By Heather Frey Blanton
Copyright 2013 Heather Blanton
America was built on the idea of religious freedom. The Puritans, the Quakers, and others came here with the desire to worship God as they saw fit. But what happened when one feisty, strong-willed woman challenged the beliefs of her own denomination?
Admittedly, the story of one Ann Marbury Hutchinson doesn’t have a happy ending. She wasn’t vindicated in her lifetime for her faith, courage and stubbornness. She was smeared and her violent death was celebrated by men in the pulpit. She may have been bent, but she wasn’t broken.
Ann Hutchinson arrived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1634 with her husband and eleven children. One of the reasons for their move from England was they wanted to follow the controversial minister John Cotton. Cotton was known for preaching that we are saved by grace, rather than our good deeds. Ann, an ardent Christian, knew this to be the truth when she heard it and the truth did set her free, especially her mouth.
A mid-wife, Ann had plenty of contact with women in the colony. She started Bible studies for them in her home. With a lively personality and keen mind, she spent hours dissecting and discussing Cotton’s sermons and this idea that we are saved by grace alone. When her meetings grew to as many as 60 people, including men, the church leaders had had enough. They vowed to take her down. (Why does this story sound so familiar?)
I’m no Bible scholar and don’t know much about the deep details of theology, but I do believe salvation is a simple gift. So did Ann and she was passionate about trying to get the word out. She was even brought up on charges by the church for her blasphemy and, by all historical accounts, held her own quite skillfully. After all, a woman who could survive 15 pregnancies, raise 11 of the children, run a home, deliver other women’s babies, find time to pray, and learn the Bible backwards and forwards was a force to be reckoned with. According to court records, a group of men in wigs did not scare her.
Still, a woman with a mind of her own, an abiding affection for her Lord Jesus Christ and an equal hatred of legalism was bound to run afoul of the men in power. Ann was ruled a heretic and an “instrument of the devil”, separated from her children, banished from the colony, and excommunicated from her church. For a time she and her family lived in Rhode Island, but on the passing of her husband, she decided to move to what is now Bronx, New York. A fateful decision. Sometime in August of 1643, Indians raided her farm, killing Ann, six of her children, a son-in-law, and her servants. One surviving child, a daughter, was taken during the attack and ransomed back some years later.
Like I said, not a happy ending. At least on our side of Heaven. As a Christian living in a world where most liberals would do to us what was done to Ann, I believe there is a lesson to be learned from this tough lady. We may never know the number of lives we impact for Christ. We don’t have to know. Just be strong and do the work.