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Sermon preached by Bob Cramer, June 30, 2002

at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Santa Rosa, California


"A deacon's unsaddling led to my religious liberties"

We are approaching the Fourth of July. Flags already wave everywhere because we are at
war against a "satanic evil." The national mood is to restore God to our public arenas, and keep
the Judeo-Christian deity on our money and in our Pledge of Allegiance. A sizeable minority
hopes we are seeing a great awakening of religious fervor that will return our civic culture to
renewed standards of morality approved by what we call the Religious Right—which includes
many in the Middle.

I suspect that most of us here this morning feel our unique U.S. Wall of separation
between church and state is worth protecting, but probably is not in mortal danger. I'd like to see
us inaugurate, even so, a year of forums in which we honestly explore our own feelings. Is it
possible that--otherwise-—we might sleep through a slowly building anti-Revolution? 226 years
after the beginning of the Great American Experiment—-a secular democracy protecting and
respecting minorities, I am reminded that our nation is the product of a revolution most US.
citizens of the time didn't want. We're told two-thirds of citizens in the mid-18th century were
content with loyalty to the British monarch--even though most were glad to be beyond the royal
reach (or, so they imagined).

The truth is that a third of us regretted that we were still tied to the Anglican Church, which
was then exactly the same as the Christian monarchy. Only men approved by the church could
carry out the royal edicts that affected everybody. lf clergy and deacons identified anyone as
deviating from strict moral standards more like those of earliest Israel than those of Jesus, they
were jailed or killed or banished. 1776 ended that. That's a big piece of the story of the American
Revolution that seems to have been forgotten. We gained RELIGIOUS liberty.

Looking at history can help us be aware of mistakes we might not wish to repeat.

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I've been researching a most remarkable family and its history of several hundred years in
Wales, England and America. I want to share some from the lives of a family that had influence in
church and state t slept through some revolutions. They also awoke from time to time to join
minority, forward-looking movements that were revolutionary. They awoke prodded by their firm
religious convictions even if the revolutions seemed secular political. Their story leads me to
wake from thinking "What does it matter what I think, or do?" and to join or start movements of
reform or resistance. Always there are others ready to act, or already acting. We are never alone.
_But will I act?_

Reinold Marvin, of Old Lyme, Connecticut, a gentleman of means and honored by church
and community, was a deacon in the Congregational church that his ancestors had founded. One
of his duties both as churchman and church endorsed member of local and colony government
was to collect a pew tax which he had also had a hand in setting.

From the 15th and 16th centuries in Wales and England, Marvins had helped to set and
collect taxes. They had helped to oversee private and public morality on behalf of church and
state. The family line had accepted such responsibility because well, they never imagined there
being any other way!

In the 17th century, when Deacon Marvin's ancestors had fled England because taxes
were eating up their estates and their future, it had been the same. Two Marvin brothers had
helped Thomas Hooker establish Hartford and the Connecticut colony, as well as the First Church
in Hartford—which was Congregational, of course, meaning Puritan, which in those days
accepted and welcomed being a major arm of the state. How else to keep a public that could be
rowdy and unprincipled from being a threat to the godly?

Well, it was now the mid-18th century. We're back with Deacon Reinold Marvin in
Connecticut. A movement against rote recitations of piety, in a church to which it was social and
political suicide not to belong, had begun. Across America it formed a tide of rebellion against the
state church and its Head on the throne in England. The powerful preaching of George Whitfield
and others often echoed that of Amos and Micah ~ whose preaching we have been celebrating
this morning.

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Said Whitfield--with Amos and Micah and Jesus: God is not impressed with those who
follow others' rules, especially when the rules mistake God's high holy purposes as did the laws
of established religion. God wants free people to study scripture and bring its themes of justice
and love into the present, to live by rules that, so informed, are people's own. In response, free
churches came into being. They exhibited a spirit of independence that scholars find can be
credited as a driving force behind the American Revolution. Many of us were taught that the
Revolution had only to do with taxes and other political matters. But the spirit that made it
successful came from the fires of religion creeping up on bedspread after bedspread where some
of the pious slept until their toes were singed.

Deacon Reinold Marvin's toes got singed! This meant that one day he would refuse to pay
his church tax, his pew fee. The church of course was shocked! He was a deacon! A deacon
whose job it was to confront members and sometimes, the clergy) if they stepped out of bounds.
Now he must be connfronted!

