Robert Cushman in the Westgate Tower: Where America was born–and the reason for separation of church and state

img_4159For my wife and I it was a bit of an overwhelming moment, only because we both love history and have a strong reverence for the Holiday of Thanksgiving in the United States. I had known that Robert Cushman who originally commissioned the Mayflower for the famous voyage to North America which of course unleashed the famous Thanksgiving Holiday that we celebrate each year unlocking the Christmas Season, but I didn’t think I’d ever get close to sitting in the cell where he was held imprisoned by the Church for spreading protestant pamphlets.  Yet, while touring the city streets of the ancient city of Canterbury, England at the Westgate Towers I found myself in a room exhibiting the shackles that were used for holding prisoners there and sure enough on the wall was the information talking about Cushman’s ordeal that led to the start of the Mayflower voyage in that very room.

img_4175A lot of people these days don’t really understand the necessity, and context of the argument between American separation of church and state because they have been free all their lives and have a shallow knowledge of history. But for Cushman who’s only ambition in life was to be a grocer on the streets of his childhood home in Kent he was a very passionate religious person who found himself in the crosshairs of the Church and their desire to be the primary vehicle through sacrament to Heaven.  Cushman naturally resented that control and wanted a more passionate relationship with God directly.  So the Church had him thrown in jail and as he sat in the cell at Westgate his young mind set him on a life course that would usher in the first pilgrims into the New World and start the concept of America.img_4161

In a lot of ways, the birth of the United States happened right in that spot in Westgate so it was a little overwhelming. The role that Canterbury played was phenomenal—it was a town that featured at least two major earthwork mounds that are credited to the pre-Roman period, but I personally think are even thousands of years older—likely the same type of people who inhabited the Stonehenge area over 100 miles to the west.  Both St Augustine’s Abby and a gigantic mound the size of the Miamisburg Mound in Ohio sit among the ruins of the great Roman city that set Canterbury on its start.  But then the Romans pulled out a few 400 years later and in came the Anglo Saxons from Germany and elsewhere.  But William the Conqueror from the lineage of the Viking Rollo invaded from France and dominated the countryside. When he came to Canterbury the people surrendered without a fight and thus the great Cathedrals began, first at St Augustine’s Abby, then the great Canterbury Cathedral and the region quickly became known as the Church of all England.  Fast forward another 500 years or so and Robert Cushman was wanting to apprentice as a grocer but as a young passionate man critical of the Church’s role in the issuing of the sacrament found himself locked away in that old Roman tower.img_4169

As many historians understand, the Church of England was always in a perilous relationship with the kings of England and some, especially Henry II and Henry VIII had especially contentious relationships with the power the Church held and pushed up against it. This often put the people of England in the crosshairs of politics whether they wanted to be or not just by their association with needing religion in their lives.   The church and the state were always at war with each other leaving people like Martin Luther and eventually Robert Cushman to make extreme personal sacrifices to be free of the mess.  As he sat cold in the Westgate Tower Robert Cushman made a decision that if and when he was released that he’d escape to someplace friendlier to his religious views.  When he was released, he fled to Holland to live for 9 years but had to leave again because a treaty with Spain was due to expire in 1619 which meant the Spanish Inquisition would soon legislate that little country—so Cushman had to flee again back to his homeland to find some other means of escaping the tyranny of the church and its battles with the state.  So he commissioned the Mayflower in Canterbury to take his small group of protestant followers to a New World where they’d be free to follow their passions which took them to the famous Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts.img_4215

When Satanists and radical Islamic lunatics want to claim that separation of church and state allows them to do whatever they want to whomever they like—they have an inaccurate view of the context of the statement. The separation of church and state was to prevent the situation that Robert Cushman and his pilgrim followers experienced on the ancient streets of Canterbury, England—where they couldn’t be thrown in the Westgate Tower just for having a different view of how the sacraments should be administered to the public.  The Church in its insecure position with the kings of England felt that Rome should continue to stand at the gateway to Heaven, and not those heredity selected masses of human flesh called kings—and if they lost that authority for just a decade of their existence, then the kings would push against the church for power over the people—so the poor people of England were caught in that vice between the state and the church.  People in America didn’t want to find themselves in that situation and they certainly didn’t want to be thrown in jail for having a different belief, as Cushman was.img_4160

For my wife and I it’s one thing to know these stories, it was quite another to stand in those spots and walk down the same corridors as Cushman did and to see what he did under similar conditions. If I had been Cushman, I would have been beyond pissed off and I don’t blame him a bit for organizing his pilgrimage to America to escape such nonsense.  It’s also important for those of us in America to honor the spirit of that first journey.   In many ways, this is the big debate surrounding the immigration debate to this day.  Refugees around the world are fleeing broken regions for the hope that America can shield them with freedom of persecution and economic mobility.  However, there are some who flee to America to destroy it from within from that same jealous Europe and all the fallen empires of the past for that first sinful act of defiance which Cushman fled from to begin with.  They do so not with military might, but with that paradox of squeezing society between the church and the state once again—such as what the radical Islamic terrorists have been advocating in their terrorist’s attempts.  The imposing religious beliefs of these modern terrorists are just a modern version of the medieval inquisitions being imposed on the here and now.  Yet the argument between church and state is the same as it was in Cushman’s time, only now we’ve run out of places to run.  So now we have to stay and fight because America is the last place on earth that is free of that type of tyranny.  And that is why we really celebrate Thanksgiving, and why for my family, it’s a very special Holiday.img_4174

Rich Hoffman


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