The Christian tradition supports religious tolerance, Harvard professor Eric Nelson argued in a lecture in Philadelphia on May 16, 2011.
Nelson notes that “a number of Western scholars have devoted themselves to the task of recovering and highlighting the secular pedigree of our most central moral and political commitments, defending them against what they perceive to be a very different, retrograde and reactionary set of religious impulses which are to be resisted.” These scholars wish to cling to secularism when Nelson argues that “many of our most fundamental commitments of Western modernity emerged instead out of a deeply theologized context, and were explicitly justified in the first instance on the basis of religious claims.” Nelson concludes his paper with, “the same institutions and practices (representative government, toleration, etc) have historically been justified in two very different ways: as politics in the absence of God or as what Godly politics requires.” As previously mentioned, since many scholars leave out the “what Godly politics requires” part of today’s scholarship, Nelson examines the intellectuals from the early modern European period to gain a better understanding of the religious tradition of religious tolerance.
Nelson begins with the question of “why committed early modern Christians found themselves arguing in favor of religious toleration, and doing so on religious grounds.” One of the central arguments of these theologians is that religious toleration “required not the separation of the church and state, but rather their union.” Nelson, a professor of government at Harvard, spoke in a lecture sponsored by the Foreign Policy Research Institute.
Nelson starts with Josephus in the first century, a wealthy Jew, who wrote to teach the Hellenized world about his people. His works “first suggested to the Europeans that Israelite society could be regarded as a politeia-a political constitution of the sort familiar to Greek philosophy—and that Moses could be understood as its lawgiver.” The Israel politeia was unique because God was the civil sovereign. The key is that God, the civil sovereign, gave Moses, the highest civil magistrate, control over both the religious and civil affairs. God created this design, therefore, according to Josephus, it is perfect- an example to be followed. “God endorses” this system where there is only “one source of law.”