What’s Wrong with Faith-Based Funding: A General Chronology of Baptist Persecution on American Soil

“The first Baptist church in Boston…erected a meeting house in 1677, which was closed by order of the General Court of Massachusetts; after some time they ventured to use it again, when the doors were nailed up and a paper posted on them which read: ‘All persons are to take notice, that by order of the court the doors of this house are shut up, and that they are prohibited from holding any meeting therein, or to open the doors thereof WITHOUT LICENSE from authority till the general court take further order, as they will answer the contrary at their peril.” (William Cathcart, “The Baptists and the American Revolution,” 1876)

“I believe that every STATE home ought to have a license. I believe that every church that takes state money ought to be under a license…’” (Lester Roloff)

Notice the above quotes. Should religion be licensed by the state in any manner? What about religious duties and worship? Should churches and church work be funded by the state? If it is FUNDED by the state, is there any ground upon which to argue that it should not also be LICENSED and controlled by the state? Recently, the following article appeared in the news:

“‘Humble Sinner’ Bush Testifies to Power of Faith – LOS ANGELES – Declaring ‘I am just a humble sinner,’ President Bush on Monday drew on his personal experience with alcohol abuse to illustrate how faith can help turn lives around…’When we fund programs we ought not to discriminate against faith-based programs or cause the faith-based program to have to change its mission in order to receive any money.’” (Reuters, April 29, 2002)

Is faith-based funding a good idea? Is the idea simply a part of old-fashioned, humble, good ol’ boy, American patriotism? First, I would reply that the government has been funding “faith-based” programs, such as psychological programs, for many years. Psychology is simply humanistic religion based on blind-faith (not a grounded, Bible-faith). Therefore, is there any fair reason why Bible-based programs should not also be funded? To the contrary, I contend that the U.S. government should simply get out of the TEMPLE altogether, and leave welfare, charity, religious reformation of character, etc. to the various churches, and charitable and religious organizations. Otherwise, we continue to place our country in great peril before the Almighty God:

2 Chronicles 26:16 But when he [Uzziah] was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction: for he transgressed against the LORD his God, and WENT INTO THE TEMPLE OF THE LORD TO BURN INCENSE upon the altar of incense.
17 And Azariah the priest went in after him, and with him fourscore priests of the LORD, that were valiant men:
18 And they WITHSTOOD Uzziah the king, and said unto him, It appertaineth not unto thee, Uzziah, to burn incense unto the LORD, but to the priests the sons of Aaron, that are consecrated to burn incense: go out of the sanctuary; for thou hast trespassed; neither shall it be for thine honour from the LORD God.
21 And Uzziah the king was a leper unto the day of his death…

Our country was founded upon the blood and scars of bold men that withstood a state-church. Citizens should not be taxed to support “religious” programs for which their consciences disagree.

But there is more to this than meets the eye. One of the MAIN, rational arguments that Christians have had in the past against government interference and meddling in Christian affairs and worship has been that Christians are NOT receiving any funds or support from the government, and that therefore, the government has NO moral or logical right to oversee, control, direct or limit Christian worship or duty. It is a fact that as churches continue to increase their dependence on government, they increasingly lose their ability to rationally protest the strings that go with such “privileges.”

The remnant of Christians that object to the government’s meddling in their religious duties and worship will be painted as “fanatics.” Persecution will therefore increase in fulfillment (at least, in America) of 2 Timothy 3:

2 Timothy 3:1 This know also, that in the LAST DAYS perilous times shall come.
12 Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer PERSECUTION.
13 But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.

In obedience to God, I believe in praying for and honoring all men in government with the respect their titles deserve. Those that RAIL on people in positions of authority are reproved in Jude, where it is shown that even Michael the archangel did not rail upon the Devil:

Jude 1:8 Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of DIGNITIES.
9 Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.

Nevertheless, Bible-believing Christians have always maintained that such honor should not include obedience to UNHOLY laws, which go against God’s commandments for His people:

Acts 5:29 Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.