And so it was that on a certain day, other deacons who demanded his tax visited Deacon
Marvin at home. He refused.

Whether he argued his position is not recorded. But he refused because the growing spirit
of freedom in what came to be called The Great Awakening had infected himself. Deacons had
no business being a community's legislature and internal revenue service and court. If he paid his
tax, it went to the city or county, which sent part of it back to pay an approved minister. It had
always been that way--in Wales, in England, even up to now in America.

Not for me, any more, said Deacon Marvin. His brother deacons said, okay, then, your
beautiful saddle will pay the tax for quite a while. And they took it and rode off.

Being a Marvin, from a tribe known not only for godliness and public service but also for
individual and family cussedness Reinold, disgraced in the church, like Lady Godiva took to the
streets in silent testimony to his own vision of morality. He didn't ride naked, but on the sheepskin
that lay under the saddle -— the pad the deacons hadn't taken. This honored gentleman, from a
long international line of landed gentry, must have made quite a sight as he continued to ride

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nearly bareback as a witness.

I can imagine that as you hear this story, you hear an individual fighting a church and a
tradition-bound society. Alone. What does a lone rebel ever accomplish?

But I've already pointed out that a religious revival was beginning, not just in Old Lyme or
in Connecticut but all over the colonies. Individual conversion was the goal, and is what most
historians notice—but society was affected. The American revolution pitted a spirited minority
against a power which hadn't realize its base had been eroded by growing—-but repressed—
dreams of freedom.

So here was a prominent, successful, godly individual challenging tradition.

People had to notice. And noticing, their very human tongues had to wag. It is not easy to
write off such gossip as meaningless. I think it made a good many Connecticut families decide to
go along with the third of the country that fought, and won, a Revolution against foreign
domination and against the close bonds of the church with the state. Deacon Marvin was, as I
am, a descendant of Marvins who, earlier, slept through a revolution that made Henry Tudor King
of England. That Henry was the father of Henry VIII, who found enough English bishops who
hated Rome to get Henry, who also hated Rome, to establish the Church of England, which
promptly freed him by annulment from his marriage to Catherine so he could marry the second of
many wives. The second wife, Anne, bore him no one, but their daughter Elizabeth I became
Queen. She strengthened the bond between church and state, by the way. She was a warning
sign for male chauvinists!

Not that Henry VIII was weak. He had Archbishop Cranmer whip traditionally-Catholic
parishes into Anglicanism. One of the Marvins‘ lovely Norman Catholic churches became a stable
for Cranmer's steeds, trashing the place without protest from Marvins or other members, so far as
we know. Go with the flow. Sleep through the revolution. Wait to complain until later.
But in another century, the 17th, two Marvins left home for America in the 1630s The irony
is that the Puritan leader Hooker, and they, reproduced the English state church in their new

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homeland, just as much tied to civil authority as the church and state they had left. It took a long
time for Americans other than the intellectual and sophisticated Founding Fathers, to realize that
religion is weakened when it is tied to the state.

I like to think Deacon Marvin's awakening, in the American Great Awakening revival, led
directly to me, a 20th and 21st century Marvin, a member of a free church tradition because we
now have one. I am a citizen of the first nation where church-state ties were decisively made
unconstitutional.

I have a colleague in ministry, in the Episcopal Church in Pennsylvania, who tells his
people that true faith is communicated only as Amos and Micah and Jesus illustrated it, in word
and deed. Disciples communicate with authority only from what they themselves have learned
and seen and felt and tasted, free from formulas they are required to teach or even believe in. Bill
Lewellis says to be awake and useful as a disciple you have to be aware: "Be not clueless!"

I like to think I'm not clueless. But I have not yet discovered whether I have the guts to be
as free as my forebear, the unsaddled deacon. I do give thanks, this Fourth of July, as I think of
my ancestor's role in our secular experiment in democracy. I pray that you and I may act if we
think we see liberties being eroded in the name of a God that we also claim, but who we see
differently.

Do you have a story to tell? A confession? A correction to what I've said? Is our time
tumultuous, confusing? Yes! But not so much that we can only do nothing. What to do, then?
First, with regard to the times and what we believe is God's call to true worship and true freedom.
"Be not clueless!" Amen.

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From Descendants of Reinold and Matthew Marvin of Hartford, Ct., 1638 and 1635 … By
George Franklin Marvin, William Theophilus Rogers Marvin

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