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Eleutheria

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Settlers from Britain brought their place names with them to New England. Providence can be seen at the head of Narragansett Bay, just above the word Rhode.

Roger Williams was an idealist who loved reading Scripture in its original Greek and Hebrew. Even I, and I am no scholar, feel a luminous, three-dimensional power of truth when I read the New Testament in Greek. British boys and some girls, such as Elizabeth I, learned Greek and Latin as part of their schooling. This education gave them faith in Christ and the ability to think about interesting and essential things, including the thrilling concept of eleutheria.

One of the stories they would have learned was Salamis. There, in 480 BC, the outnumbered Greeks met the overwhelming naval might of the Persian Empire. Determined, in the words of Aeschylus, to save their country, their wives and their children from slavery, the Greeks rowed their ships against the great Persian galleys shouting Eleutheria! Eleutheria! Freedom!

The great jurist Sir Edward Coke had employed Roger Williams when he was a boy, and had helped him to get a scholarship to Cambridge. Williams acquired some of his ideas about freedom from Coke.

Inspired by the ideal of religious freedom and young enough to want adventure, Roger and his wife Mary left England for America. They hoped to help build "a shining city on a hill" (John Winthrop, 1630), a place where men and women “act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God" (Micah 6:8). They arrived in Boston on February 5, 1631.

Roger immediately found himself in conflict with the Bay Colony because he believed that magistrates should have no power to compel religious obedience. However, he served as a lay minister at both the Plymouth Colony and the Bay Colony. Brilliant and kind, at first he was very popular.

He gradually discovered that the Massachusetts Bay Colony was confiscating the land of Indians without payment and oppressing religious dissenters. In response he called for fair compensation to the Indians and for civic and religious freedoms, which – in a wonderful phrase - he named "soul-liberty."

He generated so much controversy, the magistrates decided to ship him back to England. Williams fled south through the snow, and took refuge with Indians who were his friends. Mary and a number of others joined him, and they bought land around Narragansett Bay for a trading post and new settlement. They established the Colony of Rhode Island as a democracy and a sanctuary. At the time it was the only place in the world with complete religious freedom. It was not, alas, free of factionalism, which Williams tried, but failed, to heal. Today's factionalism, which sees political opponents as enemies, would come as no surprise to him.

There are many people who insist on their own freedom of action, while denying others their liberties. Williams believed in following Christ and protecting the civic and religious freedom of every person. It proved a happy and even providential concept.

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Providence, Rhode Island’s capital and largest city. Williams gave the city its name.

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