Winthrop’s sermon “A Model of Christian Charity” has been a hugely influential text in U.S. history, so influential that Ronald Reagan quoted it in his farewell speech, John McCain invoked it during his 2008 campaign, and Romney alluded to it in 2012. Like John Smith’s version of Jamestown, which represents as much what he wanted to believe about himself as what actually transpired, Winthrop’s sermon crystallizes some of the earliest American myths. It’s a dense text, with lots to unpack, so give yourself time to read it at least twice.
Questions to consider:
- What metaphors do you find in this sermon, and how do they help you understand Winthrop’s vision for the Massachussetts Bay colony?
- What evidence do you find of Winthrop’s views on social class? How does this compare with your opinions about wealth and poverty in the U.S. today?
- Why do you think this sermon is referenced almost exclusively by political conservatives today (beyond the obvious religious context)?
- See Donna Campbell’s overview of Calvinism for the basic tenets of Winthrop’s faith. What illustrations of Calvinism do you see in “A Model of Christian Charity”?
- How might a sermon be understood as a literary text? What makes a sermon different from other narratives we’ve read (origin stories, letters, and the hybrid texts we’ve considered this week that intertwine history, memoir, and other modes)? What stylistic examples do you see in Winthrop’s sermon that seem especially notable, and why might they be significant?
- What mythological elements might we find in Winthrop’s sermon? What does the sermon contribute to our historical understanding of the Colonial period? What does Winthrop add to our understanding of colonial American literature?