We, the American public, are often told that our “diversity” is our greatest strength.
The Founding Fathers of this great “American Experiment believed in the uniqueness of diversity, but they believed that “diversity” should flow out of the concept of “E Pluribus Unum” (Latin for “Out of many, one”).
Last week, I began a series on different types of “diversity” that have historically blessed our nation.
This week, I would like to briefly focus on some of the key “divergent trends and actions” that helped to shape and form the great “educational” and “spiritual roots” of our country.
Our earliest colleges, schools such as Harvard College (established in 1636 in Cambridge, Massachusetts); The College of William & Mary (established in 1695 in Virginia); and Yale College (established in 1701 in New Haven, Connecticut) were originally founded as “faith-based institutions of higher learning.”
The great American Clergyman John Harvard donated his personal library for the formation of Harvard College so that Harvard would have the primary mission of educating a spiritually fit and literate clergy.
Pastor Harvard was not the founder of Harvard College, but he was its first major philanthropic benefactor.
The early American colonists (our Pilgrim & Founding Fathers) were motivated by a dual phenomenon based on their (1.) Faith in the Judeo-Christian GOD and (2.) their belief in hard work and industry by eking out their living from the farms that they owned, plowed and maintained.
If we look at Harvard, the College of William & Mary, and Brown University we notice that two of the colleges were in New England – Harvard (Massachusetts) and Brown (Rhode Island) – and that The College of William & Mary was chartered as a Royal College by The King of England (located in the Virginia colony).
These three schools demonstrate a Geographical and Theological diversity; they each possessed a unique founding and a different sense of both mission and purpose.
Harvard College was Calvinist in its orientation; the school was heavily influenced by the writings of the great Swiss Reformer & Theologian John Calvin.
Calvin is mostly noted for his work in Systematic Theology; he authored the masterpiece called The Institutes of The Christian Religion, 1536 & 1559.
Brown University – which is located in present day Rhode Island – was opened in the midst of tremendous Theological & Social controversy concerning the role of the “freedom of conscience” and the belief in the “freedom of religious liberty.”
Two of the people who helped to start the colony of Rhode Island were Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson; they both were early proponents of “Religious Liberty” and the belief in the freedom to worship absent from coercive Ecclesiastical Authority.
Williams founded the oldest “Baptist church” in the colonies; Ms. Anne Hutchinson came from a distinguished line of “religious dissenters” (many prominent Americans trace their lineage back to Ms. Hutchinson).
Time does not permit me in this article to go through the timeline and nuances of Pastor Roger Williams’ life; however, it is sufficient to say that we remember that Williams emigrated from Great Britain to Massachusetts; the Reverend Roger Williams learned the languages of the Native-Americans as he had a desire to preach the Gospel of Christ to the Indians.
Furthermore, the Reverend Williams’ constant criticism of the Church of England (he considered The Anglican Communion to be irredeemably corrupt) eventually forced him to flee from Massachusetts and move to what was to become the “State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.”
Mr. Williams’ help to find and discover the modern city of “Providence” Rhode Island. He named the city Providence because he felt that his efforts were blessed by The Hand of Almighty GOD.
One might dare say that few people today realize that the word “Providence” is a theological term which denotes “GOD’s divine guidance, favor, and care.”
In addition to being a friend of Native-Indians, Roger Williams started some of the first Anti-Slavery organizations in the American Colonies.
Historically, Williams is best known for his ideas concerning the –
- Separation of Church & State;
- The Reform of The Church of England; and for his beliefs in
- The freedom of Religious Expression.
One wonders how a Pastor Roger Williams might feel about the need to pass legislation guaranteeing Religious Liberty in 21st century America (the controversy surrounding the various Religious Freedom & Restoration Act bills in our nation would undoubtedly unnerve him if he were alive today).
We take the concepts and beliefs that Williams & Hutchinson championed for granted because we do not realize how radical those three (3) ideas were during their lifetimes.
One could be banished and excommunicated from a colony for holding on to these radical & heretical views; both Williams and Hutchinson had to flee from Massachusetts and migrate to Rhode Island in search of deeper meaning and fulfillment of purpose.
America of 2015 is blessed with our Freedoms of Religion, Expression and Free Speech because the early American Christian colonists dared to leave England and even dared to leave the colonies that they originally settled in order to stay true to their sense of meaning and purpose.
Early colonists such as John Harvard, Roger Williams, and Anne Hutchinson dared to be different; they dared to believe that one could be and should be free to Worship, Speak, and develop places of Higher Learning without the coercion of The English Crown or abusive Colonial magistrates.
The “diversity” championed by the Christian minister John Harvard; the Pastor Roger Williams – and the “dissenter” Anne Hutchinson directly contributed to the precious Bill of Rights that was created long after they passed from the Colonial scene; today we deem that The Bill of Rights is essential and vital to our ongoing nourishment and survival as a nation.
We can all be thankful that America produces “peaceful & non-violent rebels” who prick the conscience of our nation when needed.