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Roger Williams And Religious Freedom

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I applaud those brave enough to take a stand for something they believe in. Roger Williams was a man who embodied this ideal. In the mid-1600’s, Williams fearlessly stood up to the church he migrated to the US with. He stood up to them because he did not want to see the church get as corrupt as the government. Williams’ main goal was to keep the church and the government separate. He was one of the many to argue against government interference in the church and one of the first to argue for religious liberty. William’s main writing piece and eventually, idea, was called Soul Liberty. Soul Liberty was the idea that you were free to follow whatever you believed religiously. While many people at the time agreed with it, Williams was one of the first to put it into effect. He believed that the church and government should be separate so that the church wouldn’t corrupt and force people to worship something they didn’t believe. Not only did Williams believe all this, but he also thought the governing body had to enforce these laws to make sure society would accept them over time. The ideas behind his actions reflect in many of his writings.The most obvious place William’s spirit is shown is in his most famous work, The Bloody Tenent of Persecution, for the Cause of Conscience, Discussed in a Conference Between Truth and Peace. In The Bloody Tenent…, Williams suggests that church and state must be separated to ensure that both the government and church will not become corrupt. He states twelve reasons why this should be done then goes on to write out a conversation between “truth” and “peace.” Williams was a pioneer in developing ideas about liberty of conscience. He even believed that the Native Americans had a right to the land and was disgusted Americans were hijacking it. These examples all highlight

I applaud those brave enough to take a stand for something they believe in. Roger Williams was a man who embodied this ideal. In the mid-1600’s, Williams fearlessly stood up to the church he migrated to the US with. He stood up to them because he did not want to see the church get as corrupt as the government. Williams’ main goal was to keep the church and the government separate. He was one of the many to argue against government interference in the church and one of the first to argue for religious liberty. William’s main writing piece and eventually, idea, was called Soul Liberty. Soul Liberty was the idea that you were free to follow whatever you believed religiously. While many people at the time agreed with it, Williams was one of the first to put it into effect. He believed that the church and government should be separate so that the church wouldn’t corrupt and force people to worship something they didn’t believe. Not only did Williams believe all this, but he also thought the governing body had to enforce these laws to make sure society would accept them over time. The ideas behind his actions reflect in many of his writings.

The most obvious place William’s spirit is shown is in his most famous work, The Bloody Tenent of Persecution, for the Cause of Conscience, Discussed in a Conference Between Truth and Peace. In The Bloody Tenent…, Williams suggests that church and state must be separated to ensure that both the government and church will not become corrupt. He states twelve reasons why this should be done then goes on to write out a conversation between “truth” and “peace.” Williams was a pioneer in developing ideas about liberty of conscience. He even believed that the Native Americans had a right to the land and was disgusted Americans were hijacking it. These examples all highlight just how progressive of a thinker Williams was.

Williams had a stout belief that humans had the right to liberty of conscience. One of the main ways he showed this through his writing was by arguing for religious freedom. One of the best quotes he used to exemplify this in The Bloody Tenent… is, “First. That the blood of so many hundred thousand souls of protestants and papists, spilt in the wars of present and former ages, for their respective consciences, is not required nor accepted by Jesus Christ the Prince of Peace” (1). In this quote, Williams sparks the reader into thinking about the deaths of past wars that were religiously charged. He leads your thoughts into questioning whether or not Jesus Christ would have been proud of Christians for the hundreds of thousands of deaths they have needlessly incurred. Was it truly worth fighting for sole control of “holy sites” in the crusades while losing millions of Christians and Muslims in the process? Williams is essentially saying that it was unnecessary for so much people to have been killed in religiously heated wars of the past. He even says that Jesus himself would much prefer that the world was religiously free.

