Roger Williams was the first person in the entire America to plea bargain for complete and utter freedom for people in the matters of religion and beliefs. To prove his importance and his dedication to the cause he had supported and the path he had chosen, the state of which he was a resident – Rhode Island was the first colony that brought this principle to light and promoted and supported it wholly. This goes to show that even though his power had not reached other states, he was at least able to exert his views on the areas surrounding his home town.
In “Liberty of Conscience: Roger Williams in America”, we follow Roger William’s journey, as we witness the development of his views regarding the church and the state through Gaustad’s words. Having become a Puritan at the age off 11, William’s believed in the presence of a non-interference relationship rather than a complete separation of the church and the state. The beginning of the prominent evolution of Williams’s views regarding the separation of the state and the church can be traced back to 1631 when he arrived in Boston and chose to refuse the position of Pastor when he was offered the position.
Williams instead decided to voice the beliefs he had accumulated during his days in England. He immediately drew a line between the authorities of the state, and the authority of the church. The development of application of his views can be observed from a number of events that he was not only a part of but was the instigator of. When analyzed closely, one can see that Williams’s strength of belief in his views as a puritan only strengthened with time. His lifelong resolution to draw the line between church and state was reinforced by the disagreements that people accumulated and harbored against him and his statements.
For instance, Williams referred to the Church of England as one that had gone off course from the proper church. He chose to make it openly known that he was in opposition to the Church of England and in alliance with all those who were with him in his campaign to denounce it. However, not all his statements and stances went challenged. His stance on the “citizen’s oath” was widely appreciated and gained so much popularity that the magistrates had to terminate using it altogether.
The “citizens oath” was an instrument on sorts that the magistrates used to assure loyalty in the colonists they. However, the appreciation for his beliefs and services did not always reap him good. When the Pastor of Salem passed away in 1634, Williams become acting pastor and within that short span of a few months, fell into raging disagreements with the Authorities of Massachusetts. The severity of the disagreements yielded just as severe consequences when eruptions of differences appeared between the Salem Church and the Massachusetts Authorities.
The Authorities agreed to give the land upon which the dispute was to the church of Salem, on the condition that the church of Salem agreed to exile their then pastor, Roger Williams. This came as a gesture from the Massachusetts Authorities that Williams regarded as a vile bribe and an outrageous attempt at vindictiveness. Williams called the other churches in Massachusetts together to condemn the proceedings of the Massachusetts Authorities and to demand that all the magistrates who were involved in the proceedings be expelled from their positions in the Massachusetts with immediate effect.
Unfortunately for him, his action to condemn and to call a joint condemning of the Authorities was met by such a strong resentment from the Magistrates and Churches that the Church of Salem had no other choice but to remove Williams from his position and to refuse him right to entry and service in the Salem Church. Williams never set foot in the chapel after this incident but the strength of his will and the depth of his belief in his Puritan faith allowed him to continue giving services at his home.
In short, Roger Williams never refused the right of the state to exist and govern, but did not believe in allowing the state the right exercise any form of religious law. Roger Williams’s ideas on liberty were unique in their own right. An example can be derived by taking a look at the Puritans who worked for the “freedom of conscience” before him. Governor John Winthrop for instance, also strived for beliefs same as Willaims’s. However, Winthrop’s concept of Puritanism revolved more around the movement of Puritans to the “New World” as a sacred action that the Puritans were performing with God’s blessing.
Also, Winthrop’s beliefs were highly anti-democratic. So much so that he believed that the existence of a democracy was an act in contradiction with the 5th Commandment. Williams’s legacy is of a different opinion in this matter. Williams believed in the existence of a government and chose to draw the line only in matters related to the right of the government to exercise religious laws. This right, Williams believed, was one that only God was to exercise.
Gaustad, E. Liberty of Conscience: Roger Williams in America. Judson Press, 1999.