The Pilgrims Did Not Found America

David Lane, perhaps the most powerful Christian right kingmaker operating today, has a profoundly ignorant essay on Thanksgiving that does what wingnuts always do — conflates the people who founded the first British colonies with the founding of the United States.

The force that founded America was spiritual, indeed evangelistic. Landing at Jamestown in 1607 Pastor Robert Hunt erected a cross, took communion, and covenanted, “We do hereby Dedicate this Land, and ourselves, to reach the People within these shores with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to raise up Godly generations after us, and with these generations take the Kingdom of God to all the earth. May this Covenant of Dedication remain to all generations, as long as this earth remains, and may this Land, along with England, be Evangelist to the World.” In 1620 — blown off course, but not off mission — Mayflower Compact, “…for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith.”

The Pilgrims “advanced significantly the Bible’s message that God’s kingdom is irrupting into the world for his glory and our good.” –Dr. Bruce K. Waltke, “An Old Testament Theology.”

As the nation survived and became independent, the Founders established America legally as a Christian nation at the state level, rather than the Federal (details here).

Almost everything about this is nonsense. Yes, the founders of Jamestown and the Plymouth Bay Colony (the Pilgrims) were devout Christians who established officially Christian colonies. But the key word there is “colony.” They were British colonies established by the rule of a monarch, which we overthrew 150 years later. The Constitution was an explicit rejection of both colonial rule and theocracy, which is what those colonies were founded as.

And the notion that the founders of the actual country “established America legally as a Christian nation at the state level” is blatantly false. In fact, many of them led the fight to disestablish the official churches in their home state. Jefferson and Madison succeeded in doing that in Virginia in 1786 and that became a model not only for the First Amendment but for other states as well. One by one the states did away with their church establishments, the last one doing so in 1833. The fact that the Constitution did not force them to do so does not mean that the founders “established American legally as a Christian nation.”

What America needs is a covenant renewal, a return to the Founders stated mission. Dr. Waltke says that “Anything that threatens the loyalty to I AM, such as the Canaanites [Secularism] without, or as pride within [American Exceptionalism], must be eliminated. Loyalty to I AM has such a high value that anything that threatens it must be eliminated.”

Does Lane not realize how frightening and totalitarian that sounds? Does he not care? Or is that really what he wants, the elimination of “anything that threatens the loyalty” to God?

To argue that America’s Founders were not Christians — and the foundation laid was not upon Christ Jesus — is at best ignorant, and at worst dishonest.

I’ll take psychological projection for $1000, Alex. Some of America’s founders (the real ones, not the ones who founded colonial theocracies) were certainly Christians. Some were not. But this notion that the Constitution is based on Christianity is utterly idiotic. And you can prove me wrong by pointing out all of the analogs in the Constitution that were found previously in the Bible or in Christian theology. Good luck with that.

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  • howardhershey

    Don’t forget that America was already populated by peoples who had their own religions before the English colonists (although disease had proceeded them and had done God’s bloody work before they arrived).

  • The pilgrims were such annoying religious douchebags that they left England to go live somewhere where normal people wouldn’t interfere with them. Nowadays they’d be like the taliban or the amish – and they were a butt of jokes at the time, for good reason.

  • Ellie

    Why is it, do you suppose, that when the Mayflower Compact is quoted in this context, phrases such as, “…the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James.” and “…and the Honour of our King and Country,” and …in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland,” are always left out?

  • Bible has 10 Commandments. Bill of Rights has 10 Amendments. Checkmate atheists!

  • grumpyoldfart

    Most of his readers won’t know he is wrong and those who do know won’t say anything out loud because they hope he succeeds in his quest for a “covenant renewal” – and the ends justify the means.

  • peterh


    The Plymouth Separatists were beholden to the throne of England for their charter, but not their theology. They were in Plymouth in very large part due to theological differences with the throne & the Anglican Church. In Massachusetts they practiced discrimination against ans persecution of other religious thought as strongly or possibly worse than that which the Anglicans had directed against them. Well-sounding but empty phrases show up in charters and declarations of all ages & cultures.

  • “and they were a butt of jokes at the time, for good reason.”

    So, a Pilgrim, a Puritan and an Anglican walk into a saloon. John Wayne looks up from his table near the bar and says, “WTF is this, some kinda joke?”.

  • As the nation survived and became independent…

    Gee, did anything interesting happen between the founding of the Plymouth colony and independence? Any wars, other colonies being founded, westward expansion, the massive importation of slaves, political unrest, anything like that?

    This is what drives me nuts about Pilgrim worship, even among people who aren’t religious nutbags. The Pilgrims helped found one settlement that eventually became a part of one colony. There were dozens of other settlements of equal or greater size, each founded by various groups who were quite diverse in their beliefs and reasons for coming to America. Large portions weren’t even British. There’s a whole rich history there that gets glossed over. Because Pilgrims.

