in present day Maryland -- bringing to mind Thomas Jefferson's assertion that "the price of liberty is eternal vigilance."

Because of this "see-saw" of tolerance and intolerance, the religious saga and sites of Southern Maryland are not merely antiquarian. Maryland's saga brings living history right up against current public policy.


For the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), the issues raised by the Southern Maryland experiment in religious freedom are more than just public policy. Finding resolution for those same old issues of colonial Maryland -- still unresolved in so much of the world today is considered essential by the USCIRF to the security of the United States and to peace world-wide.


Tad Stahnke is Policy Director for USCIRF. His commission's job is to identify problem areas around the world where religious rights are being violated. One of the areas Stahnke uses for illustration is the Maluku Islands in the late '90s where Christians and Muslims have perpetrated violence and destruction largely because of the great degree of isolation between the two groups. Stahnke observes that such pockets of intolerance are an immediate and dangerous threat to the world community.

"Religious intolerance results from a mixture of things -- and that mixture differs in different places," explains Stahnke. "But there are common denominators: intolerance and fear propagated by governments for their own gain, ideology unencumbered by practical necessities, ethnic chauvinism and segregation, localized conflicts over land and use of resources."

Stahnke believes that outside political and economic pressure can help eliminate intolerance, but that local leadership always needs to be encouraged. And somehow there need to be factors that make a region with religious strife ripe for change.


Pete Himmelheber explains some of the factors which made the old colony of Maryland ripe for working toward religious tolerance. He simply calls these factors "practical reasons for people to get along." His list is as plain as a Southern Maryland soybean field:

* No established religion to provide favorites.

* Living conditions that allow little choice of who your neighbor will be. In early
Maryland, most arrivals were indentured servants and slaves. Most of these had no
choice as to their master and hence their living arrangements. Freeholders were granted land that was available and so also usually had no choice of neighbors.

* Everyone must be in a position to depend on all the expertise, manufacturing, goods, and labor resources offered in the community regardless of who happens to be offering them. In Maryland, everyone was raising one crop: tobacco. To be successful, one used the only labor, agents, and ship captains available.

* There has to be a perception that there isn't any place else where it would be that much better to go. So then one might least as well try to work it all out right here.

As in Maryland, other colonies were also having their internecine problems.


For all the see-saw precariousness of the religious tolerance experiment in colonial Maryland, with its many pragmatic motivations, there was also a truly spiritual dimension to its on-going provisional success. One might even call it spiritual power.  And that power is felt even now when one is in the presence of the religious sites in the Southern Maryland of today.

You feel. being here, "Something happened. There is a spirit -- maybe hovering ghosts -- who know something.  They are telling us something about what they know. "

Maybe the spiritual dimension one feels in Southern Maryland is best summed up in the words of Sister Doroda, describing her first experience of the Mount Carmel Monastery, Port Tobacco,  when she says, "The first time I walked into this monastery, it was like walking through a nuclear reactor cooler room. You couldn't hear it. You couldn't see it. But you knew there was tremendous energy here."


St. Mary's County Maryland Historical Society,

Calvert County Maryland Visitor Guide,

Charles County Maryland Economic Development & Tourism,
St. Mary's College,


By © Joe Heidlemeier
Guest Writer to the blog

Another long weekend in the brush. This weekend, my friend, hosted a hunter that entered a contest in Cuero, Texas for the largest hog.

He chose to hunt with bow and arrow. I, personally do not like bow hunting. Long story to that one which I will explain later.  I think it's a cruel way to hunt an animal. 

So, hunter shows up, anxious, anticipating the hunt.

We are going to the "John Wayne" stand. Named because I hunt there with an old lever action rifle. Always lots of wild pigs on scene. He, my friend, sorts his gear, and we put him in a tree stand about 20 yards away.  This is from where the pigs feed at night. Pick him, my friend, up at 11:00 p.m., and he’s not seen anything, but has heard hogs all around him.

