A Ride Down Sixteenth Street, N.W.

Some monuments, however, are not facades of freedom, but the face of it; not distortions of ideals, but their embodiment; not expressions of greatness, but its very manifestation.
And nowhere is the face of America's freedoms and the manifestation of the greatness of its ideals better revealed than along Sixteenth Street, N.W., in Washington, D.C.
Not in the White House, at Sixteenth and Pennsylvania Avenue, or in the statues of Lafayette Park across the street. It begins, rather, on the next corner, with St. John's Protestant-Episcopal Church (founded 1816).

But that's only the beginning (a bare one at that). A few blocks up Sixteenth Street--past (on the right side) the Carlton Hotel, American Airlines, and Air Nippon--is the Jewish Community Center. How telling that, scattered and persecuted for centuries, the Jews have a home a few blocks from the center of power in the United States, a land in which they enjoy more religious freedom than in Israel.

Paces away, on the same side, is the Church of the Holy City. The marquee reads "National Swedenborgian Church, founded 1894". (The sermon for May 10: "Illimitably Earth.")

Next, at 1733 Sixteenth Street, N.W., like a temple rising out of the sands of Pharaoh's Egypt, looms the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry "SVPREME COVNCIL 33o MVSEVM/LIBRARY," where before the entrance two stolid sphinx--a dyad of antiquated deities--guard the mysteries within.

Up the block, at the corner of Harvard and Sixteenth, is the All Souls Unitarian Church (on Saturdays rented out to Spanish Seventh-day Adventists). On the other side of Harvard is the National Baptist Memorial Church (Sunday services in English, Hispanic, and Haitian). What do Unitarians and Baptists share besides the same intersection? Once severely persecuted overseas, both have untrammeled religious freedom in America.

A few blocks later, at 3211 Sixteenth Street, sits the Shrine of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church (parish founded in 1899), where Vietnamese, Haitian, and Hispanic Catholics can worship freely.

Not far away, on the same road, is the Trinity A.M.E. Zion Church, with the Rev. Joseph E. Lamb, Sr., pastor (across the street two young men with cropped hair, white shirts, and backpacks filled with, no doubt, Mormon literature, make their rounds).

Next is the Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church ("EN TOUT3 NIKA"), while right after (at 11335 Sixteenth Street) is the St. George Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church. Which one is truly "orthodox"? This is America. The question is irrelevant.

Sharing the intersection with St. George is the First Church of the Nazarene, which shares the block with the Iglesia De Dios Pentecostal Emmanuel.

Down the road, buttressed by a big sprawling lawn, sits the Simpson- Hamline United Methodist Church, building erected 1924. One sign reads "The Fear of the Lord Is the Beginning of Wisdom"; another, "Keep Off the Grass." One more should read "Once Persecuted in the Old World, We Have Found Freedom Here in the New."

Next is the Church of Christ (also called the Iglesia de Christo). Then, with a statue of Mary on the front lawn, is St. Dominic's Monastery (a monastery! on Sixteenth Street, N.W., Washington, D.C.?).

Then, in what looks like a private house, sits a Buddhist Vihara. What's a Vihara? It doesn't matter, not in this country.

After the Vihara is the Christ Lutheran Church. Up the block, like something from Hermann Hesse's Siddharta, is the Buddhist Congregational Church of America. A Buddhist congregational Church? Of course. This is America--and a reminder that it is just one house away from the Sixth Presbyterian Church on the corner of Kennedy and Sixteenth Street.

Next is the Baha'i Faith Center. Here's a people who know, even now, the ravages of persecution, as their faith is being systematically eradicated in Iran. All looks quite peaceful, though, at 5713 Sixteenth.

At 5917 is another Orthodox church (St. Luke's Serbian), down from Tereth Israel Congregation, not far from the First United Church of Jesus Christ, the last religious body on Sixteenth Street, N.W., Washington, D.C.

But that's just one side of the road.

On the other, a few blocks before the Maryland state line, is the Washington Ethical Society ("A Humanist Community"), proof that in America unbelief is protected along with belief, a freedom much of the Old World didn't protect.

On the next block (in the direction back to the White House) is the Ohev Shalom Talmud Torah Orthodox Synagogue, followed by the Fourth Church of Christ, Scientist.

Later, on the same side, comes the Iglesia Adventista Del 7 Dia De La Capital, followed by another Sabbathkeeping congregation, the Washington Seventh Day Baptist Church, at the 4700 block. By keeping Sabbath, both groups have faced persecution, here and overseas. Fortunately, for now, Sunday closing laws in America have all but gone the way of racially segregated toilets, so these Christians--without fear of either economic or criminal penalties--keep the same Sabbath day that Abraham, Moses, and Jesus kept holy.

Next comes the Ninth Street Baptist Church, followed by the Grace Lutheran Church, followed by the National Memorial Church of God From Anderson, Indiana. ("Aerobic Classes Twice a Week. For Information Call 202-829-4200.")

Then there's the Canaan Baptist Church, with the Meridian Hill Baptist Church on its heels.

The next house of worship belongs to the Unification Church, also known as the Moonies. Once despised and feared as a dangerous cult out to brainwash America's youth, the Moonies--despite what's considered radically aberrant theology--now enjoy all the respect money can buy. Next to the Unification Church, at the same corner, is another imposing Masonic edifice, the Scottish Rite Temple, and both structures share the intersection with the All Souls Unitarian Church and the National Baptist Memorial Church across the street. Though all these groups originated in other lands--an intersection that houses Moonies, Masons, Unitarians, and Baptists could be made only in America.

Next on Sixteenth Street is the Unitarian Universalist Memorial Church, "Gathered 1875," followed by the Foundry Methodist-Episcopal Church, Dr. J. Philip Wogamam, pastor.
After comes the First Baptist Church, celebrating its 196th year.

Finally, there's the Third Church of Christ, Scientist--the end of the road for houses of worship on Sixteenth Street before Lafayette Park and the White House.

Any nation can build magnificent edifices to greatness, ideals, and freedom--even if, in reality, they are mammoth lies of steel and stone. In the United States, however--founded on the great ideal that religious freedom is a right bestowed on humanity by the Creator Himself--the massive monuments testifying to these freedoms depict reality, which is that separation of church and state works so well that the same street where the heart of American political power rests, everyone from Baptists to Buddhists to Baha'is can build churches, temples, Viharas, and worship in an atmosphere of freedom almost unknown in the history of the known world.

Next time anyone visiting in Washington, D.C., wants reality, not symbols; proof, not promises; examples of freedom, not mere engravings about it--skip the Lincoln, Madison, or Jefferson memorials . . .

Take a ride down Sixteenth Street, N.W., Washington, D.C., instead.

Clifford Goldstein is editor of Liberty.

Article Author: Clifford R. Goldstein

Clifford Goldstein writes from Mt. Airy, Maryland. A previous editor of Liberty, he now edits Bible study lessons for the Seventh-day Adventist Church.