Monday, October 9, 2017

The intemperate Temperance Sweete and government discipline

© 2017 Christy K Robinson 

For those of us raised practicing temperance (no alcohol use), this is ironic. 

This slice of life is from the First Church of Boston,
the Puritan congregation from which Anne Hutchinson and Mary Dyer
were cast out in 1638. The event happened two years later,
perhaps around the first of March, then her admonishment
was given on the 8th day of March (the first month on their calendar),
1640, and her restoration took place on the fifth of April.

Screen shot:

Temperance Sweete (one of those Puritan virtue names), a member of the church, was admonished for intemperance. Temperance was the wife of John Sweete, a ship's carpenter.

Her husband must have been at sea when she decided to have a party at home (not the licensed tavern, where women weren't allowed). She served wine and "strong waters" (whisky) and it looks like there was a standard pour amount and price that she exceeded. Venti instead of grande, perhaps. Not to mention, her raucous customers were drunk. Puritans drank all the time, but drunkenness was sinful.  Their Geneva Bible said:  And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess: but be fulfilled with the Spirit. Ephesians 5:18

It sounds as if they were drunk on wine and spirits. (Be sure to lift your eyebrows here, as a proper Church Lady would.)

Temperance's admonishment (probably quite the shaming sermon in front of the congregation at beginning and end of her time) lasted a month. We can almost be sure that the sermon would have made pokes at her name. 

Church members submitted to the "laws of Christ" and to oversight of their fellow members. The church as a body desired to be purified from the world and sanctified holy to the Lord.
The point of coming under church discipline was not to cast out the wicked, but to remove them from fellowship and possible contamination of other members for a time. They were to examine their behavior, and they could be visited by their ministers and elders. (This is how Anne Hutchinson was treated while under house arrest in the winter of 1637-38, before her excommunication trial.) Then, if they were properly penitent, they could be brought back into full membership privileges, allowed to take Communion, and if they were men, to vote. If they lost their membership, they were still required to attend services and pay tithes to the church and fines to the government, and they couldn't vote.

Rev. John Wilson,
minister of Boston
First Church of Christ.
Being a member of the church was a serious matter. It showed that you might be one of the Elect, the people predestined to salvation who showed their salvation by doing good works. After a short life on earth, they were concerned about the soul's eternity in heaven and not in hell. 

Even the ministers were not immune to censure or admonishment. Rev. John Wilson, senior pastor of Boston First Church, had been in England for three-quarters of a year and had recently returned to Boston. Perhaps feeling like he hadn't been missed and Cotton had taken over, he stirred up negativity against the very popular Rev. John Cotton, the teacher of the same church. When Cotton and his faction got their hackles up and demanded censure of Wilson, Cotton graciously turned the situation to one of church unity. 
Men dunk a suspected witch in a mill pond.
If she was not a witch,
she'd drown and go to heaven. If she was a witch,
she'd float, rejected by the cleansing water,
and then she'd be hanged and go to hell. Note the
black demons in the water and on shore.

There were people who were not allowed into membership, and some of them committed suicide because of their despair. One man had terrible dreams and leaped out of his bed and into the snow and took off running and praying (they could see in the snow where he'd knelt). He perished before he could be found. A woman who felt herself lost to hell threw her toddler into a body of water, and when the child climbed out, she threw it back. (In her mind, was she dunking the child like witch finders dunked suspected witches, to see if the water would reject them?) The child was rescued and the mother was hanged. Governor Winthrop connected their acts to not being admitted to church membership.

In a theocratic society, where church and state were one authority, this is the anguish that not only consumes the minds of those who are marginalized, but it creates surveillance and oppression among the people. Everyone judges the others, and watchful eyes report to superiors. People could actually drop in on a home and require the children to recite their catechism from memory.

In our mostly secular society, we might think that people could withdraw from that fundamentalist and judgmental body, and either go to another church or denomination, or stop religious fellowship altogether. But on the personal level, some believe that they must continue with that church or face hellfire. Some are tied there by family, or other expectations like their employment. It's not as easy to pull up stakes and drive two miles to another church as you might think. 

In the seventeenth century, it was impossible to change churches. There were no strangers. And though they didn't have networked computers, they all knew each other, for generations, from their former cities and villages in England, and the continued associations in New England. They didn't just move out to the wilderness and start a farm. They were required to live in towns and attend church, and pay tithes and taxes to the church. Probably the best way to "disappear" if you'd been accused or falsely condemned would be to go back to England, but that was very expensive.

Theocracy tolerates no dissent from its established orthodoxy. We can see the theocratic politicians and religious leaders coming out of the woodwork, denying civil rights to LGBT or women, demanding that their rights are more important than the rights of those who don't believe the same way (or believe in God at all), rejecting vetted refugees or assaulting Muslim women wearing the scarf, because they fear Islamic culture or that sharia law will be imposed in America. Please don't allow yourself to be distracted by "morality" issues like abortion, LGBT rights, or women's rights, in this article. I'm attempting to go beyond specific points to the broader issue of who should be in charge of morality policing. 

