America's Purpose: Economy Or Religious Liberty?

The events of the Pilgrims coming to North America are usually recalled during the Thanksgiving holiday. Almost everyone knows the voyage on the Mayflower from England was difficult at best, and that few of those who landed at Plymouth Rock knew what challenges they would face. Less known, however, is why the Pilgrims came to what was deemed a rugged wilderness to begin a new life.

Almost 30 years ago, Paul Vitz, a psychology professor at New York University, examined 60 commonly used social study textbooks in the public school system, to see what was being taught as to the motives for the Pilgrims coming to America. He discovered none of them offered evidence for the spiritual convictions they held, which he described as the "washing out" of religion in public school textbooks. In his report, he cited one teacher who told a first grade student the Pilgrims gave thanks to the Indians on the first Thanksgiving for helping them survive. Other sources have also redacted history so secular motives, such as making financial gain, was the primary reason for the founding of the colonies.

While there was certainly a financial aspect to early colonization, it was not the primary motive. The Mayflower compact states, "Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the first Colony in the northern Parts of Virginia." Three years after the Pilgrims settled at Plymouth, Governor Bradford said in his Thanksgiving proclamation that they should "render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings." Daniel Webster, on the bicentennial of the Pilgrims' landing at Plymouth, exhorted his hearers "not to forget the religious character of our origin," and also said, "Our fathers were brought hither by their high veneration for the Christian religion. They journeyed by its light and labored in its hope. They sought to incorporate its principles with the elements of their society and to diffuse its influence through all their institutions, civil, political, or literary."

The writer of Proverbs reminds us, "Righteousness exalteth a nation; but sin is a reproach to any people" (Proverbs 14:34). The psalmist also records, "Blessed is the nation whose God is Jehovah" (Psalm 33:12). The Pilgrims understood these general principles and sought to incorporate them as part of the people they would become in a new country, helping to ultimately establish a new nation. Later, John Adams echoed this sentiment when he said, "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." The documents written by our founding fathers are also filled with references to God and the role He must play in life.

Those who came to start a new life in this new land, and the laws on which life would be based, had God and His word as its focus. Today, we must ask ourselves what role God plays in our lives, what it is that is our reason for life? "But seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matthew 6:33).

Robert Johnson, Longview, TX