Two Versions of Christian Community: Roger Williams, John Cotton, and the Debate on Religious Tolerance
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Perceived as a "radical" and a "separatist, " Roger Williams aggressively advocated religious tolerance among the Puritan community in seventeenth century New England. Eventually banished for his beliefs and the manner in which he pursued them, Williams wrote The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience in 1644 to refute religious intolerance in Puritan ideology, and in response to personal ideological confrontation with the Pastor John Cotton, whom Williams blamed for his banishment. Throughout The Bloudy Tenent, Williams uses violent language as well as religious rhetoric to evoke action in his readers, in the hope that appeals to emotion and spiritual ideals might alter Puritan ideology, as well as allow him to triumph over Cotton. Cotton, in turn, wrote his own tract in response to Williams. Representing the typical Puritan community, Cotton argues that the allowance of religious tolerance allows members of his community to stray from the religiously narrow path God created. Their writings pose two models of Christian community and two ways of thinking about the belief and freedom within community that remain with us today.