Friday, October 9, 2015

Roger Williams, Religious Liberty, and the Parables (part 2)

Roger Williams

Just kidding. I meant this one:

The "real" Roger Williams

Emory University's fall break starts later today. We only have Monday and Tuesday off next week, but that will give me time to finish some things on the weekend and focus completely Monday and Tuesday on the final (I hope) edits of the book. I am grateful to Bryan Dyer, my new editor at Baker Academic, for his helpful feedback. 

Since I will be focusing exclusively on the book early next week, I probably won't continue this series on Roger Williams until Wednesday or so.

Back to Roger Williams:

Williams was born in England around 1603. After serving as an apprentice to the famous jurist Sir Edward Coke, Williams earned a scholarship to Cambridge University, studied to become a minister, and then served as chaplain on the estate of William Masham from 1628-1630. Pressures to conform to the Church of England increased after Charles I ascended to the throne in 1625, and Williams almost left with the Massachusetts Bay colonists to immigrate to North America in spring 1930 (Chupak 1969: 39). Williams and his wife did leave for the colony on December 10 of that same year on a ship that brought supplies and reinforcements (Davis 2004: 6).

The governor of the Bay Colony, John Winthrop, welcomed Williams’s arrival, calling him “a godly minister,” but things soon changed. When Williams was offered the prestigious position of teacher in the Boston church, he refused, because the church had not separated from the Church of England (by that time Williams advocated separation from the Church of England, not merely the reforms for which non-separatist Puritans advocated, including the Pilgrims in North America; see Gaustad 2005: 3-4). A number of other controversies followed and, in 1635, Williams was ordered to leave the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Williams made his way south, bought some land from Narragansett Indians, and founded a settlement that he named Providence, which a few years later, along with other nearby settlements, was chartered as Rhode Island and the Providence Plantations. Notably, the charter issued by Charles II in 1663 decreed that the colony would have “full liberty in religious concernments” (Gaustad 2005:70). Rhode Island thus became a refuge for all types of dissenters—believers and non-believers.

Many Puritans in New England envisioned themselves as a “New Israel” and interpreted some Hebrew Bible texts about ancient Israel as applying typologically to them (Gordis 2003: 125), including the idea that God would bless or punish the “New Israel” for obedience or disobedience to God’s will. Church and state were thus interdependent, and the state was responsible, for example, for compelling, by force if necessary, conformance to religious obligations.

Williams disagreed strongly with identifying anything but the church with a “New Israel” and argued that the church should utilize only spiritual weapons (e.g., Scripture, prayer, and persuasion) not physical ones (e.g., a sword). Ancient Israel and its “National Religion” was a unique phenomenon in history, Williams declared, with Jesus proclaiming a different way: Jesus refused to use violence and the new covenant he inaugurated means that neither the state nor the church could use violence or religious coercion (Williams 2008: 29).

1 comment:

  1. The first picture is dedicated to my friend, Deanna Dennis.


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