OK, pilgrims, let’s set the record straight on why all those Plymouth Brethren (i.e., pilgrims in uncomfortable shoes) came on the Mayflower. They came for religious freedom—for themselves.
Catch that last part. It’s sort of important. As Americans, we’re proud of our Bill of Rights—as we should be—which starts with the foundational right of freedom of religion. And we look to the Pilgrims as the ones who laid the groundwork for that.
Those Pilgrims definitely wanted to be free to worship as they saw fit, but they were just as good at persecuting those who didn’t worship or carry the same theological views they did. Yep, just as good as the persecutors they were fleeing.
This week in history offers an example. On December 9, 1640, Hugh Bewitt was kicked out of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Why? He had determined he was free from original sin.
Original sin means simply that you were born with a sin nature. Even before you soiled your first diaper, you were a sinner. You were born with a sin nature that you inherited from your parents (thanks, Mom), and they inherited theirs from their parents …. all the way back to Adam.
We call it the doctrine of origin sin, and the Bible is chock full of references to it. (To read a better article that does not make reference to soiled diapers, check out What is the biblical evidence for original sin?
Hugh Bewitt had not abandoned Christianity, but the Puritans thought so. So out he went.
And he went south to Rhode Island. Roger Williams, a Baptist, founded Providence Plantation as a place for religious freedom for everybody. Consequently, Baptists, Quakers, Jews, and rascals like Hugh Bewitt found their way to the small colony.
The Pilgrims may have been known for their piety, but Roger Williams is a better example of someone who followed the teachings and exhibited the love of Christ. Just as the pious Pharisees criticized Jesus, the pious Puritans routinely criticized Williams for his religious tolerance and sense of justice. He sought to treat everyone fairly, regardless of race or creed. He treated the Indians as true equals, purchasing land from the Native Americans rather than just taking it.
Hugh Bewitt was wrong in his interpretation of sin, but Roger Williams was right in allowing him the freedom to think. We, too, can reject wrong thinking without rejecting the person. It takes grace and love.
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect (1 Pet. 3:15).