Baptists have traditionally stood strong for religious liberty and have resisted the attempts to regulate, fund, or empower their churches through the government. To better understand where we are headed today, I have put together the following, general (incomplete) chronology of the persecution of Baptists on American soil. From this list, we can see that we are once again, unless God’s mercy intervenes, headed for troubled times. The open door of liberty is shutting. This is another sign that the Lord’s coming is drawing nigh:


“Roger Williams, for example, who came to Boston in 1631 to escape the persecution of Archbishop Laud, and who became teacher of the church at Salem, Massachusetts, was banished from the colony because of his views on the separation of church and state.” (Robert G. Torbet, “A History of the Baptists,” 1950)


“…one Thomas Painter, of Hingham, refused to have his child baptized, and stoutly protested against such a ceremony as ‘an anti-Christian ordinance,’ whereupon he was tied up and whipped.” (Henry C. Vedder, “A Short History of the Baptists,” 1907)


Clarke was arrested and fined for his [Baptist] beliefs in 1651 when visiting Massachusetts. His friend, Obediah Holmes, was whipped unmercifully with a whip of three cords. In this bloody scourging, Holmes conducted himself so valiantly and meekly that some spectators ran up to congratulate him to the dismay of the authorities! Holmes testified before his persecutor, ‘Sir, I acknowledge only free grace&’


“Henry Dunster, first president of Harvard College, was compelled to resign his office in 1654, after twelve years of service, because he had accepted Baptist views…When Dunster, in desperation for the care of his family during the winter months, appealed to the Overseers for permission to remain in the house which he himself had built…at least for six months while he was settling his affairs – they refused his request….in 1657 he faced two court trials for failing to present for baptism a daughter…” (Robert G. Torbet, “A History of the Baptists,” 1950, p.204)


“Since the new charter granted to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1691 had guaranteed only religious toleration, and had not exempted Baptists from taxation for the support of the state church, they refused to pay on the principle that NO MAN SHOULD BE COERCED TO SUPPORT ANOTHER MAN’S CHURCH. As a result, their property frequently was sold for tax costs, as at Ashfield, near Boston, where they suffered keenly.” (Robert G. Torbet, “A History of the Baptists,” 1950, p.234)


“…Baptists were subjected frequently to fines or imprisonment, usually on the grounds of ‘disturbance of the peace’ or having violated the restrictions placed upon itinerant preachers of the dissenting variety, whose only claim to ordination was from God…[Samuel Harriss] was driven out of Culpeper County in 1765, upon preaching his first sermon there, by a mob armed with sticks, whips, and clubs. In Orange County he was pulled down from a platform by a ruffian and dragged about by the hair of the head, then by a leg, until rescued by a friend…”
(Robert G. Torbet, “A History of the Baptists,” 1950, p.239)


“In June, 1768, John Waller, Lewis Craig and James Childs, three Baptist ministers, were arrested in Spottsylvania county, Virginia, on the charge of ‘preaching the gospel contrary to law.’ ‘May it please your worship,’ said the prosecuting attorney, ‘they cannot meet a man on the road without ramming a text of Scripture down his throat.’ On refusing to stop preaching in that county for a year and a day, they were forwith ordered to prison….William Webber and Joseph Anthony were imprisoned in Chesterfield county for preaching Jesus. And such poor reverence did they cherish for unjust laws of Virginia that they actually invited people to come to the walls of the jail that they might proclaim to them the good news of the kingdom…In New England they were frequently arrested for not paying taxes to support Congregational clergy, and women were honored with this privilege as well as men. Their property was seized, and generally sold for a mere trifle to pay the church dues of their neighbors of the ‘Standing Order.’…But our fathers submitted to robbery and loathsome prisons with foul associates rather than render willing obedience to iniquitous laws….when George III resolved on taxation for the Colonies without representation, the example of the Baptists became contagious…” (William Cathcart, “The Baptists and the American Revolution,” 1876)

