It is the 27th of December 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1657.
It was a time of Post-Reformation in the West that questions of conformity and tolerance would need to be reassessed.
It should no surprise that we find English radicals active this year. Even though the King had been dethroned, many were calling for a further leveling of society. They were called “The Levellers,” and in this year, one of its leaders, Miles Sindercombe, was arrested and sentenced to death for his failed plot to assassinate Oliver Cromwell.
In 1657, an anonymous tract was published and disseminated across England. It was curiously titled “Killing No Murder.” The tract asks, 1. Is it lawful to kill a tyrant? And 2. Is Oliver Cromwell a tyrant? The tract offered a firm yes to both questions. Knowledge of this is said to have made Cromwell even more paranoid in his travels.
In the North American Colonies, the first European wave of immigrants is beginning to settle. Following qualified success stories in New England and New Amsterdam, families and more established settlers started to make their way across the Atlantic. New Amsterdam was a particularly attractive location for the persecuted. One document praising the religious freedom in New Amsterdam stated that it reflected “the glory of the outward state of Holland.”
But religious freedom, or tolerance, or freedom of conscience can be easier discussed than practiced. In this year, 1657, in New Amsterdam, a new sect was causing problems. And we’ve seen these radicals before—egalitarian, pacifist, and possessing particular order of worship. These Quakers were a bridge too far for some. And one of those was the Director-General of the colony, Peter Stuyvesant.
Consider this: a “freedom of conscience” had been established in many Western countries by this point. Even religious tolerance was gaining popularity to take the air out of potential new religious wars. But in both cases, an external religious threat could still be crushed. Freedom of conscience can be upheld while telling dissenters that their freedom is in their conscience, not in actions. Religious tolerance assumes a dominant religious creed, but that religious body is considered benevolent in “tolerating others.” Religious freedom is something altogether.
Religious freedom was established, certainly like never before, in a document from New Amsterdam called “The Flushing Remonstrance.” This document, a landmark in church-state relations, was signed on the 27th of December in 1657. Strangely enough, DC Comics printed a one-page comic strip in 1957 telling the story of the writing of the 300-year-old document. Check out the link in the transcript to see it (https://secure.flickr.com/photos/jbcurio/5139147887/).
The document was sent to Peter Stuyvesant in response to his anti-Quaker laws. The story of those laws and how New Amsterdam adapted to Religious freedom are for another day. But this “Remonstrance” (which means protest) would become the spiritual forefather of our modern laws not for “tolerance” but for “freedom” of both conscience and action.
It deserves this lofty spot at the forefront of the fight for religious freedom because of who wrote it and for whom they wrote it. This was a document written by Englishmen, to a Dutch governor, on behalf of Quakers. Unlike other declarations and statements, it was not written by a persecuted group on their behalf. Instead, it was written by a third party of interested citizens looking out for the religious freedom of others.
It might seem obscure, or too early in the story, or as a footnote to something better known, like the First Amendment. But a strong argument could be made that a new kind of religious freedom was born with the signing of the Flushing Remonstrance on the 27th of December in 1657.
The reading for this, the 3rd day of Christmas, is a poem entitled “Mary’s Song” by Charles Causley.
Your royal bed
Is made of hay
In a cattle-shed.
Sleep, King Jesus,
Do not fear,
Joseph is watching
And waiting near.
Warm in the wintry air
The ox and the donkey
With summer eyes
They seem to say:
On Christmas Day!
Sleep, King Jesus:
Your diamond crown
High in the sky
Where the stars look down.
Let your reign
Of love begin,
That all the world
May enter in.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 27th of December 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by Christopher Gillespie, who will enjoy his three French Hens prepared in the style of Coq Au Vin. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. And remember, the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.