Voluntaryism

The belief that membership in a religious body should be free and uncoerced. It follows that such bodies should not be supported by the state but rather by voluntary contributions, and that all groups should stand equal before the law and independent of it and of each other. Voluntaryism is generally considered to be an American movement which grew out of the early insistence on the separation of church and state, and which by its belief in the legitimacy of a variety of religious tastes and ideas led to a pluralism of churches. Another effect of the movement was, on the one hand, to play down theology that tended to be a divisive issue and, on the other, to encourage an activism which emphasized the role of the laity and resulted in the founding of missions and the conducting of education and charitable work. Voluntaryism was a term used also by English Nonconformists, particularly in the nineteenth century, generally to distinguish their position in relation to the Church of England and more specifically to refer to their efforts to maintain an educational system which was church- directed and free from government aid and control.