Extreme confusion about religion as a factor of the American Revolution.

Hello everyone, I have lurked here for many months, but had never had a question that needed the help of the SD, until now. A younger friend of mine wanted help with her history homework, but neither of us could understand the following passage from the textbook that she is supposed to write about:
“Parishioners during the revival gained an understanding of covenants with their churches as contracts. They argued that each believer owed the church their obedience, and the churches in turn owed their congregants the duty to be faithful to the Gospel. Parishioners therefore could sever ties with the church at any moment. Thus, by the time of the Revolution, the colonists were used to separating
from larger institutions”

I live in Canada, so I have little knowledge of US history. Of course, I tried Wikipedia, but the articles on Revivalism, American Revolution and the First Great Awakening had nothing on this specific topic. Any help at all in explaining this passage would be greatly appreciated.

Instead of being born into a church and then belonging to it throughout your life as a matter of course, it was the start of a switch to a mindset where church membership was a matter of choice. Once you can choose what church you belong to, you come to realize that other fundamental alignments – like to your king – are also matters of choice. Just as the church has an obligation to take care of your spiritual needs to deserve your allegiance, the king has an obligation to take care of (or at least be responsive to) your political needs to deserve your allegiance.

(Sorry – it’s late and I’m tired – hope this is more or less coherent.)

Thank you very very much.

Long ago, the church, government, or whoever told you what to do. If you didn’t do it, they would make your life suck. But more importantly, it wasn’t viewed as being proper to question their authority. You were just a mindless peasant, lacking the basic understandings of the necessities of the higher powers. If it seemed like they were mistreating you, that was your fault for failing to understand it. God and the King are looking out for your best interest even if you don’t understand it.

Then the idea grew in the religious world that the church did have a duty to its followers as well. If the church didn’t fulfill that duty, it came to be seen as alright to change loyalties, and the church couldn’t complain, and it wasn’t improper. You could swap to a different preacher or an entirely different denomination.

When the British government started to rob American colonists of their rights as British citizens, it seemed the same. The government was failing to uphold it’s duties to the people, and thus it was just to separate from them.

Okay, look at it this way–

In the Catholic church the “word of god” is interpereted and disseminated by the Pope, the priests, and all those guys. There was a strict hierarchy that the parishoners were on the bottom of, and tough noogies if they didn’t like it. In Catholicism, you can’t go to a different church because there is only one, and you certainly can’t start your own.

Part of the whole thing that makes Protestantism different is the notion that a person could have more of a direct, personal “relationship” with god. Because the person had his own relationship with god, he wasn’t beholden to any particular church. It wasn’t one-sided. The parishoner owed certain considerations to the church, but the church owed certain considerations to HIM. If he didn’t like the way his church was doing things he was free to go to a different one or start his own.

The idea that a person didn’t have to just blindly obey authority was pretty radical.

Naturally, the idea that a person had a say in his or her own destiny grew and extended itself. After all, uf a person could tell Reverend Jones to shove it and still be “godly,” well then, why couldn’t a person tell King George to shove it, too.

On preview–oh yeah…and what twicks said.
ETA: And what Sage Rat said.

It is true that separatist Protestant sects were a major influence in the life and thought of the Thirteen Colonies, and if I understand the passage correctly, it’s alluding to the fact that no congregation was beholden to a bishop or higher ecclesiastical authority. This was in contrast to the Church of England, with its hierarchy, Archbishop and subsidiary bishops, and so on.

In some vague way it may have contributed to the yearning for political independence, but for the most part the Revolution seems to have been a secular affair, with only the most minimal invocations of any divine power here and there; and certainly nothing specific relating to Jesus or Christianity.

Note that most of the colonies had established churches up until and sometimes past the Revolution. In general, IIRC, it was the Congregational (i.e., Puritan) Church in the New England colonies, and the Anglican Church in the South and in British Canada.

A few disparate observations:

The original covenant relationship 'twixt God and man, with its complicated duties, loyalties, and responsibilities, was of course that between Jehovah and the Hebrew race (His “Chosen People”). Something of that spirit echoed in the Puritan theodicy, in the congregationalist organization of his church, in the covenant relationship between a parishoner and his church, and in specific creeds like justification by faith and the very concept of an Elect.

Certainly, church organizational principles differ greatly, not just between the RCC and Protestantism generally, but within different branches of the Protestant tree. Churches can be run along anything from authoritarian models to an at least partly democratic model in which the laity has a strong voice in determining policy and even in interpreting Scripture, as well as be either creedally autonomous or doctrinally subservient to a body of bishops or other high church officers. So even in the colonial era, when one’s colony might have been administered by a aristocratic client of the monarch by right of a royal charter, one might also attend a church organized along congregationalist principles, reading from the King James Version, but doctrinally responsible to no ruling body.
And to give credit where credit is due, to a large degree the political and religious freedoms in the thirteen colonies reflected and were a logical extension of the principles of religious tolerance (in particular, tolerance of Protestant Nonconformists) and of parliamentary limits to monarchical power, along with a Bill of Rights, established in England’s Glorious Revolution of 1688-90 (itself an extension of even earlier limits to monarchical absolutism established in the Magna Carta).

On the religious side, the substantial presences of Dutch Reformed in New York, Catholics in Maryland, Quakers in Pennsylvania, atheists in Rhode Island, and others (like French Huguenots) reflected both religious intolerance in the mother country and elsewhere in Europe as well as the ability for these minorities to establish themselves in the New World, often with the legitimacy conferred by a royal charter.

Politically, the Glorious Revolution provided much of the justification for the colonialists’ demands for parliamentary representation to redefine and defend our legal responsibilities and rights WRT England, and likewise influenced the post-independence demands by many of the Founding Fathers for a Bill of Rights, limiting the powers of government over the individual, to be appended to the constitution establishing a more strongly federal union of those thirteen independent states (superceding the failed initial arrangement under the Articles of Confederation).