It is a sentimental argument, but not a reasonable one, to promote the ‘religious freedom’ cause. They had this already in Leiden, Holland. Evangelism is also a noble cause, but one that cannot be substantiated.
Both Morton and Winslow make reference to another motive – the colonial emphasis, ‘plant the English flag on foreign soil’ cry – but again it does not stand up under inquiry. When promoting the colony to investors it was important argues Tracy McKenzie, to “soft peddle their [previous] civil disobedience” and to “defend the colony against arguments that they ignored English law”. But patriotism did not give wind to the sails of the Mayflower.
At first glance, the two more accurate reasons sound less than religious. (1) Leiden was a difficult place to maintain their English identity; specifically customs and language; (2) Leiden was a difficult place to maintain economic survival. The very survival of their community and their church depended on relocation; so it can be truly said that they fled to the New World for religious reasons – but not for religious freedom and not for mission.
But they also had a fear of losing their spiritual identity – not from persecution, but from the deteriorating secular culture. Comments from the original sources are interesting. Bradford spoke of “the great licentiousness of youth in that country.” He lamented the “evil examples” and “manifold temptations of the place”. Morton says that Dutch parents permitted too much freedom and this made it uncomfortable for the Separatist parents to provide correction without reproof from their Dutch hosts. These arguments sound like familiar current day rhetoric announced from some conservative Christian pulpits.
Today many argue that while the Dutch society has lost all boundaries, the Dutch churches still maintain rigid standards. But the Pilgrims from England believed the churches in Holland were lax in discipline, ineffective in influence, and soft when it came to observing the Sabbath. Pastor Robinson complained, after ten years in Leiden, that his people had not been able to reform the Dutch profanity of Sabbath keeping. The Pilgrims feared “their posterity would be in danger to degenerate and be corrupted.”
It seems that America could provide an opportunity to live without the fear of moral decline – while insuring the maintenance of values held dear: religious freedom and English custom.
So I ask three simple questions then: (1) What kind of determination and courage must be involved in the ‘trade – off’ of these noble concepts for the disease and death to come? (2) Where in the world today could Pilgrims flee to restart a society more likely to guarantee high moral living, genuine faith, and pure Christianity? (3) Is such a dream realistic, or even loyal to the Biblical instruction? Just asking.
No one can argue that American Thanksgiving is a complex weave of spiritual, historical and cultural elements resulting in a national identity with profound significance.
I have developed my insights based on information in the book THE FIRST THANKSGIVING by Robert Tracy McKenzie, Inter Varsity Press Academic, 2013.