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Williams continues using more rhetoric about just what exactly God calls upon his followers for. Williams believes that God would rather have loving servants than militaristic servants, even though they were just trying to make everyone Christian. Williams also backed a pacifistic reaction to finding out people were a different religion. Williams states that with this quote in The Bloody Tenent…, “Eighthly. God requireth not an uniformity of religion to be enacted and enforced in any civil state; which enforced uniformity, sooner or later, is the greatest occasion of civil war, ravishing of conscience, persecution of Christ Jesus in his servants, and of the hypocrisy and destruction of millions of souls” (1). As he says, God doesn’t ever require a singular religion to be forced upon the people of a certain area. Williams believes that eventually, any place that forces religion onto its members will devolve into chaos and civil war. Along with this, in every Christian there is believed to be the essence of life and afterlife because of Jesus Christ and the needless killing of that essence and the Christian souls could have been remedied by simple religious toleration. This is the strongest point that Williams makes. It’s great how he stated the way things have been run, defining the parts of it that should be changed and what the negative effects of not changing society have been and would continue to be.

As a final addition to Williams’ agenda, he strongly believed that global peace would be much easier achieved with liberty of conscience and that the government had to help uphold laws of religious freedom and tolerance. He believed that not only would it be easier to fend off wars, but there would be many domestic benefits as well. Some of the domestic benefits would be a more comforted state of mind for all belonging to religions other than Christianity, and fewer people would leave the country to find a less negatively imposing government. This leads me into Williams’ last point about the benefits of relaxed governing over religion in a state, “Eleventhly. The permission of other consciences and worships than a state professeth, only can, according to God, procure a firm and lasting peace; good assurance being taken, according to the wisdom of the civil state, for uniformity of civil obedience from all sorts” (4). He states that the allowance of the profession of other religions could only lead to a peace between religions for the betterment of society. It also would bring more civil obedience from the people who feel like they are being better understood. All in all, Williams believed a greater level of understanding could be reached between religions leading to a greater government because more people would be attracted to this body.

Once Williams is done listing his twelve points supporting religious freedom and the separation of church and state, he delves into a little commentary between two characters, “Truth”, and “Peace.” The two have a dialogue of conflicting viewpoints about why Psalm 101:8 should or should not be used to justify the exile of those with differing religious beliefs. Psalm 101:8 states, “I will early destroy all the wicked of the land; that I may cut off all wicked doers from the city of the Lord” (King James Bible). At the time of Williams’ writing, many a preacher had used this verse to justify their banishments. Williams instead uses it as a starting discussion where “Peace” is the unknowing civil servant and “Truth” is delivering the facts very bluntly. The dialogue begins with “Peace” in tears because of all the people it believes must be killed based on Psalm 101:8. “Truth” interjects saying, “that no proof can be made from the institutions of the Lord Jesus that all religions but one are to be cut off by the civill sword” (Williams 284). This is basically saying no proof can be made that God ever explicitly called for the banning of other religions. Truth goes on, saying “I affirm that the cutting off by the sword other consciences and religions is (contrarily) most provoking unto God, expressly against his will . . . Their civil New English state framed out of their churches may yet stand, subsist, and flourish, although they did (as by the word of the Lord they ought) permit either Jews, or Turks, or Anti-Christians to live amongst them, subject unto their civil government” (Williams 284,287) Which is Williams’ way of saying that exiling everyone from other religions is against God’s will and that a country is more likely to flourish when the government stays out of religion and simply lets its citizens worship who they please for the sake of peace.

Roger Williams strength while the church and government were putting all the pressure in the world on him is beyond admirable. Williams fought equally for the liberty of conscience and the separation of church and state. He used the arguments for either as a complement to one another because he thought that with both the world could achieve a greater peace. People like Williams make me wonder, who could be a person alive today that the people of the future will look back at and regard ever so highly, even if they were regarded as the lowest of the low at the time?

Works Cited

  1. Williams, Roger, and Edward B. Underhill. The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience Discussed: And Mr. Cotton’s Letter Examined and Answered. London: Hanserd Knollys Soc, 1848. Print.

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Roger Williams And Religious Freedom. (2022, February 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 8, 2023, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/roger-williams-and-religious-freedom/
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Roger Williams And Religious Freedom [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Feb 21 [cited 2023 Feb 8]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/roger-williams-and-religious-freedom/
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