Question: Why is Nov. 21, 2020 such an important day in American history?
This Saturday, November 21st, 2020 is the 400th anniversary of a banner, red-letter day in American history. On November 21, 1620, the adult male passengers and crew of the Mayflower hammered out a social contract on how they would govern themselves in the New World. There is a critical historical distinction, often missed by modern readers, between these “Pilgrims” and the “Puritans” who came 6 years later in larger numbers to found the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
These Mayflower Pilgrims who made up the majority of the Mayflower’s passenger list were 17th century “revolutionaries.” Their theology over the previous century had led them to reject the idea of an official state church and to embrace the vision of the church as a visible, local congregation of Christians who had professed a personal relationship with Jesus – thus their being labeled “Separatists.” In so doing they invoked the wrath of the king and brought serious persecution down on themselves. According to my old Oxford mentor and dissertation advisor, Dr. B. R. White, the Separatists’ developing ecclesiology’s revolutionary implications surprised, but did not deter them from following their theological convictions (B. R. White, The English Separatist Tradition: from the Marian Martyrs to the Pilgrim Fathers, 1971).
The Puritans by contrast were mere “reformers,” rather than “revolutionaries.” They were quite comfortable with an official state-sponsored church model. They just wanted to “purify” the Church of England of what they called the remaining “vestiges of popery” – thus the name “Puritans.”
When the Mayflower Compact was written and approved, it became the first organized attempt at self-government in the English-speaking experiment in the New World. These brave refugees from severe religious persecution under King James I set out consciously and deliberately to form what Abraham Lincoln would later call a government “of the people, by the people, for the people.”
And since they did not believe in an official state-sponsored church, the Mayflower Compact inaugurated secular civil government without any ties to a particular religious view other than monotheism, and protecting freedom of conscience.
The Mayflower Compact thus became in truth America’s Magna Carta, the basis for the self-governing Constitutional Republic we were destined to become. This form of government was planted in the original American DNA from the beginning – there is a direct line of descent from the “Mayflower Compact” in 1620 to the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the U.S. Constitution in 1787.
The Mayflower Compact is a far better place to look for the origin of America’s founding rather than the fanciful 1619 date from the delusional New York Times’ “1619 Project.”
May we all pause to reflect on the priceless heritage of self-government and liberty that our ancestors have bequeathed to us and may we all resolve to pass it on undiminished to our children and our grandchildren. God bless America! We have so much to be grateful for this Thanksgiving.
Dr. Richard Land, BA (magna cum laude), Princeton; D.Phil. Oxford; and Th.M., New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, was president of the Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (1988-2013) and has served since 2013 as president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, NC. Dr. Land has been teaching, writing, and speaking on moral and ethical issues for the last half century in addition to pastoring several churches. He is the author of The Divided States of America, Imagine! A God Blessed America, Real Homeland Security, For Faith & Family and Send a Message to Mickey.