February 5, 1631 – Roger Williams arrived in the New World from his home in England. For many Williams is considered the father of religious liberty in America. So this date is called Freedom’s Cause Day.
He initially settled in Massachusetts. Massachusetts authorities were not enamored with his views of religious tolerance and exiled him from the commonwealth. He settled in what became Rhode Island and is considered the founder of that state.
Williams had an eventful religious journey that some admire and some count quirky or unstable.
1. Williams was ordained by The Church of England.
2. He left the Church of England to follow the ways of the Puritans.
3. In Boston he declined to pastor the church because of the church’s ties to The Church of England.
4. He pastored in Salem until conflict arose.
5. He pastored in Plymouth until more conflict arose.
6. He was expelled from Massachusetts by the Puritans.
7. He settled in and established Rhode Island.
8. He founded the first Baptist church in America in Providence.
9. He abandoned being a Baptist to become non-sectarian.
Despite his constant movement geographically and religiously, Williams did lay the groundwork for much of the religious liberties we value today.
1. Rhode Island became a haven for other religious dissenters.
2. He claimed that civil powers had no right to judge the convictions of men’s souls.
3. He wrote a defense of religious freedom in 1644.
4. His treatment of Native Americans was exemplary.
A. He spoke out against the taking of land from Native Americans.
B. He bought the land that would become Rhode Island from the Native Americans.
C. He learned the language of the Native Americans in his area.
His influence on the early colonies eventually led to the religious clause in the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. When rightly understood, this amendment prevents the establishment of a state religion and restricts the government from infringing on the practice of religion.
This is often misunderstood to mean that religion should have no influence on government. Not so. Williams exerted his religious beliefs on the government of Rhode Island. He was a Baptist pastor who founded and established the state. The church in America should follow his lead in providing prophetic influence on the affairs of the state. However, we should resist any infringement of the state upon the religious exercise of its people – even if we disagree with those practices.
Too often that line is being blurred or crossed. We may choose to forego Williams path, but we must surely stand for his values on religious freedom.