I have often referred to the religious persecution which was legal in many of the first American colonies and which was then carried over into some of this country’s first states. Over time, and with much hard work, eventually religious liberty became a matter of law. Some people today might think that since we have learned our lesson there is no potential for this to return. Think again. A case in point can be seen in the history of the State of Missouri about seventy-five years after the formation of the United States.
At the close of the Civil War, Missouri passed law known as the “Oath of Loyalty,” or the “Test Oath,” which made it mandatory for religious leaders to avow a loyalty to the state which superseded loyalty to Christ and His Word. Approximately 400 of the 450 Baptist pastors in Missouri refused to take that oath, and many were jailed or worse. More than one Baptist preacher, who refused to sign the oath, was dragged from his home, pistol-whipped, beaten and warned to leave the state. For example, a mob of about fifteen men broke into a church service, grabbing the preacher and dragging him from the building. Recognizing their hatred, he pleaded, “If you intend to kill me, do it here and do not take me away where friends cannot find my body.” Against his pleading, they dragged him into the nearby woods where they beat him with pistols and sticks. Leaving him alive, he was given two days to leave the county.
According to historian R.S. Duncan, on this day in 1866, “B.F. Kenny, a distinguished Baptist clergyman, of Daviess County was arrest on three indictments found against him by a Radical Grand Jury… for the crime of preaching the gospel without first having taken the infamous new constitution oath. Mr. Kenny is sixty-one years of age, has been a preacher of the gospel for forty years, is a most exemplary man and Christian, and one of the most learned and eloquent divines in the country. The brutality of the officer arresting him is in keeping with the character of the charge. Mr. Kenny was arrested at his home, after sunset, and notwithstanding his age and his protests against the brutality, was compelled to ride ten miles to Galatin in the dark. He was released the next morning on bail, to answer at the next term of the circuit court for his crime.”
We must not think for a moment with our society going in its current direction that laws like this couldn’t be enacted and enforced in the near future – “for the good of society.”