So, next evening, we put him in another stand "The Beauty Parlor Stand", named because it has a chair in it from an old salon.  Comfy! He again is in a ladder stand against a tree, 20 yards.  Away from the feed.  Again, no pigs.

What do WE do wrong? Nothing. Next day, after the hunter is gone, we have pictures, and the pigs are happy again.

Guess he, my friend, was making noise, smelled funny, or just went to sleep.

Watching the super bowl game now, eating brisket and barbecued wild piggy. Good beer. Got to go to my school in the morning for a long week of work. Then my old best friend, Gary, is coming to hunt with me.

Still Loco,

Thursday, February 4, 2010


How Tolerance Makes Life Abundant

By © Russ Barnes

Separately, I visited the recently built Southern Maryland Islamic Center in Prince Frederick -- which in the past few years has experienced vandalism based on discrimination and bigotry -- and the Shiloh Methodist Church, a prominent Afro-American community in Charles County.

These two religious sites show the on-going difficulty of keeping religious freedom.  More on that in a later post.

From this pleasing round of rich historical sites, one begins to gain an insight into what causes religious strife -- even war, the kind of sectarian violence that plagues us today in Iraq and around the world -- and how that strife can, under certain hard-won conditions, be alleviated.

A thumbnail sketch of what happened in the colonial Maryland province is instructive in comprehending how religious tolerance grows anywhere and at any time. Maryland enacted the Toleration Act, legislation that politically passed in 1649. The enactment was designed to protect Roman Catholics emigrating from Europe. 


Additionally, Lord Baltimore and the other Calverts, who were the founders of the Maryland colony, needed to attract population for the purpose of economic development -- including the growing of tobacco, which had more reliable liquidity than did printed currency at that time. And so the Toleration Act was also of immense benefit to the Calverts in attracting immigrants from other sects to populate Maryland and its growing economy.

The components, advanced by the Toleration Act, of idealism, economics, and pragmatic cooperation were in evidence at Christ Episcopal Church, "the church of the ashes," at Chaptico. 

When the church was built, Chaptico was the second largest port town in Maryland. From the appearance of its architecture and grounds, it seems likely that Christ Church, Anglican, may well have reached out to, and welcomed, the Roman Catholic community which surrounded it.

Himmelheber (my guide -- see previous blog post) pointed out that the church's pews are separated by one central aisle -- a design which allows for liturgical processions familiar to Catholics. Other Anglican churches (such as St. Andrews, California) in Maryland frustrated processionals by placing two aisles off-center in the sanctuary.


In addition, the magnificent stained glass window over the high altar at Christ Church (which you need to visit) portrays a feminine biblical theme more prevalent in Roman Catholic churches: the Annunciation of Mary, Mother of Jesus.  And in the church cemetery, there is a venerable gravestone with the name of a single Catholic, surrounded by those memorializing Anglicans.

The Anglicans, who represented 70 percent of early Maryland’s population (Quakers made up about 13 percent, Catholics 15 percent, and the rest were from various Protestant sects) were problematic to the Act of Toleration. The Anglican ecclesiastic and political model was based on a church-state.

With the ascension of WIlliam and Mary to the English throne just after 1688, the Maryland legislative assembly passed three acts establishing Anglicanism in the colony requiring members of other sects to pay taxes for Anglican churches and politically disenfranchising the other sects. 

The disestablishment of the Anglican Church occurred in 1776 -- inspired in part by Maryland's original and pragmatic Toleration Act.  At the Jesuit-built Brick Chapel (now under reconstruction) at Historic St. Mary's City, one finds in its archeological ruins evidence of the sectarian vandalism which damaged religious buildings of several kinds during the period. 

(More next week. Would you like to comment?  Many will appreciate your thoughts.  Next week:  What does religious tolerance suggest to you?  We have an expert in thinking about that.  You may hear from him.)


St. Mary's County Maryland Historical Society,

Calvert County Maryland Visitor Guide,

Charles County Maryland Economic Development & Tourism,
St. Mary's College,