Whether it is the confusion surrounding the founding of America, the efforts to remove memorials or the lessons learned from our national struggles, the racial turmoil in the streets and on university campuses, the argument around whether capitalism or socialism is the most equitable economic model, Americans have historically argued and eventually corrected the excesses of our society.
Our constitutional system, while far from perfect, is the best model of governance for correcting excess of a culture. Its resilience is found in the belief that the character of the people eventually guides us to get things right.
These national corrections have their roots in Christian experiments that happened even before we were a nation. One example is the Mayflower Compact. Written on the deck of the Mayflower in 1620, it was a collective economic agreement; an experiment in self-governance.
The original plan called for two ships, but one ship was not sea worthy and all 101 Puritan passengers crammed onto the Mayflower. After a difficult 65-day journey across the ocean, the Mayflower arrived in Cape Cod November 1620, far north of their intended destination. On the deck of the Mayflower they wrote and signed the Mayflower Compact.
The settlers in Jamestown experimented with an entirely different governance system. They believed the Bible taught reliance on God and reliance on the gifts and talents God gave each person. They believed entrepreneurship was the most equitable model of providing for the needs of every person in the community. Everyone was rewarded for their own effort.
It was a terrible first winter in Plymouth where over half of the Puritans died within the first six months of landing in America. The Plymouth Colonists worked for partnership or common-stock and were fed out of the common stores. They relied on the virtuousness of people and believed this system was the most Christian way to live. The land and the houses were community property. Despite repeated failures of communal economic systems in their countries of origin, the theory of using a common-stock for the profitable operation of colonies was an accepted practice of the day.
It didn’t take long for the inadequacies of the collective economic experiment to became evident in Plymouth. Industrious, young, unmarried men objected to having the fruits of their toil go to support other men's wives and children. Married men disliked having their wives sew, cook, and wash for the others. Hard-working men thought it unfair that they should support the less productive and unmotivated. The older men with more knowledge and experience declined to work for the younger men who were not driven to learn the skills necessary to become a productive part of society.
A severe famine in 1623, caused the Plymouth Colonists to agree to set aside their collective economic agreement and allow everyone to raise their own food. The result was immediate. Increases in production were so great that many colonists had a surplus and began trading among themselves for other goods and services, with corn as the primary currency. They learned firsthand the principles of commerce applied by the colonists in Jamestown thirteen years earlier.
After the death of the first leader, Deacon Carver, William Bradford became governor of the Plymouth Colony. Under his leadership, a capitalist system was born. Seeing the failure of communal farming, the colony instituted a free enterprise system. Under Bradford, each colonist was given ownership to one acre of land and each colonist was challenged to better themselves by working their land as they thought best. The colony continued to flourish. The result was not only survival of the remaining colonists at Plymouth, but the surpluses created a thriving, healthy community. Many Christian historians and economists point to this fundamental economic correction as one of the key lessons learned which became foundational to the free enterprise system of United States of America.
There are many other examples throughout American history where excesses from various social or economic experiments were corrected by the citizens of our nation. These changes alleviated suffering and benefited significantly larger numbers of our citizens.
Many people in our generation seem to be unaware of the failures of these past social and economic experiments. Our generation romanticizes about universal basic income for every citizen in the country. Christians on both sides of the political spectrum vehemently debate the merits of national healthcare, or a national living wage or the redistribution of wealth. One of the lessons learned from the Plymouth Colony and Jamestown would be that the farther removed people are from receiving a direct benefit from their own labor, social and economic excesses are created. Those excesses, while often well intended, end up hurting the very people they are trying to help.
I believe that Christians are uniquely qualified to take a leadership role in helping our city find its way through these debates. The Bible teaches principles for keeping both truth and grace in balance. The reason our founding fathers built a governmental system that protected every citizen’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness was to provide the opportunity for each citizen to benefit from the fruit of their own efforts.
As Christians, we can have vigorous debates over morality, ethics and public policy. When we are committed to following biblical principles, God will lead us to the best solutions for our most difficult problems. 4Tucson is made up of diverse Christians who are united in the belief that God’s ways work best. We don’t have to learn the same lessons over and over with each new generation because the Bible explains which experiments will work for our good and which ones will not. I personally invite you to join 4Tucson. Join the discussion and become part of the solution.