How many times have we heard Boston, then America, referred to as “A City Upon a Hill”?
Many times if you’re a New Englander like me. And if you follow history through the speeches of American Presidents, you have heard it a number of times within the past 50+ years.
Where did it originate?
John Winthrop spoke the phrase in a sermon he gave to his fellow Puritans as they sailed upon the ship Arbella and who would soon settle what would become known as the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
The sermon Winthrop gave was entitled ‘A Model of Christian Charity’. Relying heavily upon biblical text a review and purpose of Winthrop’s sermon can be found here.
As well as here.
This is key to understanding why it has resonated, from Winthrop’s sermon:
Now the only way to avoid this shipwreck and to provide for our posterity is to follow the Counsel of Micah, to do Justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God:for this end, we must be knit together in this work as one man, we must entertain each other in brotherly Affection, we must be willing to abridge our selves of our superfluities, for the supply of others necessities, we must uphold a familiar Commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality, we must delight in eache other, make others Conditions our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labour, and suffer together, always having before our eyes our Commission and Community in the work, our Community as members of the same body, so shall we keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace, the Lord will be our God and delight to dwell among us, as his own people and will command a blessing upon us in all our ways…: for we must Consider that we shall be as a City upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are upon us; so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword through the world, we shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the way of God and all professors for God’s sake; we shall shame the faces of many of God’s worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into Curses upon us till we be consumed out of the good land whether wee are going:
When John F. Kennedy addressed the Massachusetts General Court on January 9th 1961, just before he left to be Inaugurated President of the United States, Kennedy referenced Winthrop’s sermon and how it has impacted the history of this Commonwealth and how he hoped to shape his Presidential administration-:
During the last sixty days, I have been at the task of constructing an administration. It has been a long and deliberate process. Some have counseled greater speed. Others have counseled more expedient tests.
But I have been guided by the standard John Winthrop set before his shipmates on the flagship Arbella three hundred and thirty-one years ago, as they, too, faced the task of building a new government on a perilous frontier.
“We must always consider,” he said, “that we shall be as a city upon a hill–the eyes of all people are upon us.”
Today the eyes of all people are truly upon us–and our governments, in every branch, at every level, national, state and local, must be as a city upon a hill–constructed and inhabited by men aware of their great trust and their great responsibilities.
For we are setting out upon a voyage in 1961 no less hazardous than that undertaken by the Arabella in 1630. We are committing ourselves to tasks of statecraft no less awesome than that of governing the Massachusetts Bay Colony, beset as it was then by terror without and disorder within.
History will not judge our endeavors–and a government cannot be selected–merely on the basis of color or creed or even party affiliation. Neither will competence and loyalty and stature, while essential to the utmost, suffice in times such as these.
For of those to whom much is given, much is required. And when at some future date the high court of history sits in judgment on each one of us–recording whether in our brief span of service we fulfilled our responsibilities to the state–our success or failure, in whatever office we may hold, will be measured by the answers to four questions:
First, were we truly men of courage–with the courage to stand up to one’s enemies–and the courage to stand up, when necessary, to one’s associates–the courage to resist public pressure, as well as private greed?
Secondly, were we truly men of judgment–with perceptive judgment of the future as well as the past–of our own mistakes as well as the mistakes of others–with enough wisdom to know that we did not know, and enough candor to admit it?
Third, were we truly men of integrity–men who never ran out on either the principles in which they believed or the people who believed in them–men who believed in us–men whom neither financial gain nor political ambition could ever divert from the fulfillment of our sacred trust?
Finally, were we truly men of dedication–with an honor mortgaged to no single individual or group, and compromised by no private obligation or aim, but devoted solely to serving the public good and the national interest.
Courage–judgment–integrity–dedication–these are the historic qualities of the Bay Colony and the Bay State–the qualities which this state has consistently sent to this chamber on Beacon Hill here in Boston and to Capitol Hill back in Washington.
And these are the qualities which, with God’s help, this son of Massachusetts hopes will characterize our government’s conduct in the four stormy years that lie ahead.
Humbly I ask His help in that undertaking--but aware that on earth His will is worked by men. I ask for your help and your prayers, as I embark on this new and solemn journey.
When Jimmy Carter was Inaugurated President of the United States he took the Oath of Office with his family bible opened to Micah 6:8
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly[a] with your God.
What is the common theme here?
It is very evident: to act justly, with mercy, humbly, to do God’s will as revealed to the human heart.
With the publication of his newest book, Jimmy Carter is once again channeling John Winthrop and calling upon ALL the world’s religions with “A Call To Action” to recognize that women, all over the world, are being treated unjustly in many, many ways by selective use of religious texts from ALL religions, as well as to excuse the violence waged against women, by men, with power.
Jimmy Carter is calling it the great movement left unfinished in his lifetime.
To achieve justice for women around the world.
This book should be required reading for all people running for office, especially in Massachusetts in 2014 – which should still strive to be~ That City, A City Upon a Hill.
Increasing the Minimum Wage so that it becomes a Living Wage;Earned Sick Time so that people may get well without fear of losing their jobs; Violence against women who attend college – so much more likely to be raped than women who do not attend college – Carter has all the startling statistics, and they are startling, and since our State prides itself upon being the city and state renowned for some of the best colleges and universities in the world, what does that say about how women’s voices are kept silent?
Helping those in dire need of help – making mental health equal in delivery with the rest of the health care system.
Rethinking our system of incarceration – is it not shocking that it was mere days ago that our State Legislature just ‘unshackled’ women prisoners who were in the process of giving birth? 2014? Massachusetts- City Upon a Hill?
Power – when women are not encouraged to run for public office, when the ‘City Upon a Hill’ is filled with men who do not recognize the injustices being waged upon women and families, then it is time to challenge that power, demand answers, bring awareness.
Buy the book, attend a forum, demand answers from those who would represent us, and then judge and elect those who would best act justly, love mercy, and who would walk humbly with universally recognized values to achieve human dignity.