“On more than one occasion, John Waller was beaten severely, as in 1771, in Caroline County, when the parson, his clerk, and the sheriff led an attack upon him. John Taylor, John Koontz, Lewis Lunsford, William Webber, James Ireland, David Barrow, John Picket, Elijah Baker, and others suffered similarly. While they were in jail, mobs would try to do away with them…The public hostility was based principally on what was regarded as parental cruelty to children in that Baptists refused to have their infants baptized, plus the customary prejudiced opinion that Baptists were social radicals.”
(Robert G. Torbet, “A History of the Baptists,” 1950, pp.239-240)

For about 200 years, the Lord used the Constitution, with its First Amendment, to bring a general liberty to ALL Christians in America. The persecuted Baptists, with the aid of James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, were largely responsible for making sure true religious liberty was guaranteed by the Constitution. Yet, this open door was not to remain open forever:


I have heard much about Roloff from friends of his that attended our church regularly. One man, George Geuea (who baptized me), was his right hand man in later years, and put up the sign that the girl’s home was shut down. He is now 97 and, until recently, attended Refuge Baptist.

Lester Roloff was born in 1914, in Dawson, Texas. He grew up on a cotton farm. At the age of 12, he was saved. Later, he attended Baylor University. He pastored various churches. He began the Family Altar Radio program in 1944. Roloff’s wife, Marie, writes:

“After the program had been on the air four years, we were told we were going to be put off the station because Lester insisted on preaching against definite sins. Actually he was preaching against the evils of alcohol while at the same time the radio station was accepting advertising from the liquor industry….the radio station issued an ultimatum – either keep quiet about the evils of drinking intoxicating beverages or take the radio program to another station. Lester chose the latter….in 1954, he was removed from the station KWBU because he was considered too controversial…the station was owned and operated by the Baptist General Convention of Texas…” (Marie Brady Roloff, Lester Roloff, Living By Faith)

He became a full time evangelist in 1951. Also in 1951, he founded Roloff Evangelistic Enterprises. He started many homes to help people, free of charge, depending only on the donations and support that would come in from the radio ministry and the church. Some of the works Roloff began included:

-The City of Refuge (for men)
-The Jubilee Home (for women)
-The Lighthouse (for younger men)
-The Rebekah Home (for teenage girls)
-The Anchor Home (for teenage boys)
-The Bethesda Home (for teenage girls)
-The Peaceful Valley Home (for retired Christians)

Parole officers wrote with praise for the work he was doing. His homes, by the Lord’s grace, were saving multitudes from a life of dope, prison, and death. One parole officer wrote: “Maybe someday the people of this country will realize what you are doing…” Another wrote: “Thank you for the fine young man you sent back to me…in all truthfulness I must say he greatly exceeded all my expectations. I wish all the boys who come my way could spend six months with you…”

But, beginning in the early 1970s, the State of Texas Department of Human Services attempted to regulate the Roloff Homes and to require licensing by the State. His wife writes:

