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Reflections from History and Faith: From Covenant to Constitution

By Jeff Olson

During our observances of Patriot Week and Constitution Day, I would like for us to take a brief look back prior to 1787 – the year of the Constitutional Convention – and before 1776 – the year of the Declaration of Independence. Why? The roots of our Constitution run deep and broad, long before and far beyond what we typically recognize and celebrate. Let’s look back 400 years.

On September 16, 1620 English Separatists, better known as the Pilgrims, boarded the Mayflower to set sail from Plymouth, England to the New World. Prior to this, in 1608, they resettled in Holland seeking religious freedom but, primarily because of the corrupting influence of the native youth on their children, they were compelled to resume their search. After much prayer and the consideration of various resettlement locations, they decided it would be best to live as a distinct body under the government of Virginia. In describing their departure from Holland, William Bradford wrote “So being ready to departe, they had a day of solleme humiliation, their pastor taking his texte from Ezra 8:21: “…I proclaimed a fast, that we might humble ourselves before our God and seeke of Him a right way for us, and for our children, and for all our substance…” Soon thereafter, 102 passengers plus about 50 crew crowded onto the small ship and spent 66 perilous days crossing over 2,700 miles of the Atlantic Ocean, only to discover that storms had blown them hundreds of miles off-course north of their Virginia destination. Given these turn of events, and “Feeling that none had power to command them,” they thought it necessary to establish some type of governmental order before landing in what is now Massachusetts. The result was a charter, a covenant binding themselves to work together for their common good – the birth “of government of the people, by the people, for the people.” The Mayflower Compact.

This was one of the early chapters of America’s 180-year experiment in colonial self-government – an experiment rooted in family, faith, and community: continuing the strengths of English common law and tradition, assimilating the internal organic laws of God into the developing governing laws of man, and applying the lessons of successes and failures in achieving a workable civil social order. Other documents, such as A Model of Christian Charity (1630), the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut (1639), The Fundamental Laws of West New Jersey (1677), the Albany Plan of Union (1754), and other colonial and state constitutions, would serve to refine civil laws, develop structures of representative government, and explore church/state relations. These were valuable sources and building blocks for the delegates who convened at the Pennsylvania State House in the summer of 1787.

The covenantal nature of what began in Cape Cod Bay remains foundational to our constitution today, though much loosened from its historic moorings. I believe it is imperative that we tighten and secure those moorings of our biblical and cultural heritage and reclaim our nation from those who would dismantle and transform it into something totally foreign to our forefathers and ancestors. That is – if we truly desire to once again be a nation anchored in and living out humanity’s inherited and inalienable gift of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, free of tyranny from without and from within. The American Constitution, the American way of life, are the stewardship of each and every American citizen and their survival is in greater peril in 2020 than ever before, 400 years after that historic voyage began.

In the words of one of our former presidents, “ Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

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