Saturday, January 14, 2012

They delight to be persecuted

© Christy K. Robinson

 "Blessed are they which are persecuted for
righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you,
and persecute you, and shall say
all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake."
~Jesus Christ, the Beatitudes
Feb. 10, 2012 Update to this post
William Dyer was Attorney General of Rhode Island in 1650-51, seven years before the letters of Rhode Island answered those of Massachusetts Bay and the United Colonies of New England, which you'll read in this article. The first law Dyer recorded as AG was one against banishment. You must remember what a sticky point banishment was, to the scores of Rhode Island pioneers who had been banished from MassBay in 1638. Here's the law enacted by the RI Assembly in May 1650, and officially recorded by William Dyer in October 1650.

"Banishment.
Ordered, that no person within this Colonie shall at any time be banished therefrom [by] any law or clawse thereof formerly made, notwithstanding."

It was even retroactive! There was no way Rhode Island was going to bow to MassBay's 1657 order to banish the Quakers. 

******And now to the original post.******

If the Quaker missionaries of the 1650s were so harshly and frequently persecuted in New England, Maryland, and Virginia, but had refuge in Rhode Island, why did they not stay safe and secure in Rhode Island? 

They weren’t particularly desired in Rhode Island, and Roger Williams and the Baptist leadership sometimes called their doctrines pernicious, dangerous, and damaging. Rhode Island, as codified in their charters, believed strongly in the separation of civil and ecclesiastical powers—or what we’d call separation of church and state. This had come from Rev. Roger Williams, Dr. John Clarke, and the large group of Massachusetts Bay pioneers who were banished from Boston in 1638, including Anne and William Hutchinson and William and Mary Dyer.

Massachusetts Bay colony had been founded on the dream that it would be a sanctuary and beacon of light in the darkness of corrupt European religion. It would be the pure New Jerusalem, they hoped, a fulfillment of Bible prophecy. The ministers and magistrates ruled the General Court, basing their laws on the Bible’s Old Testament. And they were the ones who received and interpreted revelation from the Bible, not cursed, weak-minded women like Anne Hutchinson and Mary Dyer.

Not quite 20 years had passed since the big Antinomian Controversy when the Friends, called Quakers in a derogatory way because of their shaking with passion or ecstasy when in communion with the Holy Spirit, entered New England with the intent of sharing their beliefs and gaining adherents. In 1655-1657, more and more English Quakers showed up in Massachusetts and Connecticut, where they were not the peace-loving, contemplative, silent types that we think of: they disrupted church services, preached concepts heretical to the puritans, refused to pay their taxes/tithes, and even, in a few cases, bared their breasts to show their innocence before God. (This may have been a contributing factor to stripping men and women to the waist for public whippings. It gave them scars which proved they were guilty criminals.)

1685Dutch map of New England (click to enlarge)
The United Colonies of New Haven, Connecticut, Plymouth, and Massachusetts Bay (but mostly the Bay leaders in Boston) wrote a letter in September 1657 to Rhode Island’s assembly, urging them to treat the Quakers in a way consistent with the other colonies, and to not grant refuge to the Quakers. (At this time, Mary Dyer had experienced her first imprisonment in Boston, and had been rescued and brought home to Newport by her husband, a well-known Rhode Island attorney general and admiral of the United Colonies.)

GENTLEMEN,—We suppose you have understood that the last year a company of Quakers arrived at Boston, upon no other account than to disperse their pernicious opinions, had they not been prevented by the prudent care of the government, who by that experience they had of them, being sensible of the danger that might befall the Christian religion here professed, by suffering such to be received or continued in the country, presented the same unto the Commissioners at their meeting at Plymouth; who, upon that occasion, commended it to the general courts of the United Colonies, that all Quakers, Ranters, and such notorious heretics, might be prohibited coming among us; and that if such should arise from among ourselves, speedy care might be taken to remove them; (and as we are informed) the several jurisdictions have made provision accordingly; but it is by experience found that means will fall short without further care by reason of your admission and receiving of such, from where they may have opportunity to creep in among us, or means to infuse and spread their accursed tenets to the great trouble of the colonies, if not to the professed in them; notwithstanding any care that has been previously taken to prevent the same; whereof we cannot but be very sensible and think no care too great to preserve us from such a pest, the contagion whereof (if received) within your colony, were dangerous to be diffused to the others by means of the intercourse, especially to the places of trade among us; which we desire may be with safety continued between us [threat to disrupt trade and passage through their lands]; we therefore make it our request, that you as the rest of the colonies, take such order herein that your neighbors may be freed from that danger. That you remove these Quakers that have been received, and for the future prohibit their coming among you; whereunto the rule of charity to yourselves and us (we conceive), doth oblige you; wherein if you should we hope you will not be wanting; yet we could not but signify this our desire; and further declare, that we apprehend that it will be our duty seriously to consider, what provision God may call us to make to prevent the aforesaid mischief [another threat]; and for our further guidance and direction herein, we desire you to impart your mind and resolution to the General Court of Massachusetts, which assembles the 14th of October next. We have not further to trouble you at present, but to assure you we desire to continue your loving friends and neighbors, the Commissioners of the United Colonies."