“…in 1971 we were faced with shutting down our work unless we conformed to rules and regulations…We faced our first tragic crisis on this matter when we received a letter from the Texas Welfare Department advising us to ‘cease and desist’ because our rules did not conform to theirs. My husband looked at me in disbelief. We had saved the state millions of dollars during twenty years in our rescue ministries. Never had we received a penny of tax money from the government – it was God’s people who had faithfully supported the work. And yet the state felt they must set the rules and regulations for our work – a work for which they paid nothing. ‘Licensing these homes is as unnecessary and wrong as licensing a church,’ my husband contended. [He wrote:] ‘At issue is the constitutional principle of separation of church and state. This plainly is government interference with religion…Conformity brings deformity….I think the mother and father of Moses were lawbreakers in that they refused to give up their baby boy to be murdered by the state. They passed a law in Daniel’s day making it a violation to pray and he went to the lion’s den for contempt of court. They passed another law that you had to bow to the image of Nebuchadnezzar and the three Hebrew children went to the fiery furnace for contempt of court…Peter went to jail because of his stand for righteousness. Paul and Silas were beaten and thrown into the jail at Philippi when revival fires began to break out in Philippi and the devil’s business was injured…And without feeling sorry for myself or complaining, I face a fine and a jail sentence – and possibly a prison sentence – for doing the very thing God has told us to do….Why should we have to get a license to run a church home any more than we would have to get a license to run the church?…It actually means that we take God’s money and let the state, which is altogether unprepared to run a Christian home, run the home. There are thirty requirements in the little brown book prepared by the welfare department, most of which are unreasonable. They do not approve of our diet, even though we’ve had healthy girls and boys and never had a death. They do not approve of our discipline, even though it has worked. They do not approve of our staff, even though they have done a job that is unmatched and unparalleled in this nation. Our superintendents would not meet their requirements – fifteen hours of social study every two years and a college degree. And only the Lord knows the changes that would be brought about from year to year. They are not satisfied without psychological and psychiatric help which we’ve never needed. The intake studies and records would take three or four secretaries. The number of workers they require is one to every eight girls…there is no need to waste God’s money and beds on a bunch of unnecessary workers. A long-haired, cigarette-smoking welfare worker said to one of our boys at the Anchor Home, ‘We’ll soon fix it so that you can wear your hair as long as you want to.’ The conspiracies to wreck these three homes are unbelievable. One newspaper said that we are as crooked as the stock market…and yet the Internal Revenue has checked us twice and given us the best report that could be given…The paper said we hired a fund raiser, which we have never done and never will…The welfare department took advantage of a little girl that we took in twice. She left in bitterness and I had said to her, ‘When you need help, call me.’ And she did…when she came back, the welfare department and a television station got a hold of her, put this girl on television to expose her sin and shame, and got her to say that if we had taught her sex education, this probably would not have happened…The tactics of the welfare department cannot be our tactics. They have taken the authority away from the dad and the mother…Now they have invaded the sacredness of the church as much as to say, ‘You haven’t got sense enough to operate your home without our help.’ It’s a Christless program they have because they do not present Christ as the only hope for defeated children…I believe Jesus is King and His Word is true. I have no right to go by the welfare department’s little brown book so long as I have the big black Book.” (Marie Brady Roloff, Lester Roloff, Living By Faith)

Marie Roloff observes:

“The general misconception of many people is that any statute passed by legislators constitutes the law of the land. But the U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the land, and any valid statute must be in agreement. It is impossible for a law that violates the Constitution to be valid. The Sixteenth American Jurisprudence, Second Section, page 177, states: ‘No one is bound to obey an unconstitutional law and no courts are bound to enforce it.’ The First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees complete religious liberty and separation of church and state. The Fourteenth Amendment says: ‘No state shall make a law that shall take away these privileges.’…If the state takes upon itself the licensing of Christian charity, then it also takes upon itself other powers that do not belong to it. Christian charity has saved taxpayers millions of dollars and will continue to do so. Christian charity is not supported by the state…Our lawyer friend made this observation: ‘Because Christian charities are the actions of worship, and are therefore a part of their inalienable right to worship Almighty God, and because Christian charity is supported by the giving of Christians rather than the treasury of the state, government has neither the moral right nor the spiritual right to enforce by legal might its regulations upon Christian worship in deed.’…My husband has repeatedly emphasized…’I believe that every state home ought to have a license. I believe that every church that takes state money ought to be under a license…’” (Marie Brady Roloff, Lester Roloff, Living By Faith)

“Brother Roloff believed strongly that the State should not regulate any Church or its ministries in any fashion. To agree to allow the State to regulate the Homes would have meant that the residents could not legally be required to attend church services, among other things.” (Roloff.org)

“What we would also have to submit to, however, was allowing state agents to interview any child or staff members in private at any time they chose. We had already seen what could happen when a few rebellious girls were singled out to be interviewed, and at any given time you will find new girls in our homes whose rebellious spirits are evident. These girls have not been with us long enough to benefit from the consistent discipline, the interaction with the other girls, and the help that inevitably takes place…A full-scale war developed when newspaper, radio, and television media distorted information. Everything was slanted to destroy our image, to make us appear cruel and unloving and in need of the kind of supervision the welfare department was capable of giving. Our finances were called into question and my husband was ridiculed and called such names as ‘a hell and damnation preacher,’…A great Freedom Rally was held in Austin, Texas, on October 16, 1972, the day following the judgment….One of the girls told of the horrors of state mental hospitals where she had been confined until coming to us…Dramatically she contrasted the repressive treatment received from so-called mental health experts with our pleasant surroundings and the loving care and concern received from our people…This radiant girl was not the exception; she was the rule. Where mental hospitals and psychiatrists fail miserably, the regenerative power of Jesus Christ miraculously succeeds.” (Marie Brady Roloff, Lester Roloff, Living By Faith)

