Today is July 2 as I write this post. Contrary to popular belief, the American Declaration of Independence was not signed on July 4, but August 2. Rather, by unanimous resolution, the Second Continental Congress declared independence from England on July 2. In other words, Happy Early Birthday, America!
Unfortunately, in the last few years and which has picked up lots of steam, there is a battle to re-write the origin stories of America. Whether it is the 1619 Project & Critical Race Theory, to the more outlandish theories about the Knights Templar / Freemasonry, or the more conventional economic aspirations of the Founders, the push is to show America in its worst light so that the Leftist elites can push their agenda.
A few years ago, I read Marooned which documented the Jamestown colony in its early days. In 1609 – 1611, the colony was floundering. It needed more supplies and above all leadership. The group then was fractious with men like Christopher Newport, John Smith, and later Lord De La Warr. You throw in the natives like Chief Powatan (and of course Pocahontas) and it becomes a very tense situation.
What was more interesting was the author Joseph Kelly’s analysis. The subtitle of the book: “a New History of America’s Origin.” In short, Kelly wanted to frame America’s origins in economics and self-promotion/self-reliance”. There was nothing special; after all the founders of Jamestown all had royal backing in England and were in the enterprise to make money. For Kelly and others, the alternative was a “theocracy” that is, the Pilgrims in Massachusetts.
Kelly is not alone in thinking that; Margaret Atwood, writer and creator of the popular The Handmaid’s Tale series, has said something similar about America having had “theocracy” in its history. She was also referring to the Pilgrims. Both of them use “theocracy” in a bad way – the way that Iran or Saudi Arabia are theocratic states with the clerics actually in charge and one holy book as the single source of truth.
Slanted that way or creating a “straw man”, of course the Pilgrims and the state they tried to create would look bad.
That’s the origin story you might hear from time to time.
The reality of the Pilgrims and what became the Plymouth Colony is vastly different than the biased version being peddled. I am drawing from David Barton, one of the best Christian historian and Constitutional scholar there is. Barton spent a lot of time tracing the spiritual history of America. When all is said, it makes our country even more impressive and distinct from its contemporary – even despite our flaws as a nation.
First, the Pilgrims and many Christians who came in the early 1600s were Dissenters and those opposed to the Church of England. Many had Dutch heritage and ideas taken from the continent. At that time, the two countries outside of Germany with the most Protestants were Holland and Switzerland. Men like Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli all taught the “universal priesthood of the believers.” In other words for those not a Christian, it means that every Christian is a priest and has the right to read the Bible for himself. He has a right to live out that faith according to his conscience and God’s leading. That shakes at the foundation of the Roman Catholic and Church of England where doctrine flows top-down. No wonder they were persecuted and came to America for a fresh start.
Second, the Christian “state” they created with the Bible as the foundation might have sounded very restrictive. I concede that all theocracies in practice look restrictive with odd punishments and rules. However, if you dig deeper, it really wasn’t as bad in practice in New England. There were not mass executions and tortures or “human rights” violations. In fact, they were a lot freer or perhaps even too free. If you know the history of Rhode Island, you might remember that the founders were exiled because they taught something contrary to the orthodox Christian. Rather than execution, they were exiled with very little repercussions.
Third, before there was George Washington, there was George Whitefield. Whitefield was an evangelist from England who preached in America in the 1740s and 1750s. Whitefield was not a politician and never held any office or advocated for political change. Rather, he taught the Bible. Even with men like Thomas Jefferson who was Deist recognized that there was and still is something transformative about the Bible. Whitefield’s influence was so understated by modern historians that he merely gets credit for the “Second Great American Awakening”. Never mind how that awakening transformed some of the other founders.
Fourth, the Enlightenment political thinkers such as Locke, Montesquieu, and Rosseau seemed to have gotten all the credit for a system of checks and balance, representative government (as opposed to direct democracy). But, the Founders also saw the wickedness of men and the corruption in the Old Testament history. They saw that God was the first to install checks and balances with prophet, priest, and king. They saw what worked and what didn’t work in the Bible and secular history. The Founders believed strongly that as Christians first, Americans close second, that monarchy was flawed.
Fifth, some of the Founders were Christian lawyers. They might not have understood it then in 1776 and later in 1787, but they probably did by the time they died. What makes America unique is that it was not a country defined by race the way the Old World and Asia were. In 1776, you were a Korean because you were born in Korea. It was not defined by geography; in 1776 France existed between the Pyrenees in the south and the Rhine in the north. America has always been a nation defined the rule of law – the Articles of Confederation and then the US Constitution. No other country at that time had a living document serve as the ultimate source of authority.
I could go on for more, but my goal is for all Christians in the USA to feel proud of our country, especially on Independence Day. We are indeed a blessed nation, not because of our natural resources, or our accomplishments (scientific, engineering, or military), but our Founders chose to live on biblical principles and honoring God first. Don’t get sucked into the alternative origin stories.
Happy Independence Day!