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Faith and Consequences

There are, today as ever, those who seek to inhibit education. As throughout the history of people, there are those who wish to restrict thoughts and beliefs and ideas. And, as always, these people are not just misguided, but wrong.

Queen Elizabeth I promoted education in England. Indeed, starting in her reign, at least some schooling was available to both boys and girls for free. Francis Marbury, born in 1555, grew up in that England full of school, education, and encouragement for learning. He would become a preacher and somewhat of an independent thinker (which landed him in prison for a few years and a separate stint under house arrest – I mean, they encouraged learning but not if it resulted in thoughts challenging conventional wisdom). He managed to apologize sufficiently to regain the opportunity to preach again and more or less provided for his enormous family. He pressed all of his children to obtain an education, largely taught them himself, and, despite his own hardship on this score, encouraged them to think for themselves.

One of his daughters was named Anne. She was a firecracker – smart, strong willed, thoughtful, and interested in sharing her views. She married a man named William Hutchinson and together they had a brood of children. She and her husband became groupies of a sort to a young minister named John Cotton; they traveled to the English town of Boston to hear him preach. Folks who were not so enamored with Cotton included the ruling class and he shipped out to the Massachusetts Bay Colony at their behest (or, at least to avoid being arrested by them). Within a year, Anne, William, and nearly a dozen children followed.

In a nutshell, the major Puritans and the ones who basically kicked Cotton out of England, believed that an individual’s life works – essentially comportment and behavior – demonstrated salvation. Cotton and Hutchinson and their fellow Antinomians pushed back on this averring that faith was sufficient. The folks in charge argued the Bible was the one and only final word and this group said that religion was somewhat open to discussion and interpretation. The Anglican Church was not impressed with these Puritans.

So, let’s pick up with the Hutchinson crew in their new home. William, a merchant by trade, was settling in well and Anne – a skilled midwife and nurse - made new friends with whom she was happy to chat about scripture and sermons. They were quite prosperous and they were active members of the First Church where Cotton preached. But – when she heard other ministers with whom she disagreed, she made that known. She and her merry band of “free grace” advocates gained some political power when one of their own was elected governor of the colony. Maybe this emboldened the group and they started outwardly criticizing “good works” sermons. One, Wilson, took notice and alerted his own parishioner, John Winthrop who was then a magistrate in the colony.

Winthrop and others staged an intervention for the wayward “free grace” preachers who, much like Anne’s father Francis, then promised to be good. They were crossing their fingers behind their back, though. And things actually heated up. In the background, a war started between the colonists and the Pequots – the antinomians refused to fight because Rev. Wilson, a “good works” minister long a subject of their criticism, was chaplain of the expedition. This was serious and real.

Pequot War of 1637 rabbit hole – this conflict, largely over trade, some unfortunate murders, simmering rivalries between tribes as well as the Dutch versus the English colonists, and possibly even some weather conditions that had led to poor harvests and famine, was brutal. The Pequot were all but annihilated with hundreds being sold into slavery, primarily in the West Indies. It is a time period and a war rarely discussed but important in the history of Massachusetts and of the United States.

In this universe, things changed quickly – that concerned “good works” parishioner, Winthrop, was elected governor. The other “free grace” folks were also voted out of office. Sedition and heresy trials began and convictions started to roll in. In November, Anne Hutchinson faced charges including troubling the peace of the colony and slandering the ministers. Thanks to her father’s insistence on education and critical thinking, along with her own wits, Anne was pretty spectacular in her own defense. But the powers that be decided to convict her and banish her for being an instrument of the devil and other such poppycock. (Let’s be honest, they banished her because these men were so insecure and terrified of an educated, bright woman who had the audacity to disagree with them on something as personal as faith.)

Today, some members of society continue to feel threatened by educated women who are not afraid to think boldly and speak their minds. Moronic conflicts over religious disagreements continue to dominate the political landscape. Who is in power can and does affect how and whether individual rights are protected. Some zealots continue to want to impose their will on the minds and bodies of those who think differently. Today, 386 years later they are still at it – but those folks can only make people miserable, they cannot kick anyone out.

On November 7, 1637, Anne Hutchinson was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony. We miss her.

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