Note: this is part 2. To read part 1, go here.
In 1637 John Winthrop and a panel of puritan pastors charged Anne Hutchinson with “convening a weekly assembly,” with “reproaching ministers,” and with “not preaching a covenant of grace.” This may not sound like much to us, but this happened to be serious stuff back in the day. If found guilty Anne could face a painful execution, and at best she was looking at being exiled, which was almost the same thing if she had to settle far from the protection of a community.
In the minds of the Puritan ministers, the sanctity of their “city set on a hill” was at stake. And believe it or not, allowing a woman to challenge their authority my very well sully that city. For in patriarchal New England, men ruled.
This is not to say that Anne didn’t have her fans. For one, John Cotton, her pastor, lent tentative support for Anne’s popular Bible studies. But Anne’s gender made her automatically suspect as an agent of demonic forces (remember the famous Salem witch trials). And given the puritan predilection toward finding spiritual forces behind every rock, tree, and thunderstorm, Anne’s actions had to be seriously scrutinized.
This set the stage for Winthrop and Hutchinson to go head to head. And in the process, Hutchinson proved more than an intellectual match for Winthrop.
For example, at one point Winthrop demanded to know what scriptural basis Hutchinson had for her gatherings.
Anne quoted from Titus where older women are admonished to instruct the younger.
Winthrop answered that this meant she could only instruct them on how to love their husbands.
Hutchinson responded that there is no biblical prohibition to her instructing them on the ways of God.
Winthrop quipped back that she might seduce them away from their husbands and household chores.
Hutchinson challenged Winthrop to quote scripture to support his claim that she could not disciple women.
Winthrop haughtily snapped, “We are your judges, and not you ours!”
Wow. Impressive logic. Equivalent to the ultimate fallback for parents, “Because I told you so!”
This is but one example of how Hutchinson matched wits with Winthrop. But alas, it was to no avail. She almost made it, though. She had thoroughly embarrassed Winthrop to the point that to save face, the panel was going to have to let her go. But in her last statement, Hutchinson made the unfortunate mistake of revealing her individualistic and pietistic leanings.
She claimed that the Holy Spirit was her teacher.
Now you may be thinking, “So?” But among the Calvinists in New England there was zero tolerance for talk about the Holy Spirit speaking to individuals. That was Quaker stuff. And we all know where that leads!
Well, you may not. But the Puritan men in the room had had enough of Quaker women waltzing into their communities buck naked and “prophesying” about things that the “inner light” had revealed to them.
So when Anne mentioned the Holy Spirit, immediately jaws dropped as if Hutchinson had had a wardrobe malfunction. And the panel didn’t take long to issue a guilty verdict and banish her from the community.
But the exile of Hutchinson and her family failed to emotionally satisfy some. For example, John Winthrop wrote a tract entitled, “The Short Story of the Rise, Reign, and Ruin of the Antinomians, and Libertines that Infected the Churches of New England,” where he gleefully described Hutchinson as an “American Jezebel,” a quaint Puritan euphemism for the “b” word.
But the story doesn’t end there.
Soon after the sentencing, Anne went into labor to deliver HER SIXTEENTH CHILD! Sadly, the child was stillborn. And this is Puritan New England, where nothing happened without some divine message behind it. Thus, the clear warning that Winthrop victoriously proclaimed from his pulpit the following Sunday was that the miscarriage was a sign from God that Hutchinson was in “error denying inherent righteousness” and that “all Christ was in us.” He called for a celebration.
I wish I could say that this spelt the end of his gloating, but Winthrop continued to indulge in malice, even helping to spread rumors about the demonic shape of the stillborn child that included a description of talons and a tail.
However, there is an interesting epilogue to this narrative. Before Hutchinson’s trial, the Puritans had casually talked about the need to have a place of higher learning where ministers could learn Greek and Hebrew and sound theology. Originally, motivation for this was anemic at best. They had only raised about $400 in startup funds.
Yet, after Hutchinson trounced Hudson in public, the Puritans got very, very serious about higher learning. They collected a large sum of money and built a magnificent institution, in part, to make sure that a manly Puritan pastor never got beat by a girl, again. And, you’ve probably heard of the place.
The other interesting aspect of this battle of the Puritan sexes is that Hutchinson used the Geneva Bible, while Cotton, Winthrop and the rest of the New England ministers insisted that the King James Bible be used for preaching and study. On the surface, the Puritan preachers should have chosen the Geneva Bible. After all, it was named after the place where their beloved John Calvin ruled.
So why did the Puritan brethren prefer the KJV? In a word, “control.” The Geneva Bible included notes that provided commentary on the text. According to Harry S. Stout, the Puritans rejected the Geneva Bible because they didn’t like the commentary’s “individualistic and pietistic tenor.” And Hutchinson’s trial was proof of how dangerous this version could be. Since the KJV contained limited notes, this gave the Puritan minsters more control over its interpretation. If laypeople were allowed a Bible with commentary, they might just feel that they could challenge their pastor’s interpretation if he chose to deviate from said commentary.
And the Puritan minsters happened to be quite right, as Fundamentalist pastors in the 20th century learned the hard way when members showed up to church with a Scofield Reference Bible tucked under their arms.