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.