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,

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