  • jnorris

    The Pilgrims, the Original True Christian Americans ™, called Christmas an abomination and outlawed it. A Massachusetts law of 1659 punished offenders with a hefty five shilling fine.

    While Mr Lane is praising the Pilgrims so lavishly this time of year, he appears to also support their War on 17th Century Christmas! Why is Mr Lane waging War on Christmas?

  • Synfandel

    W.t.f. is “I AM”?

  • W.t.f. is “I AM”?

    It’s a corruption of “Aye, Yam”, which the Pilgrims said frequently during the first Thanksgiving and became sort of an unofficial motto for America.

  • coragyps

    And “I AM” is also

    1) a, or the, name of the god of the ancient Hebrews

    2) a, or the, alternate name of Popeye the Sailor Man.

  • Ellie


    I’m aware of that, but that wasn’t my point. It is clear in the Compact that the Separatists and those who were more or less forced to go along with them, were not in any kind of open rebellion against the Crown, nor were they forming a “new” country. That should be clear from the language used. Proof texting the Mayflower Compact is no better than any other kind of proof texting.

  • jefferylanam

    Some of the Puritan colonists went back to England and fought with Cromwell to establish a theocratic republic that was so unpopular that when Cromwell died, the restoration of the monarchy was overwhelmingly celebrated. One of them, preacher Hugh Peters, was hanged as a regicide.

  • sigurd jorsalfar

    The mention of Jamestown is particularly amusing given that that colony failed and was abandoned.

  • sigurd jorsalfar

    I should add I’m specifically referring to the 1607 attempt that David Lane makes so much of.

  • gorgias

    Maybe I’m being overly optimistic, but I’m guessing that no, David Lane doesn’t realize how totalitarian he sounds. The Bible makes these kind of sweeping statements all the time, and Christians become accustomed to how it sounds. It’s a kind of duality for many of them, or at least it was when I was a Christian. Sure I believed that we should eliminate “worldly values,” but this belief never connected the way I actually related to the people around me, and I would’ve been appalled at the idea of making all beliefs except Christianity illegal.

    At the moment, I think Lane’s Christian nation nonsense is just rhetoric. I think. I hope.

  • And it’s also worth mentioning that the Pilgrims, Puritans, and the Christians who were major figures in the American Revolution, would likely find the Pre-millennial Rapture beliefs common amongst modern US wing Christians strange and peculiar.

  • Chris from Europe


    It’s supposed to be a translation for Yahweh. They get crazier every day.

  • lpetrich

    Not to mention what they would have considered speaking in tongues. Demonic possession, I suspect.

    The Pilgrims and Puritans also considered “papists” idolators who are loyal to a foreign power. In fact, several colonies did not allow Catholics to vote or hold public office.

  • Friendly

    @Synfandel, @Chris from Europe: Using “I AM” as a name for God is a specific reference to the passage in the King James Version of Exodus 3 in which Moses is said to ask God, “Who shall I say sent me?” and God replies, “Tell them I AM THAT I AM sent you” [‘ehyeh ‘asher ‘ehyeh, more literally “I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE”]. Christians also use “I AM” as a reference to John 8:58, where Jesus is quoted as saying “Before Abraham was, I am” (which they interpret as Jesus claiming to be God).

  • Christians also use “I AM” as a reference to John 8:58, where Jesus is quoted as saying “Before Abraham was, I am”

    Do the numbskulls think jesus spoke the English of King James? Perhaps with a Texas twang?

  • sundiver

    Sigfurd: The so called Lost Colony on Roanoke Island in North Carolina failed in the late 16th century. The Jamestown colony, founded in 1607, succeeded and was the capital of the Virginia colony until 1699.

  • freehand

    Marcus Ranum: Christians also use “I AM” as a reference to John 8:58, where Jesus is quoted as saying “Before Abraham was, I am”

    Do the numbskulls think jesus spoke the English of King James? Perhaps with a Texas twang?

    Actually, yes, pretty much. I served guard duty once with a born again who mentioned that the King James version was the only divinely inspired version of the bible. I suggested that if it were divinely inspired, then surely the Hebrew and Greek original books were. He was very suspicious, but eventually agreed. It is the only time I have ever persuaded a Fundamentalist on any religious matter using reason. I stopped there, for i did not wish to push my luck. Also, he was mind-numbingly boring.

  • Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    Gee, did anything interesting happen between the founding of the Plymouth colony and independence? Any wars, other colonies being founded, westward expansion, the massive importation of slaves, political unrest, anything like that?

    Or, say, the publication of Leviathan?