*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 12th of January 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
Hey everybody, Dan here. So, I want to start today’s show with an announcement.
Coming up on January 25th, we will celebrate the 1,000 consecutive episodes of the Christian History Almanac. Our health has been good, and my eyes and voice haven’t failed me yet. Starting the following weekend- we will share with you the debut of the new Christian History Almanac Weekend Edition.
I think 1,000 shows is a nice round number from which to take the show to 5 days a week- same five or so minute format and there will be one weekend show that we will start at about 20 minutes. This allows me to chat with other historians, take a deeper dive into characters and ideas, and continue to keep the show fresh (for you and me).
And today’s show would be a good topic for a deep dive- because it’s tricky. And it comes from a lecture and lesson plan that I have worked from for over a decade- and I think each year I change something in it or reflect on why I do like, or don’t like, or don’t like, or respect from a historical distance? Let’s do it.
On the 12th of January in 1588 (Old Calendar style, but whatever), John Winthrop was born. You may know his name as one of the earliest colonists in America- let’s break down the basic beats:
- Born to well-to-do landowning parents in Suffolk, North East of London
- He went to Trinity College Cambridge, was a lawyer, attorney, and Justice of the Peace
- In the late 1620s, after the ascension of Charles I Winthrop’s Puritanism cost him his position
- Having learned of the Massachusettes bay Colony, he prepared a document arguing for the immigration of pious Puritans like himself.
- In 1630 the Arbella landed with his new community. While on board, he would preach the famous “A Model of Christian Charity”- which would become one of the foundational documents of early American history
- He served as governor- which was more like a regularly elected dictator- until he died in 1649
You may have heard me before poo-pooing the Puritans at Plymouth Rock. They came in 1620 from the Netherlands. They were a specific group of Puritans known as Brownists. Ultimately, the colony known for belt buckles on their hats would merge with the Massachusetts Bay Colony founded by Winthrop.
A Model of Christian Charity is a strange text. At least for modern ears. It called for both communal endeavor and personal responsibility. It argues, as would be en vogue at the time, for a kind of contract made between humans for good governance. But Winthrop takes it a step further and claims that this group has made a particular contract with God and that he will either bless the new commonwealth if they are obedient or curse them if they are sinful.
Winthrop famously uses the language of a “city on a hill” from the Sermon on the Mount in this sermon, but it has come to be interpreted as a call for “exceptionalism” in a way not present in Winthrop’s text. Please note that he uses biblical language to argue that Christians will be seen as examples, and the eyes of the old world will be looking at this experiment. The “shining city on a hill” is not “the” in his sermon, but “a.”
All that to say, he was something of an exceptionalist when it came to other Christians in the colony.
He was a fierce opponent of both Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams. Anne Hutchinson argued that such a “covenant” with God undermined the free grace of the Gospel. She was banished as an antinomian, and when Winthrop heard that she had a miscarriage, he callously blamed God’s judgment on her. He did the same when news came that she was savagely murdered.
He was also crucial in the banishment of Roger Williams- a dissenter who argued for a kind of religious freedom in the colony- or at least that Christians should not be engaged in persecuting others. Williams got the boot and was sent to Rhode Island.
Winthrop’s legacy is tricky. His views on the natives are abhorrent to modern ears, and he argued for both the removal of natives from their land and the right to own “sub-human” slaves. But he was not a “theocrat,” as some have suggested. His particular kind of Puritanism needs to be recognized as significant for the new world as any idea brought here in the 17th century. John Winthrop died in 1649, born in 1588 (most likely). He was (probably) 71 years old.
The last word for today comes from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5
13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? It’s good for nothing except to be thrown away and trampled under people’s feet. 14 You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 12th of January 2022 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by the saltiest guy I know, Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who once taught at a college on a hill, but houses surrounded it so that you couldn’t see it. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.