My Candidate Is…
Tonight’s “Presidential Debate” may be as entertaining as “America’s Got Talent” but it won’t really be a “debate” (at least not by the standards of my college debate professor) and whether any of the candidates appear “Presidential” is a matter of personal taste.
I’ve found the kind of candidate I could support, but first…
Puritans and Pilgrims
I’ve spent the summer reading about the Pilgrims and Puritans in preparation for the “Fall Foliage Cruise” along the New England coast. As usual, a little bit of history can both confirm and unhinge our patriotic mythology.
For example, the first Thanksgiving was not the meal Indians provided for starving Pilgrims at Plymouth in 1621, but the meal to which Spanish explorers invited the native Timucua on September 8, 1565, in St. Augustine, Florida. And the menu wasn’t turkey and dressing, but salted pork, garbanzo beans, bread and red wine that were left-overs in the ship’s stores after the long journey.
Back in New England, I’ve come to a deeper appreciation of the faith, conviction, courage and vision of folks like William Bradford, John Winthrop, Anne Hutchinson, Phyllis Wheatley and George Whitefield. They were amazing people who in many ways helped form our national identity.
I’ve also learned a lot about Christians behaving badly in 16th and 17th Century England. The “radical Islamic terrorists” of today have nothing over the “radical Christian terrorists” who persecuted each other in the Catholic vs Protestant, then Protestant vs Protestant conflicts that caused the Pilgrims (who wanted to separate from the Church of England) and the Puritans (who wanted to “purify” the Church of England) to jump on the first ship they could find. The discomfort of the journey and danger of the wilderness was preferable to the persecution they suffered back home.
What our patriotic myths leave out is that when they got here, they fell back into some of the same patterns they had left behind. Church historian, Martin Marty wrote: “Lovers of freedom, they came to find it–and then hurried to establish their newfound freedom by ruling out dissenters.” (Pilgrims In Their Own Land, p. 59)
Which brings me to my new-found hero and model Presidential candidate.
The Experiment in “Soul Libertie”
Thanks to Bernie Lieving for recommending that I read “Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul” by John M. Barry. I recommend it to you.
I knew that Williams got kicked out of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and founded Rhode Island on the basis of freedom of conscience. I discovered a fascinating character, a persuasive politician, and a deeply faithful leader who became the first model for what would become essential elements of our shared vision of freedom and democracy.
- He called his plantation an “experiment” in “Soul Libertie” where no person would be compelled by law to attend worship or be persecuted for his/her religious belief.
- He was the first person to describe a “hedge or wall of Separation between the Garden of the Church and the Wildernes of the world.” (Barry, p. 307) Martin Marty said he “drew the line between church and state not out of love of democracy but to keep the church pure and out of the grasp civil meddlers.” (Marty, p. 78)
- The charter for Rhode Island gave the colony “full Power & Authority to Governe & rule themselves…[as] the greater Part of them shall find most suteable.” (Barry, p. 309. The spelling and caps are his.) It was the first expression of democratic government that the world had ever seen.
The result was that “Providence Plantation thus exceeded any other known state in the world in its freedoms.” (Barry, p. 310)
It was the first experiment in what became our on-going experiment of American democracy, freedom of conscience, separation of church and state, and government “of the people, for the people, and by the people.”
Barry wrote that Williams “could be both relentless and charming; he was a man with reasoned arguments who advanced them with passion.” (p. 308) In short, he was the kind of candidate I could support. Unfortunately, they seem to be in short supply.
Grace and peace,