Monday, August 22, 2016
Anne Hutchinson was born Anne Marbury to a family that was well known for its dissent and disagreement. Her father had been jailed and persecuted for his dissent with ecclesiastic officials in England. He had insisted that so many of them were unprepared, untrained, and incompetent. For this, he suffered. In this, he taught his daughter the value of dissent and the likely outcome. Though, it would seem that Anne needed little help finding room for dissent and challenging the Church to be what it is called to be instead of what it is comfortable being.
Surely, she thought back to her father's punishment as she stood in the courtroom in Massachusetts undergoing trial for dissenting from the popular opinion of the Puritan officials. Anne had taken to teaching bible studies in her home. She started by inviting her female neighbors and friends but there was something very different about Anne's approach to the scripture. She wasn't teaching the same interpretations that the Puritan preachers repeated in the pulpit. She welcomed questions and confusion and did not label them as marks of a lack of faith. Instead, she encouraged the participants to question things like the enslavement of the native peoples and the subordination of women.
She spoke and taught as a minister and authority on the scripture and Christian teaching. She invited the listeners to imagine a radically equal and welcoming Church. She suggested, upon occasion, that the clergy were inappropriately expressing their authority by confining and repressing her brothers and sisters. She suggested that the clergy were using moral and legal codes to insure their own place of power and influence by stripping others of their capacity for action and thought. This would, eventually, cause her great suffering but not before it started to catch among the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Eventually, her home bible-studies were full and being attended by men in addition to women. She had to move the meeting into the local church because her home could no longer accommodate the large crowds. The clergy opposed her teachings under the pretense that she wasn't qualified to teach and might misinform them but this pretense gave way when they realized that their power over the people was waning and they were choosing to listen to Anne, anyway. They decried her teaching because of her sex and she responded from scripture that her actions were acceptable and in line with orthodox teaching. They were losing their power over those whom they drew it from and they began to get nervous. As is the case with most who oppose the status quo in favor of divine calling, she was attacked and vilified by the powers-that-be.
Governor Vane--one of Anne's supporters--lost his position to John Winthrop who had Anne arrested, charged, and tried. They resented that she was teaching that women were equal with men and worth equal treatment and consideration. They suggested that she was inciting rebellion and sedition. Further, they were enraged that she would criticize the clergy--the professional religious--even though she was a woman. They forced her--even though she was pregnant--to stand for days and answer the interrogations and accusations of the male board. She responded to all of their charges and accusations and stood firm in her right to say and do what she had done. She is quoted as saying to them, "You have no power over my body, neither can you do me any harm. I fear none but the great Jehovah, which hath foretold me of these things, and I do verily believe that he will deliver me out of your hands..." In desperation, they found her guilty and banished her from the colony "as being a woman not fit for our society." They were correct but it was by far more of a charge against their society than it was against Anne. Before her exile, she was made to suffer the indignity of a religious trial on the basis of a charge of blasphemy. Further, they felt it was inappropriate that she had allowed men to be present at her house studies and she was also condemned for this. Of these charges, she was also found guilty and excommunicated from the Puritan communion.
Before she was exiled, many of her followers (including Roger Williams) voluntarily left the colony and started a new one in Rhode Island. Due to the abuses of the Puritan judges and officials, Anne suffered a miscarriage. Regrettably, she was mocked for this and informed that this was the judgment of God upon her for her sins. A follower of hers suffered the same fate. She was exiled and found a home with her husband and followers in Rhode Island where she helped lead and manage the colony for many years before her death at the hands of Native Americans while traveling.
In many ways, Anne's life was proof that dissenting from the powers-that-be can cause suffering and persecution but, yet, it is still worth doing when the powers cannot see the Kingdom. Anne taught Christian doctrine freely and without regard for how it would be received by those who stood against her. Anne dared to profess the radical notion of the dignity and equality of women against a people who stood to gain by repressing women. Consequently, she was crushed in the gears of a system made for maintaining power for those who have it. But in being crushed, she bore a powerful witness to the sin and corruption within the system.