I’ve been reading quite a bit this summer, I love to read. I finished the book titled “American Jezebel” by Eve LaPlante. It was a biography of Anne Hutchinson, a nonconformist Puritan woman written by a descendant who says “I am neither to disdain nor to exalt my central character: I strive instead for a balanced portrait of Anne Hutchinson’s life and thought in all their complexity”. It is vibrant history of New England in the early 1600’s, especially ‘religious’ history. I was fascinated by the story of this courageous woman who wanted nothing more than the believer’s freedom of conscience and to worship without persecution. The Puritans came to America in the early 1600’s to escape the state church and the persecution they were suffering. But in the end they became almost exactly what they had left England for, they became the persecutors.
She was an early champion of freedom of conscience and supported the notion that individuals can believe as they wish and she wasn’t willing to accept religious authority without question. Can you even imagine in the 1600’s a woman who had such strong convictions and wholly kept them even amongst the heresy trial, the time spent away from her family in arrest and finally the excommunication from her church? Did she hold to heresy? I imagine it depends on how you define the word ‘heresy’. If it is a belief that you hold to that doesn’t fit the mold of ‘orthodoxy’ then I am sure she did hold to heresy. She isn’t here to ask and so we can read what others say she believed but unless we could hear it from her we will never truly know. Only a man knows his own thoughts and his own mind.
Interestingly the ‘Charter of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations” was issued to those who wanted to maintain independence from Massachusetts and the religious attitudes that were prevalent there just as they had been in England. This charter language, copied below, leads directly to the Third Amendment to our Constitution which grants to us religious freedom.
“No person within the said colony, at any time hereafter, shall be any wise molested, punished, disquieted, or called into question, for any differences in opinion in matters of religion, and do not actually disturb the civil peace of our said colony; but that all and every person and persons may…..freely and fully have and enjoy his and their own judgments and consciences, in matters of religious concernments, throughout the tract of land hereafter mentions”
The battle, of course, still goes on. If you question, if you hold to differences of opinion, if you adhere to your own conscience then there is a label of some sort that is attached to you. Maybe it is rebellious and un-submissive, maybe it is a heretic or maybe it is a fool. It was said that ‘they’ destroyed her and yet I don’t believe they did. Men can destroy the body but only God can destroy both body AND soul.
A very enlightening and good read!