The Barna Group, a long-tenured research organization, tracks the role of faith within American culture. One of their recent studies sought to determine “Bible-Mindedness” in this country’s largest cities. Their rubric was simple: Participants who strongly asserted the “Bible to be accurate in the principles it teaches” were considered “Bible-Minded.” Those who did not meet this standard were deemed to be “unbiblical.”
Per the study, the most unbiblical city in America is Providence, Rhode Island. This should come as no surprise, given Rhode Island’s history. The state, founded by Roger Williams, began as a haven for those who had been mistreated by strict Biblicists—“Bible-Minded” people—who embraced a hardened interpretation of the Scriptures.
When Williams arrived in Massachusetts more than a century before the American Revolution, he was part of the Puritan effort to build that famed “City on a Hill,” a divinely instituted nation where everyone would be “Bible-Minded.” But, in short order, Williams became the most controversial figure on the continent.
How so? Williams relentlessly preached liberty of conscience and freedom from state-driven religious conformity, espousing a revolutionary idea that there should be a separation between church and state. Vexed to the point of murder, the authorities made plans against Williams. Warned that he would soon be arrested, Williams escaped into the wilderness where he eventually purchased from the Narrangansetts, the land that would become Rhode Island.
And, it was exactly that: an island, a sanctuary for all kinds of religious dissidents in the earliest years of the American colonies. Jews. Quakers. Baptists. Catholics. Atheists. They came in manifold and variegated expressions, and Roger Williams, this nation’s first Founding Father of toleration and liberty, welcomed them all.
It was no wonder, then, when Massachusetts Governor, John Winthrop, asked Roger to recant of his beliefs, leave the natives of the wilderness and come home, Roger responded, “I cannot; for I feel safer among the Christian savages, than I do among savage Christians.”
Ironically, Roger Williams never lost his faith. To the end of his life, he was a “Bible-Minded” man. Maybe, if he were alive today, he would wish that the city he founded was more “biblical,” but he would never force it to be so. He would say, as he said: “Men’s consciences ought never to be violated…for a religion that must be upheld by violence, is a religion that cannot be true.”
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.