Roger Williams Was a Puritan Separatist and Essay

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Roger Williams was a Puritan Separatist and Baptist, who founded the new colony of Rhode Island after his expulsion from Massachusetts. His views were quite radical and democratic by 17th Century standards, since he supported religious freedom for all individuals and strongly disapproved of state-supported religions and established churches of the kind that existed everywhere at the time. Although his own views were strictly Calvinist, and he regularly entered into religious disputes with supporters of other religions, Rhode Island did not use the power of the government to enforce religious conformity. He called for the separation of church and state in his 1644 pamphlet "The Bloody Tenet of Persecution," on the grounds that in went against scripture and also caused religious wars. Williams directed his arguments against fellow John Calvin, John Cotton and other Protestants who favored state-supported churches and enforcement of laws against heresy and blasphemy. Judges, governors and other civil officers should have no power to enforce Christian doctrines and worship, or collect taxes for the official church. Williams would allow Jews, Muslims, pagans or unbelievers to live in civil society without fear of punishment or death, which was the most common punishment for heresy in those times. He also denied that the state should ever force Jews or other groups to convert to Christianity, which occurred frequently at that time. Unlike the New England Puritans, Williams denied that ancient Israel was a model for any governments or civil societies in the present day, and God required the state to enforce the doctrines of one single religion. Just the opposite, such policies led only to "civil war, ravishing of conscience, persecution of Christ Jesus in his servants, and of the hypocrisy and destruction of millions of souls" (Williams 1644). Christianity would survive and prosper very well on its own, without the assistance of the government or the diverse religious opinions held by Jews, Muslims, atheists or others in society.

Williams was not exaggerating in any of this, since civil war was occurring in England at the time he wrote this pamphlet, while religious wars were being fought all over Europe. All of those fighting those wars and exterminating those they believed to be heretical claimed they were doing God's will, but Williams thought this was false, for God did not endorse holy wars. Just the opposite, God favored peace rather than conflict and bloodshed and it was "unnecessary, unlawful, dishonorable, ungodly, unchristian, in most cases in the world, for there is a possibility of keeping sweet peace in most cases, and, if it be possible, it is the express command of God that peace be kept" (Williams 1644). Persecuting governments were all tyrannies like those of Nimrod, but God was always on the side of the innocent and oppressed. Christians should fight only with spiritual weapons and as long as they did no earthly powers could ultimately prevail against them. Violence only led to more violence and only a false religion required prisons, gallows, whips and swords to uphold it. No laws could really control the conscience of the individual, although they could force people to conform to religions and types of worship in which they did not really believe. God did not need "the help of a material sword of steel to assist the sword of the Spirit in the affairs of conscience," while civil officers and judges were not fit to intervene in religious controversies. Their only duty was to pass and enforce laws to maintain civil peace and order in the political or earthly realm, not spiritual matters. They have no authority over setting up the government of the church or electing its officers (which should follow the Bible) just as the church should have no power over the civil government. Williams went further and stated that the people were sovereign and "may erect and establish what form of government seems to them most meet for their civil condition" rather than being controlled by tyrants (Williams 1644).

In his 1652 pamphlet "The Bloody Tenet of Persecution Mad Yet More Bloody" Williams again attacked his opponent John Cotton, and strongly denounced persecution on religious grounds called for separation of church and state. All human beings were part of one family, having been redeemed by Christ, yet countries were being destroyed by religious wars, such as the Thirty Years War of 1618-48 that had recently ended. Jesus favored peaceful methods of persuasion and conciliation, not holy wars or civil governments using torture and execution to enforce…[continue]

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