Despite the seemingly unprecedented animosity directed towards people of Christian faith these days, religious persecution is not a new concept.
The Pilgrims who first established the Plymouth Colony in 1620 had encountered more than their fair share of religious bias prior to leaving England. They came here seeking religious liberty—one of the very same principles that would later be enshrined in our Constitution.
I recently had the opportunity to interview an expert on the Pilgrims for the Focus on the Family Broadcast. His name is Jay Milbrandt, and he is a law professor at Bethel University in Minnesota and the author of the book They Came for Freedom: The Forgotten, Epic Adventure of the Pilgrims. Jay is adept at separating fact from fiction when it comes to the stories we typically hear about the proverbial “first Thanksgiving.” I hope you’ll tune in tomorrow, Thanksgiving Day, November 22, to hear our program “Remembering the Pilgrims’ Journey,” or listen online any time after November 22nd.
In the meantime, to whet your appetite, here are some comments about the Pilgrims from a different interview with Jay, conducted by BibleGateway.com’s Jonathan Petersen. I think you’ll find them enlightening:
(The Pilgrims) were Separatists. They were unhappy with the Church of England, which was the official state church. The government prescribed how people would worship, mandated church attendance, and dictated tithes. The Separatists were people who wanted to worship as they saw fit and, based on their reading of the Bible … Violations of church requirements led to fines, imprisonment, and even death for repeat offenders.
We have a mental picture of the Pilgrims: funny hats (buckles didn’t come till later), dining on cornucopias overflowing with food at the first Thanksgiving.
Nothing in that image is true.
There was no “First Thanksgiving,” as we want to believe it happened, and the Pilgrims were starving, rationing their food, and wearing tattered clothes. Over time, the retelling of the story combined several Pilgrim events to fit into our modern holiday. In fact, Thanksgiving as a holiday was created 200 years after the Pilgrims’ arrival, at the close of the Civil War to promote national unity. The Pilgrims’ quest for freedom and their “thanksgiving” event were deeply religious.
This brief excerpt only touches the tip of the iceberg, so I hope you’ll make plans now to tune in to my own interview with Jay Milbrandt on Thanksgiving Day (November 22) on the Focus on the Family Broadcast. He’ll describe the harsh conditions the Pilgrims and Puritans endured as they barely survived the first couple of years with the help of an Indian named Squanto and the native Wampanoag tribe.
Jay will also explain how festivals in Plymouth, Massachusetts became connected to our modern-day Thanksgiving. And he’ll illuminate the significance of the Mayflower Compact, which helped lay the foundation for the U.S. Constitution.
And as you sit around the table with your family and friends this Thanksgiving, take a moment to honor those who came before us. So many of the freedoms we enjoy are the result of their sacrifice and God-given wisdom. Say a prayer for our nation, asking the Lord to preserve these important principles against the current cultural climate of rancor, partisanship, and division.
Most of all, I hope you’ll embrace this Thanksgiving as an opportunity to hold your loved ones close. Outside of your relationship with Christ, there is nothing more important than your relationship with your family. Hold them close and remember that “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17).