America’s Communalist Christian Foundation

I have been reading a lot this winter. Lots and lots of histories – mainly US but plenty about the founding of Upper Canada, too, though those texts are fewer and far between. Right now, I am reading John Winthrop: America’s Forgotten Founding Father by Francis J. Bremer, a book about the first Governor of the Massachusetts Bay colony founded in 1630 a decade after the Pilgrims hit Plymouth Rock. It is a great ride, covering his grandfather’s birth in 1480 to his own death in 1648 and contextualizes his life in the ebb and flow of the state’s regulation of religious practices from pre-Luther to the lead up to the English Civil War, also the name of an excellent song by The Clash. But this is the key bit. The middle bit to his sermon to his fellow passengers on the event of their departure to New England from the Old World:

… for wee must Consider that wee shall be as a Citty upon a Hill, the eies of all people are uppon us; soe that if wee shall deale falsely with our god in this worke wee have undertaken and soe cause him to withdrawe his present help from us, wee shall be made a story and a byword through the world, wee shall open the mouthes of enemies to speake evill of the wayes of god and all professours for Gods sake; wee shall shame the faces of many of gods worthy servants, and cause theire prayers to be turned into Cursses upon us till wee be consumed out of the good land whether wee are going…

See that? The new order of New England shall not only be a candle on a stand rather than under a bushel (basket) – but if they were to screw up “wee shall shame the faces of many of gods worthy servants.” That is a heavy burden but one that acts as a prophesy, reaching to today from 381 years ago. What was the way to avoid having “prayers to be turned into Cursses upon us”? Worship of those other gods, pleasures and profits. And also failing to make “others Condicions our owne rejoyce together, mourne together, labour, and suffer together, allwayes haveing before our eyes our Commission and Community in the worke.” Pinkos! I see Pinkos! Pinkos like me!

Next time you hear about how American was founded on faith, you may want to agree in part and note that what sort of Christian by which it was founded.

One thought on “America’s Communalist Christian Foundation”

  1. [Original comments…]

    Ben (The Tiger) – March 10, 2011 9:05 AM
    “Forgotten Founding Father”?! The one cited at length by JFK and Reagan?

    We should all be so forgotten, three hundred years after our passing…

    Alan – March 10, 2011 9:56 AM
    It is a great read. And was he cited faithfully?

    Ben (The Tiger) – March 10, 2011 10:21 AM
    I would say that he was cited reasonably, within the context of American history and ideas of American exceptionalism. The way, say, Washington’s early stuff gets quoted. That’s to say, the bad stuff isn’t mentioned — for instance, Winthrop’s anti-democratic tendencies — but more just the good.

    But that very quote got trotted out at Reagan’s funeral.

    I’d suggest that Kennedy and Reagan, among others, made Winthrop seem more optimistic than he really was — but that falls under literary and political license.

    Key shift from Reagan: from “a city on a hill” to “a shining city on a hill”.

    Reagan did quote the warning words that followed in some speeches — generally when speaking to fellow conservatives (i.e., at CPAC conferences in the 1970s) — but he tended to suggest that Americans HAD kept their faith with God.

    You may be right to look to the communalist thread in it: see the Buchananites being upset by it here.

    To the extent that 20th century politicians got Winthrop wrong, it’s the way they get any sort of history wrong — it’s always more complex than the speeches make it. Necessarily so.

    Alan – March 10, 2011 11:09 AM
    I think it’s pretty hard to get history wrong in the sense that we can’t live in the past. We have to live in our era and can only learn from the past. The past is a foreign land. Also, read the book. There is an openness in Winthrop being described in the book, too. Worth a read.

    Ed Carson – March 10, 2011 11:36 AM
    “the bad stuff isn’t mentioned — for instance, Winthrop’s anti-democratic tendencies”. In the 17th century, people we would consider democratic in thought were very thin on the ground.

    Ben (The Tiger) – March 10, 2011 12:45 PM
    Alan, Ed:

    So then you’re more with JFK and Reagan’s Winthrop citations than I am?

    Well, if I were drafting speeches, I’d probably do exactly what they did — small quotes with a more presentist interpretation. Far better than not mentioning these figures at all — too many contemporary politicians do that, now. If you make it too complex in the interest of accuracy, you kill the point you’re trying to make.

    Alan – March 10, 2011 2:58 PM
    Yes, the story has to be sensible. I like the guy from what I read but there are 150 pages left to go. Maybe he gets bitter but at 1633 or so he is still compelling.

    Ed Carson – March 10, 2011 4:37 PM
    1) How many Republicans do you see quoting from Lincoln’s First Message to the Congress. You know, the one where he exalts Labor over Capital.
    2) And the point of my comment about Winthrop was the application of today to yesterday. Of course, Kennedy’s and Reagan’s point was about “American exceptionalism”.
    You pick your rhetoric where you can find it.

    Alan – March 10, 2011 5:02 PM
    My only observation, not having a US passport, is that the exceptionalism America offers the world is triggered by the failure to fulfill the promise.

    Ed Carson – March 11, 2011 7:46 AM
    As one who does, I cannot feel exceptional when I see Tunisians, Egyptians, Libiyans and Ivoirians demanding, working for, fighting for their freedom of speech and expression, freedom from want, freedom from fear.

    Pastor Douglas Benson – June 30, 2011 7:00 PM

    There has been a longing in my heart for some time now on how to begin evangelizing, winning the lost unto Christ in these last days. I have been an evangelist in a Vancouver, Granville Street mission for Teen Challenge for a number of years and have witnessed many come to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ and healed from their addictions to drugs and alcohol.

    Since then, I have asked God, the Holy Spirit what I must do to further His Kingdom. I have waited upon the Lord, and He has put upon my heart to be personally filled, daily, with His Holy Spirit, “…praying in the Holy Ghost”, Jude 1:20. And I have experienced the wonderful satisfaction of Him imbuing me with His leading to preach the Gospel with His authority and power, an endowment of the Holy Spirit.

    I have been praying for the way to supply the needs of a weekly evangelistic effort throughout Canada the United States and abroad. Is this not what your foundation is mandated for? To send forth evangelists into the world? I am asking you to pray “the Lord of the harvest” and if He fills you with His Holy Spirit as a witness to the request of this letter, then you shall know the Lord’s leading. There is great anticipation in my heart to many souls saved under the leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit. But how will they know if I don’t preach and how can I preach if I am not sent?

    Thank you for your ministry foundation to a lost and dying world. I praise God for such an opportunity to minister the Word of God under the unction and anointing of the Holy Spirit, to see many come out of darkness and into His wonderful light of Truth and Salvation.


    Pastor Douglas Benson

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