I belong to a book discussion group. The book choice for this month is the historical nonfiction, American Jezebel by Eve LaPlante. Since history is not my favorite genre, it was rather tedious, but I learned, or should I say remembered, a lot of the Puritan history.
The book is about Anne Hutchinson, a woman who had a husband and gave birth 15 times. In her garden she grew herbs that she used in her vocation as a midwife. She was a highly intelligent Puritan woman who learned to read from her father while still in England. She could quote quantities of scripture from memory. This was a woman who dared to speak out according to her religious beliefs. She was put on trial and appeared before a council of men, excommunicated from the First Church in Boston and banished from the colony on charges of heresy.
What was her sin? First of all, she was a woman. Women had no voice. Secondly, she had the audacity to teach religion in her home. (Never mind that New Testament women opened their homes to Christian gatherings.) Thirdly, she believed and taught that people receive their salvation by grace, not by works.
I couldn't help but admire how strong she was. I couldn't help but wonder why the men were so afraid of her. Was their fear simply that they might lose absolute power and control?
Anne and members of her family moved to Rhode Island, where Roger Williams had settled after his banishment from the colony. Williams had been cast out for his belief that religion was a matter of conscience. It was from him that we get the basis for the concept of separation of church and state as in the First Amendment to the Constitution: [the state] shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
What an important part of our heritage that statement is. We forget that people were banished, beaten and abused for establishing and defending that right, a right that we Americans take for granted.
A sidebar: Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the presidents Bush are among Anne's descendents.
So how far has America come in nearly 400 years? The Puritan men were right. Anne Hutchinson and her followers were wrong. It was us versus them.
I think about the us and the them in 21st-century America. We are right. Those people are wrong. We are the good people with all the right answers; they are the bad guys with whom we should not associate. The issue of faith versus works is still debated. Some churches will now ordain divorced people and women. Others will not. Some forbid dancing, going to movies, drinking alcohol.
Pick your issue. Pick your victim or scapegoat.
I wonder what people outside the church community think if they hear church members singing, They will know we are Christians by our love.
Elaine Babcock is a freelance writer who lives in Ellendale, N.D. She can be reached by writing the American News at P.O. Box 4430, Aberdeen, S.D., 57402, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can visit her website at http://www.dakotavistas.com. Her column publishes occasionally.