Tuesday, October 09, 2007


On this date, in 1635, the Massachusetts Bay Colony banished Roger Williams, finding him guilty of spreading new and dangerous opinions. Williams preached religious tolerance in the sense that the government should not enforce religious views. The leaders of the Colony called his views “Satan’s policy”.

The theological dispute concerned the first “table” of the Ten Commandments. The leaders of the colony felt it was the duty of the civil government to enforce all of the commandments, including the first table. That meant heretics were tried under civil law. Williams maintained they should only enforce the second table. Governor John Winthrop, ancestor of John Kerry, noted the judicial proceedings in his journal.

Williams left the Colony and bought land from the Narragansett Indians upon which he and his followers established a settlement called Providence.

Williams was an English Puritan who came to America hoping for religious freedom. He was a Separatist. He wanted the Puritans to break with the Church of England, the national church of Great Britain. He came to America to avoid arrest in England.

Williams is credited by many with establishing the first Baptist church in America. Southern Baptists often claim him as a supporter of separation of church and state, except when they are interfering with the operation of the state. Williams considered himself a friend to the Indians, but he did not try to convert them to Christianity.

Williams began to call himself a Baptist, but, like many Baptists today, he didn’t stay one. Later he called himself a "seeker". I haven’t researched to see if this is where the “seeker friendly” service started. But, he certainly became a forerunner of the nondenominational Christian.

Williams prevailed in the long run. At least his ideas did. None of the commands of the first table are now enforced in civil law. Only three of the commands of the second table (murder, theft and perjury)are enforced by civil law. Williams was the first to use the term "wall of separation" between Church and State. Thomas Jefferson later appropriated the term for his letter to the Danbury Baptists. Lots of people today think it is in the Constitution, but it is not.

Williams is also know in connection with Anne Hutchinson. Men in the Colony held meetings on policy and theology to which women were not admitted. (Modern Baptists call those deacon's meetings.) Hutchinson held meetings at her house where women were included. They often discussed theology and often expressed views opposed to those of the leaders. Governor Winthrop had Hutchinson exiled from the colony. Where did she go? She went to join the settlement of Roger Williams, who tolerated religious varieties. Hutchinson was later captured and killed by Indians.

Maybe Williams should have tried to convert them.
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