The Rhode Island General Assembly answered the letter shortly thereafter, claiming that separation of religious and civil powers was even more important to them than getting rid of those “pernicious” Quakers.

Sir, this is our earnest and present request unto you in this matter, as you may perceive in our answer to the United Colonies, that we fly, as to our refuge in all civil respects, to his highness and honorable council, as not being subject to any others in matters of our civil state; so may it please you to have an eye and ear open, in case our adversaries should seek to undermine us in our privileges granted unto us, and to plead our case in such sort as we may not be compelled to exercise any civil power over men's consciences, so long as human orders, in point of civility, are not corrupted and violated, which our neighbors about us do frequently practice, whereof many of us have large experience, and do judge it to be no less than a point of absolute cruelty. [In other words, "We know firsthand of your cruelty."]

And further, the Rhode Island Assembly poked Massachusetts Gov. John Endecott in the belly by saying that the Quakers had too much peace and prosperity in Rhode Island, and couldn’t get converts to their faith by speechifying—only by being persecuted, which is why those Quakers kept going back to puritan jurisdictions and inviting trouble! Rhode Island clearly implied that if the puritans would just leave the Quakers alone, there would be no trouble at all.  
Massachusetts Bay Colony would strip
Quaker men and women to the waist,
and tie them to a wagon, whipping them
ten lashes in three different towns
before expelling them.  If it was winter,
it made no difference to them.

Much honored gentlemen.
…And as concerning these Quakers (so called) which are now among us, we have no law among us whereby to punish any for only declaring by words, &c. their minds and understandings concerning the things and ways of God… And we find that in those places where these people … are most suffered to declare themselves freely, and are only opposed by arguments in discourse, there they least of all desire to come, and we are informed that they begin to loath this place, for that they are not opposed by the civil authority… they delight to be persecuted by civil powers, and when they are so, they are like to gain more adherents by the conceit of their patient sufferings, than by consent to their pernicious sayings.

Simply put, the persecution of Quakers was driving interest in their faith and their ability to patiently endure suffering. And the Quakers, including Mary Dyer, were determined to "try the bloody law" to turn public opinion their way, and end the torture, fines, imprisonment, and confiscation of their property. They believed that God had called them to this road, and they were willing to obey unto death if necessary.

Practically every puritan and Quaker knew their Bibles well enough to see a fulfillment of  Revelation 3:9-11. "Behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee. Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown."

Of course, it was never as simple as I’ve made out here. Religion was not a lifestyle choice, or even a temporal, bodily life and death matter in the 17th century. It was a matter of a soul’s eternal life versus perishing in the fires of hell.

Still, I admire the way the Rhode Islanders stood strong on the principle of liberty of conscience, and even if some of them disapproved of Quakers or Jews or Baptists, it was more important both to their personal honor and to their immortal souls, to uphold freedom for all, than to cave in to the threat of trade or travel restrictions, or bowing to the wishes of intolerant religionists. 

1 comment:

  1. I found this in a Google book, The Baptist library: a republication of standard Baptist works, Volume 1, regarding the Rhode Island attitude toward being compelled to persecute the Quakers who took refuge in Rhode Island.

    "Whilst Mr. [John] Clarke [principal architect of Rhode Island's charters] was in England, a new Baptist church was formed out of the first church in Newport, holding to the laying on of hands upon every member after baptism, about the year 1656, which was the third Baptist church in America, and is still continued by succession. And as other colonies were then trying to draw his colony into violent measures against the Quakers, the Legislature of Rhode Island colony wrote to Mr. Clarke and said, " We have found, not only your ability and diligence, but also your love and care to be such concerning the welfare and prosperity of this colony, since you have been entrusted with he more public affairs thereof, surpassing the no small benefit which we had of your presence here at home, that we in nil straits and incumbrances, are embolden to repair to you for further and continued care, counsel and help; finding that your solid and christian demeanor hath gotten no small interest in the hearts of our superiors, those noble and worthy senators, with whom you had to do in our behalf, as it hath constantly appeared in our addresses to them, we have by good and comfortable proof found, having had plentiful proof thereof." And so they went on to entreat him to use all his influence in their favor, that they might not be compelled to persecute the Quakers, and he succeeded therein. This was dated, November 5, 1658, the month after the law was made at Boston to banish them on pain of death."

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