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The Redacted Resolve of the Pilgrim Parents

October 18, 2012

To the question “Why did the Pilgrims come to America?” offers this “Best Answer”:

Pilgrims came to America because in England, the king made a law that if you live in England you had to believe his beliefs. The pilgrims didn’t like the law, so they left England in search of religious freedom and other things. People today still immigrate to America and there were other reasons they left England. Some pilgrims came to America for a better life. For example, if you don’t have any money or have lost everything, would you want to come to America to start your life over? Pilgrims were also mistreated in England. These are some of the reasons pilgrims came to America.

It is fair to say that this response is emblematic of what recent generations of schoolchildren – only those recent generations – have learned about this most important event in the founding of our nation. In rewriting history, educators and historians are affecting the values that young children learn from history, what they honor and esteem: freedom, a better life, a chance to start over. But what were truly the driving motivations in the hearts of the Pilgrims?

Over a decade before they set eyes on the Mayflower, they had indeed sought religious freedom – in fact to escape religious persecution – when they left England. As Puritan Separatists, their theology mainly in the vein that would become Reformed Baptist, they believed the Church of England was “unpure” due to its residual influences from the Catholic Church which were completely outside (and in conflict with) the Bible. To worship God in a Biblical manner, they “separated” completely and formed their own secret churches. This put them in violation of the King’s laws mandating membership in the Church of England; they chose to flee the country rather than compromise on their religious principles.

They did not go to America when they fled, but to Holland, settling in the city of Leyden, where they lived about 12 years. The Dutch were very open to different religious beliefs and practice, and they allowed the Pilgrims’ church and community to live and worship as they pleased, under the leadership of their elders John Robinson and William Brewster. These Separatists had found the religious freedom for which they had uprooted their families and left their homeland.

So the question remains – Why did the Pilgrims come to America?

Some have suggested that the church membership at Leyden may have been in fear that Holland’s truce with Spain might end, and that the Dutch might not protect their extremist Protestant neighbors from atrocities of war against a Catholic nation. But in his account of the Pilgrims’ reasons for leaving Holland in Of Plymouth Plantation, the future governor of the Plymouth colony, William Bradford, makes little mention of this. Certainly the land was less hospitable than what they had left behind, there were hardships and difficult physical challenges on both young and old building a new community in Holland, and they had concerns about whether more Puritan Separatists would be willing to make the journey to join them there from England. In Book 1 Chapter 4 Bradford mentions these factors, but then goes on to specify the true core motivation in the hearts of the Pilgrims as they debated their daunting voyage:

“But that which was more lamentable, and of all sorrows most heavy to be borne, was that many of their children, by these occasions, and the great licentiousness of youth in that country, and the manifold temptations of the place, were drawn away by evil examples to extravagant and dangerous courses, getting the reins off their necks, and departing from their parents. Some became soldiers, others took upon them far voyages by sea, and others some worse courses, tending to dissoluteness and the danger of their souls, to the great grief of their parents and dishonour of God. So that they saw their posterity would be in danger to degenerate and be corrupted.”

The Pilgrims didn’t come to America for religious freedom. They already had it in Holland. They came to America to protect their children from corrupting influences in the society around them! …

Bradford continues in this same passage, “Lastly, (and which was not least), a great hope and inward zeal they had of laying some good foundation, or at least to make some way thereunto, for the propagating and advancing the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in those remote parts of the world; yea, though they should be but even as stepping-stones unto others for the performing of so great a work.”

… and they came to America to expand the kingdom of God!

These are the actual words of the Pilgrims in explanation of why they came to America. Their concern about the moral decay of the society around them and its impact on their children – coupled with their convictions about the Great Commission – was sufficient to motivate this group of isolated Christians to undertake the most dangerous voyage imaginable, full of unknown risks, which would lead to the deaths of over half of them within 9 months of their decision to leave Holland. This is the measure of how seriously they took their responsibilities as parents and Christians!

Tragically but not surprisingly, rather than teach this simple but powerful truth, history textbooks have reshaped their rationale, focusing instead on their reasons for leaving England. Which was the more important journey to history, and which the more difficult decision for them? It is not difficult to see which rationale is more important. The hidden agenda is painfully clear here: seeking freedom, or even escaping persecution, is far more acceptable as an idea to teach schoolchildren than parental responsibility, sacrifice, or Christian conviction. And if some economic motivations about “starting over” can be thrown in as well, all the better to point the schoolchildren in the most socially beneficial moral (mis)direction!

May we as faithful parents today have the courage and resolve of the Pilgrim parents, putting the protection of the morality of our children above our comfort, our lifestyle, and if needed even our own safety! And may we continue to fight hard to retain the true history of our nation and our world.


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