Something Else to be Thankful For

I grew up in a church that had a little piece of the Mayflower encased in glass.  That’s right, when the Mayflower was decommissioned, it was torn apart and turned into a barn, and our pastor made a pilgrimage to that barn and stuck a little piece of it in his pocket.  Above that Congregationalist relic hung a framed reproduction of the Mayflower Compact.

I was joking with a Canadian friend this week that he didn’t have anything to celebrate over the coming weekend, and he joked right back that he doesn’t believe in “faux narratives involving colonialism without genocide.”  He’s got a point, of course.  Whole nations of Native Americans were wiped out by violence and disease brought by the colonists.

Signing of the Mayflower Compact by Percy Moran

However, they weren’t all bad.  As the colonists sat on the Mayflower, searching for a landing spot north of the planned landing in Virginia.  Sensing some dissension among the passengers, the leaders of the Separatists penned a short statement of their governance, and it records  sensibilities of civility and proto-democracy that would be fleshed out in full in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution a century and a half later.

I suggest we all take a minute this Thanksgiving and read their brilliant, short Covenant with one another and God.

In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God of Great Britain, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, etc.

Having undertaken, for the Glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith and Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the First Colony in the Northern Parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one of another, Covenant and Combine ourselves together into a Civil Body Politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute and frame such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cape Cod, the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France and Ireland the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Domini 1620

The Mayflower Compact, transcribed by William Bradford
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  • First, thanks for moving off BeliefNet. I sure got tired of dodging ads and filling in codes.
    Second, thanks for pushing the buttons. I am evangelical on the conservative side, but on my side of the tracks the answers generally accepted often leave me cold. In fact, some of the questions don’t get asked. Some of my most interesting discussions about spiritual formation and ecclesiology happen with people who read you.
    Third, I think you affirm the contribution being made by postmodernity. I don’t want to go back to Descartes as my model.
    Four, there is some plain ole courage going on in your blogs. Too little of that. You are not a “play-it-safe,” a phrase Peterson uses well in The Message.
    My impression is that I get off the train you are on long before you do, but I am not sure where. I actually have stayed on longer than I thought I would.
    So thanks for all the work.

  • growing up in Boston and the cradle of the American Revolution, I have a deep appreciation for our history…both politically and religiously. very cool that you just included the Mayflower compact in your blog. thanks Tony

  • Here’s what I find interesting: the “Christian Faith” that these people envisioned had so little to do with what many of us emergent types are now living out. They were most certainly anti-gay, likely racist and believed in piety as the way to justification (well, maybe not the Calvinists – they believed in tulips).

    However, given the structure of culture at that time they still managed to produce what I think is one of the most just social orders humanity has ever seen (and I say this as a Canadian).

    If anything I think this demonstrates how principles precede practice – perhaps a good illustration of how the teachings of Jesus lead the church. We don’t always get it right but when we come back to lessons within the parables and view them in a different light we can create something beautiful.

  • Blair Bertrand


    Working on a lecture for KD’s film class that is called “Why I Love American and You Should To.” Easy for me and the world to take shots at colonialism and faux narratives without recognizing the strength of the American idea. The danger I’m afraid of is a certain apolitical nature to theological training in America. If people are going to be faithful in America, and the folks at seminaries are going to lead those people, then faithfulness needs to mean both critiquing the US on issues such as torture but also encouraging the positive construction that the pilgrims were seeking. I give thanks for Americans who both speak truth to power and exert the power that they do have to make a better world.