Religious Freedom

People from different religious persuasions settled in the land that eventually would become The United States of America.  (1) The Pilgrims were people who had separated themselves from the Church of England. They were persecuted in England . They fled England for Holland in the year 1609. “In Holland they enjoyed all the toleration they could have wished for, and then some. Their great enemy was now assimilation. As their leader, William Bradford related in his journal ‘owing to a great licentiousness of the youth in the country,’ and the ‘manifold temptations of the place,’ their children were being corrupted. In deciding to leave Holland for the American wilderness, they were not fleeing persecution at all, but permissiveness” (Kevin Hasson, The Myth: Is There Religious Liberty in America ?, The American Spectator, Feb. 2008). The Pilgrims boarded the English ship Mayflower and arrived in Massachusetts in Nov. 11, 1620, establishing Plymouth Colony. (2) The Puritans, led by John Winthrop, settled the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630. The Puritans, unlike the Pilgrims, were not separatists. They sought to purify the Church of England from every trapping of Roman Catholicism and to be an example to the “ Mother church ” in England . (3) William Penn founded the colony of Pennsylvania in 1682. He was a Quaker. Some claim the name was given to the Society of Friends due to their literally quaking during worship (William J. Bennett, America , Vol. 1, p.45). Others indicate that the name was given due to their saying that they trembled (figurative language of respect) at the word of God (The New Book of Knowledge, Vol. 16, p.4). Quakers fled England due to persecution. They were pacifists, and also refused to take oaths in court, both of which brought persecution. (4) The colony of Virginia was not settled so much for religious purposes as it was for business purposes. Jamestown was settled in 1607. The Church of England was the legally established church of Virginia . (5) Maryland was not only intended to be a business venture, “Maryland was also intended as a refuge for Catholics…to mistrustful English Protestants, Maryland’s Catholic founders could say they named their colony after the queen, Henrietta Maria, but among themselves, it was understood that Maryland was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary” (Bennett, p.43). (6) Certainly, not all who came to the New World came for religious purposes. The Virginia colony was primarily about business. Moreover, even on the Mayflower the pilgrims were out numbered by those they termed “strangers”. These were those traveling for other reasons than religious purposes. (7) The diversity of religious beliefs is reflected in the religious composition of the signers of the Constitution: approx. 29 Anglicans, 16-18 Calvinists, 2 Methodists, 2 Lutherans, 2 Catholics, 1 lapse Quaker and sometime Anglican, 1 open door Deist (David Barton, The Myth of the Separation, p.25).

 Religious Intolerance

How do you live with people who believe differently than you? This was a difficulty with which the colonies struggled.

1.     “The Inner Light had been known to lead Quakers in colorful ways, even requiring some of them to turn up naked at Anglican services, shouting ‘hypocrisy!’ The Puritans were appalled and decided to outlaw Quakerism” (Kevin Hasson). Quakers were banished. If they returned, they were flogged. They Quakers kept returning so the punishment increased. The left ear was cut off on the first offense, the right ear was cut off on the second offense, and the tongue was bored through on the third offense. Eventually, death was prescribed. Mary Dyer was hanged on her fourth return (ibid). A fine was imposed on any sea captains transporting Quakers (www.suite101/content/WilliamPenn).

2.     Roger Williams, in 1635, was arrested in Massachusetts on several charges. “The most important of these was that he taught that the civil power … has no authority to say what a man shall or shall not believe” (The New Standard Encyclopedia). He said, “Forced worship stinks in God’s nostrils” (Bennett, p.42). He fled to Providence and founded the colony of Rhode Island . “Williams’ vision of religious liberty lacked staying power. Within about a generation, new leaders of his Rhode Island colony were barring Jews from voting” (Kevin Hasson).

 Religious Tolerance

 1.     “Penn’s guarantee of religious freedom was then one of the most comprehensive in the world. Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, Presbyterians, and even Anglicans … rushed to settle the rich lands” (Bennett, p.46).

2.     “ Providence was to become a haven for dissenters” (Bennett, p.42).

3.     In Maryland , “It was in the Catholic’s self-interest to seek toleration for all Christians. They saw they would soon be outnumbered” (Bennett, p.43).

4.     In 1777, Thomas Jefferson drafted The Virginia Bill for Religious Freedom. James Madison fought for it and it was passed in 1786. It disestablished the Church of England as the only recognized religion in Virginia . This is sometimes called “The precursor to the Religious Clause of the First Amendment.”

5.     George Washington wrote a letter to a Hebrew synagogue of Newport , Rhode Island in 1790. He closed his letter saying, “May the children of the stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants.” Harry Jaffa has pointed out, this was the first time in human history that any ruler addressed the Jews as equals” (Bennett, p.141).

What Says the Scriptures?

1.     Jesus never forced anyone into obedience. Instead, He said, “Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest unto your soul” (Matthew 11:28-29). He said, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come to him and dine with him, and he with me (Revelation 3:20). He doesn’t knock the door down and force Himself upon you.

2.     Jesus taught that it is the sower’s job to sow the seed. If it falls on a good and honest heart, it will bear fruit with endurance (Luke 8:15).

3.     Paul “reasoned” with people (Acts 17:2; 17:17; 18:19; 19:8-9). He “persuaded” (Acts 13:43; 18:4; 19:8; 19:26; 26:28). He was in the arena of ideas. He was not silent, but he didn’t force.

About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
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