“Between November of 1973 and February of 1974, in answer to the desperate pleas of parents, we allowed girls to be sent to us for help…Finally, on January 31, the case went to court again and Lester was found guilty. He was fined $5,400 and sentenced to five days in the county jail on contempt of court charges….The senators questioned Lester on the problems and accomplishments of the Rebekah Home. As a result of that meeting, his jail term was limited to one day….pending appeal. [Lester wrote in response]: ‘…it began thirty years ago, when mercy through this preacher began to throw a line to perishing souls by building rescue missions, cities of refuge, and homes for boys and girls. We’ve enjoyed nothing but victories and a healthy growth until the state welfare department picked up our keys and locked the doors to these homes in the face of emergency, and this in spite of the fact that we never asked for or accepted one penny of tax money and had never made a charge for any boy or girl, man or woman, who ever came to one of our six homes. It was not because of our facilities, because they’ve been declared to be the finest in America. It was not because they were not loved, because they certainly were, by the finest people on earth. It was not because they were abused or neglected. It was because of rules and regulations designed to cut off the access road to the River of Life. I’m not in violation according to the Word of God. I’m not in violation according to the Constitution of the United States. I’m not in violation according to the Declaration of Independence…I’m not in violation according to our pilgrim forefathers. I’m not in violation according to the wishes and desires of parents and young people across America. I’m certainly not in violation according to the teachings and practices of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ….One year ago, we had three hundred girls….Now we are allowed only six girls under eighteen….Preachers and churches, we need to get the keys back. The state was never trained and never will be trained to run our churches and our church homes and schools. When the chains go on the pulpit, the pew will lose its liberty. And when the church loses its liberty, the nation will go into captivity and final destruction. I can wrap myself every night…in Old Glory and sleep with a clear conscience, knowing that I’ve not violated the wishes and the desires and even the blood of those that soaked that flag because of their love and loyalty for the cause of liberty and freedom…I may be the first to go to jail, but I’LL NOT BE THE LAST…’…The year 1976 was to go down in Roloff Enterprises history as a decisive year. On January 1 of that year the new law went into effect, making it illegal for unlicensed homes to take in children under the age of eighteen…My husband was faced with contempt of court and another five day jail sentence. We faced penalties that could range from $50 to $1000 per facility for each day we operated without such a license. [Lester was a few days away from his sixty-second birthday]” (Marie Brady Roloff, Lester Roloff, Living By Faith)

“Although some victories were won, some of the judges, commenting that the Homes were being well run, ruled that the State did have a right to regulate the Homes which were serving the younger boys and girls. Later, the Supreme Court of the United States refused to hear the case, which allowed the lower courts ruling to stand. This forced the closing of the two childrens homes, Rebekah and Anchor. This move broke Brother Roloffs heart.” (Roloff.org)

Brother Roloff was killed in an airplane crash, a few years later on November 2, 1982.

