This Week's Story

William Penn must decide: Do I choose wealth and comfort or the struggle for freedom of religion?

This Week’s Story relives American history and the Bible through brief inspiring stories presented on mp3 audio recordings and text for reading.

The Cost of Freedom, part one

“Valeria, long before there was a United States, people came here with hope for their future.  Some wanted to get rich.  Many wanted freedom of religion.  Many wished for their own land and certainly good leaders.

“Recently, I overheard a woman say about an early American leader, ‘He organized an American colony with protections for the people’s freedoms.  The goal was to live under law, not under whatever a ruler wanted. The people could elect their leaders and vote on their laws.’

Wow, I thought, that man was ahead of his time. Is she talking about William Penn of the 1600’s?

“Valeria, I began reading about Penn.

“When William was growing up, he could have been on a T.V. show for The Rich and Famous.  His father was a powerful commander in the British Navy, a Royalist, and a national hero. His family had servants, money, large homes in England, and an Irish castle.

“Change came unexpectedly!  When his mother cried one day, he heard her say that King Charles had been beheaded. England’s new leader, Oliver Cromwell, put William’s father into the Tower of London prison for five weeks with no charges. William learned that rulers can be unreasonable.

“When his family moved to southern Ireland, he saw little children begging for food.  Their stomachs stuck out from their starving bodies.  He saw villages with the charred remains of homes burned by the English. William was disturbed.  His father told him that strong nations had the right to take over weak nations.

“In his new home in Ireland, William was happy. He was surprised when his father invited a Quaker to speak to the family.  The teaching of Quakers did not agree with the official Church of England, which William’s family attended.  William’s attention was caught when the Quaker, Thomas Loe, said, ‘True religion is not a matter of outward observances.’  ‘Each man, in the quiet of his heart, must come to his own reckoning with God.’  These ideas were new to William.

“When England again had a king, William and his family returned to England.  He became a student at Oxford University.  The campus environment was tense.  Students were divided into two political groups, the Royalists and the Puritans.  The Royalists supported rule by kings and queens.  The Royalist students were known as partiers.   The Puritan students were passionate about politics and religion.  William despised the atmosphere of division, especially when a student was targeted and beaten up, which often happened to Quakers.  In his experience Quakers lived simply and were kind.

“Though William’s family was Royalist and he dressed like one, his heart was not with them.  He tried to separate himself from other students.  Often he was drawn into intense evening discussions with Puritans.  He began attending a discussion group led by the former Dean of the university.  William read and talked about the possibility of a country where leaders were accountable to the people in the country, where wars could not be declared for selfish purposes by a ruler.

“When the discussion group he attended was declared off limits for all Oxford students, he continued to attend. He received a warning from the Dean at Oxford University. He did not change his beliefs and was expelled from Oxford University.  When he went home, his father disciplined him as he would a disobedient sailor.  William refused to abandon his convictions.

“In coming years William was imprisoned several times for his activism as a Quaker in England. Secret religious studies in France, law school, and time with Quakers set him firmly on the road of action for freedom.”

This is Barbara Steiner.  Soon I will return with part two of “The Cost of Freedom.” Please check out thisweeksstory.com.

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