How far would you go to stand up for what you believe in? Would you still proudly proclaim your faith if it cost you the respect of your friends and neighbors? Would you be willing to stand trial to defend your beliefs? If you were exiled from your home because of them, would you still have the courage of your convictions? If you’re unsure of the answers to those questions, look to the example of Anne Hutchinson, who stood by her faith even at a terrible personal cost.
Anne Hutchinson was an English Puritan who emigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1634 so that she could freely practice her faith. Practice it she did; she began hosting weekly meetings at her home to discuss the sermons at her church, and she proved to be a popular and charismatic speaker. But her unorthodox beliefs quickly landed her in trouble with the leaders of the church and the colony.
Hutchinson was an outspoken supporter of the rights and education of women. At her weekly meetings, she encouraged her followers to ask questions and make critical inquiries of their faith. She claimed to be a prophet and to receive direct revelations from God, and taught that personal revelations were just as valid and truthful as the Scripture. Not only did she proclaim these unorthodox beliefs, but she freely criticized the ministers of the church when she believed their theology was wrong.
Her unusual beliefs and her criticism of church leaders led the Massachusetts government to deem her a threat to the colony’s existence. Among those who opposed her was Governor John Winthrop; according to historian Michael Winship, he considered her a “hell-spawned agent of destructive anarchy.” In 1637, Winthrop put her on trial for heresy. During her trial, Hutchinson defended herself confidently and refused to disavow her beliefs or her criticisms of church leaders. As a result, she was found guilty of heresy and was banished both from the church and the Massachusetts colony.
Exiled from Massachusetts, Hutchinson and her family were invited by Roger Williams to settle in his Providence Plantations colony (today’s Rhode Island), where freedom of conscience and religious toleration were welcomed. Even in exile, though, she continued to be hated and feared by the leaders of the church and the Massachusetts colony. When Hutchinson suffered a miscarriage shortly after leaving Massachusetts, Puritan leaders celebrated it as the judgment of God on her heresies. When she and her children were killed by a group of Native Americans in 1643, one minister said that God had “freed us from our great and sore affliction.”
Today, though, Anne Hutchinson is not remembered as a dangerous heretic, but as a champion of women’s rights, of freedom of conscience, and of independent thinking. She remained steadfast in her faith, in spite of everything that it cost her.
As she said at her trial, “You have no power over my body, neither can you do me any harm — for I am in the hands of the eternal Jehovah, my Saviour. I am at his appointment. The bounds of my habitation are cast in heaven. No further do I esteem of any mortal man than creatures in his hand; I fear none but the great Jehovah… and I do verily believe that he will deliver me out of your hands.”
We would all do well to follow her example of fearless faith in God.
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