1986 – W.N. OTWELL

“October 7, 1986 – At the time of our battle with the state of Texas, nearby Fort Worth had the second highest crime rate in the nation. Yet the Attorney General decided to prosecute and persecute a church-run boys home with no complaints of abuse, and a high rate of success in rehabilitation….The night before the pre-dawn raid on our boys home, we got a tip that we would be raided. So we removed all women and children from the property – even our own staff children, who also lived there, because officials threatened that ALL underage children would be taken into Child Protective Custody, and placed in foster homes. Sure enough, at 5:05 AM, headlights came rushing toward the church property, from all directions at once. In just a matter of minutes, every entrance was covered by DPS, and the place was ‘crawling’ with people from 5 different government agencies. The Attorney General’s office was embarrassed to find no boys under age on the property. Thank the Lord for forewarning us and giving us a great victory! But in effect, that was the end of the home…Shortly after the pre-dawn raid, this reporter states that… ‘Rev. Otwell’s followers told us facetiously that the children were on an ‘overnight picnic.’ The authorities went away empty-handed.’ But they were not on a picnic: the children were fleeing for their (spiritual) lives. But it wasn’t just overnight: they would never see the home again. The boys no longer had a safe haven from the influences of the world, since the state had effectively closed down the home…We soon had to sell the church property to help pay enormous utility and food bills that were piling up because of the three month siege we had been under. – October 24, 1986 – Excerpt from Dallas Morning News: ‘On Wednesday, state District Judge Paul Davis ordered all buildings except the sanctuary, church and the private residence of the church’s fundamentalist pastor Rev W.N. Otwell, padlocked. He also ordered state officials to periodically inspect unpadlocked buildings on church property to prevent them from being used as a boys house.’…After about one month of traveling around Texas and other states, gaining support for our cause, Pastor Otwell surrenders to the sheriff in a widely broadcast news conference, held in the church auditorium…seven officers approach the gate to our 6 acres to arrest 19 men who had blocked the entrance to our church building. We offered no resistance, but we weren’t going to just invite them in either. This was GOD’S property!…After he had been jailed, and brought to court, Pastor Otwell had agreed not to open the home until he had tried to get the 1975 Child Care Act changed. When efforts failed, in spite of a permanent restraining order forbidding our OPERATING A HOME WITHOUT A LICENSE, he reopened the home. We notified the Governor, all legislators, the Attorney General and the Dept. of Human Services as to what we had done and why….Since we were, and still remain until this day, under a permanent restraining order against opening another unlicensed home, they brought with them, the Texas Rangers and the Dept. of Public Safety. Though our men told them this was church property, they simply cut the lock with bolt cutters, and walked right on in. We had one boy in the home, who was 17 yrs. old. His father, who was a sheriff’s deputy, had placed him in our home, and had utmost confidence in us. After processing the boy at HQ, the DHS released him to his father, who brought him back to our home, at the boy’s request.” (http://www.godsaidministries.com/)


In 1997, Baptist pastor, Wiley Drake, was convicted of four counts of breaking zoning ordinances and faced a maximum of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine for each violation. His crime? Using his church property to aid the homeless. (http://commfaculty.fullerton.edu/lester/homeless/vazquez.htm)


Greg Dixon and the Indiana Baptist Temple (50 years old) lost their building for following their consciences concerning the independence of the local church from government control. They did not view their ministers as employees, and therefore, since they were not a non-profit organization, they believed it was their Constitutional and moral right to meet together and worship God freely – without having to be treated like a business with standard employees. Dixon writes: “The truth is our case is not about the validity of the income tax system. Approximately 60 of our ministers have been audited by the Internal Revenue Service since 1996 and passed. I personally have been audited twice and have passed both times.” (http://www.indianapolisbaptisttemple.org/index2.html)


Acts 5:41 And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.
42 And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.

2 Timothy 2:12 If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us:

The reader may or may not presently understand every detail for which these bold, persecuted Baptists have taken a stand over the years. But one thing is for certain: they were all WILLING to suffer great loss for their convictions! Is the reader willing to bear the cross to win the crown? There are times when we should go the “second mile” in obedience to God. However, there are times when going the second mile is simply an excuse to avoid persecution and settle on our lees in compromise. The Judgment Seat will expose all hypocrisy and misguided zeal.

If Christians in the U.S. cannot help the homeless without a license, cannot help orphans without a license, cannot help troubled children without a license, cannot run a school without a license, and must run their churches as a business corporation, how long will it be before we cannot preach door to door, or preach on the sidewalks without a license or permit? How long before we must have a license to hold a religious assembly? Based on the above history, I do not think MORE government involvement in our RELIGIOUS DUTIES AND WORSHIP is a good thing. I am opposed to the whole idea. Please pray for our leaders in America in these perilous, confusing times.