As we gather with family this Thanksgiving, please join me in honoring the legacy of our faith and freedom by remembering the significance of this yearly celebration. Our national day of thanks is marked by the life of William Bradford, a Pilgrim who became the second governor of the Plymouth Colony in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Bradford’s unshakeable hope in God and determination to reside in a land where he could freely live out his faith set the foundation for our Founders to enshrine religious freedom in our U.S. Constitution.
Bradford was born in England, orphaned at the age of seven, and raised by his uncles and grandfather. He suffered illness as a child, and as an avid reader, spent much time studying Scripture.
When he was a young man, Bradford joined a "Separatist" congregation – these Separatists were a group of Christian believers who refused to be ruled by the Church of England. Desiring the freedom to practice their faith according to their conscience, they were forced to meet in secret because of growing persecution by governing authorities. Due to the intense persecution, Bradford and his fellow Separatists attempted to escape to Holland, but instead were arrested and jailed for 30 days. Undeterred, Bradford and his Separatist brethren finally made it to Holland where they took up residence.
At the age of 24, Bradford married Dorothy May. Five years later, Bradford and Dorothy set sail aboard the Mayflower, a merchant ship bound for the "New World." They, along with 101 other passengers, had no idea what the future might hold.
For Bradford, Dorothy and their fellow travelers, things quickly went from bad to worse.
After two brutal months sailing across the merciless Atlantic Ocean, the Mayflower arrived at what is now Cape Cod, hundreds of miles away from its original destination. Cape Cod was cold and rocky, and the passengers had no legal right to be there, as their Virginia Company charter was only valid for the Virginia colony.
Tragically, Dorothy died in a freak accident shortly after the Mayflower landed. Judging by outward circumstances, Bradford's life was a tragedy, his travels for naught.
Yet, Bradford remained committed to God and living out his faith. Thanks to his dedication and that of those original settlers, we have the Mayflower Compact, the document that planted the seeds of a government by the consent of the people.
Even though it seems that hostility to Christianity is increasing in our country, it is important not to forget Bradford's words: "Just as one small candle may light a thousand, so the light here kindled hath shone unto many."
Our faith and God-given freedoms are precious legacies carved out by heroic men and women like Bradford. Today, our candles however small, can shine to many as we stand united to protect the principles outlined in our founding documents, like the Mayflower Compact and the U.S. Constitution.
The Separatists came to this land in search of freedom to worship. Many, like Bradford, considered that freedom worth the risk of death. Generations of Americans have fought tirelessly to defend that same freedom. Now, progressive, socialist ideals threaten America from within as churches are silenced with unconstitutional mandates, parents are stripped of their right to direct their children’s education and leaders who operate within Christian spheres are advocating for only one religion in the United States. In a country built on freedom of religion, this should not be so.
This Thanksgiving, the best way to honor the legacy of our faith and freedom is by standing united to protect them. Like Scripture tells us, we must "not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up" (Galatians 6:9).
This year let's give thanks for harvests of the past as well as harvests of the future and dedicate ourselves to continuing the fight for our freedom.
The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.
Photo courtesy: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Bogdan Kurylo
Jason Yates is CEO of My Faith Votes, a nonpartisan movement that motivates, equips and activates Christians in America to vote in every election, transforming our communities and influencing our nation with biblical truth. To learn more, visit www.myfaithvotes.org.