Even the issue of abortion is related to theocracy--religious groups working with legislators  to legislate their morality on a pluralistic society and its individual situations, whether it's life or death for a woman and her fetus, or for a same-sex couple to foster or adopt children. It means that one group wants to force every other group, as sincere as their beliefs might be, to follow one narrow path.

And that is the genius in the language of the charter of Rhode Island, the first such document in the world. It was devised and written by Rev. Roger Williams, Dr. John Clarke, the colonial agent (representative) in England,  and (because of the wording and the list of Rhode Island founders), probably their first secretary of state and attorney general, William Dyer. When they'd drafted the legal points and the principles they wanted included, they sent the text to John Clarke, who presented it to someone in the royal government, perhaps the secretary of state. When it was written so as to appear to be in the king's voice, it was reviewed by King Charles II and he affixed his seal.

This is part of the religious liberty section in the charter, which acted as a constitution or covenant.
"it is much on their hearts (if they may be permitted), to hold forth a livlie experiment, that a most flourishing civill state may stand and best bee maintained, and that among our English subjects. with a full libertie in religious concernements; and that true pietye rightly grounded upon gospell principles, will give the best and greatest security to sovereignetye, and will lay in the hearts of men the strongest obligations to true loyaltye: Now know bee, that wee beinge willinge to encourage the hopefull undertakeinge of oure sayd loyall and loveinge subjects, and to secure them in the free exercise and enjovment of all theire civill and religious rights, appertaining to them, as our loveing subjects; and to preserve unto them that libertye, in the true Christian ffaith and worshipp of God, which they have sought with soe much travaill, and with peaceable myndes, and lovall subjectione to our royall progenitors and ourselves, to enjoye; ...noe person within the sayd colonye, at any tyme hereafter, shall bee any wise molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question, for any differences in opinione in matters of religion, and doe not actually disturb the civill peace of our sayd colony; but that all and everye person and persons may, from tyme to tyme, and at all tymes hereafter, freelye and fullye have and enjoye his and theire owne judgments and consciences, in matters of religious concernments, throughout the tract of lance hereafter mentioned; they behaving themselves peaceablie and quietlie, and not useing this libertie to lycentiousnesse and profanenesse, nor to the civill injurye or outward disturbeance of others;"
It's this "lively experiment," this "civil state," that was so clear in the minds of the founders of the United States 130 years later. Many letters and documents show that America as an independent nation was not created to be a Christian nation, but a nation where people of any or all religions or no religion would live together, united under the Constitution and Bill of Rights that was carefully neutral and inclusive of all.
President George Washington wrote in 1790 to the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island:
"The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy—a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.
It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support."

President James Madison wrote a letter in 1822 that said that religion that is free from government interference flourishes. "If a further confirmation of the truth could be wanted, it is to be found in the examples furnished by the States, which have abolished their religious establishments. I cannot speak particularly of any of the cases excepting that of Virginia, where it is impossible to deny that Religion prevails with more zeal, and a more exemplary priesthood than it ever did when established and patronised by Public authority. We are teaching the world the great truth that Govts. do better without Kings & Nobles than with them. The merit will be doubled by the other lesson that Religion flourishes in greater purity, without [rather] than with the aid of Govt.”

Poor Mrs. Temperance Sweete surely never considered such weighty matters as religious liberty. She was lucky to keep her membership in Boston First Church of Christ, her hope of salvation. But these very issues, "liberty of conscience" and toleration of other belief systems, were what drove Anne Hutchinson, Mary Dyer, Roger Williams, and many others to flee for their lives from theocratic oppression, found the first secular government in America, and send their wisdom down to the founders of the United States. 

 When we accept prejudice, racial and social bigotry, and discriminating against or excluding people whose beliefs and practices we disapprove of, we've not only gone back to the 1950s or 1930s, but back to the 1600s, when people were imprisoned, whipped to a pulp, tortured, and killed for their beliefs. 

Do we really have to go to that extreme, or can we learn to accept our differences and respect other human beings' rights because it's the right thing to do to be loving, happy, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled? As the Bible says, "against such is no law."  

If you wish to comment on this article, please do so in the comment section below, remembering to be respectful. Do not attack my politics and morals which you have no knowledge of. To save you time, I am conservative and faith-based in my personal behavior, liberal (that means open and generous) in how I treat others and their rights, and in politics I'm independent of party affiliation. In the article, I have given links to primary sources. Kindly do the same for your rebuttals. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Do not state your political or religious views in Facebook groups, because your comments will likely be deleted by the group administrators.

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Mary Dyer Illuminated (Vol. 1)
Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This (Vol. 2)
The DYERS of London, Boston & Newport (Vol. 3)

All are available in paperback and Kindle at

Christy K Robinson has written a trilogy (two historical novels based in fact, and a nonfiction book) on Mary and William Dyer. Traditionally, Mary Dyer, who is known for giving her life in the cause of religious liberty, gets all the attention because Quaker historians used her story for political and evangelization purposes. Because he never became a Quaker, William Dyer’s history has been much more difficult to tease out of archives and records in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and the British Library. But this English farmer's son was a foundation stone of American democracy and civil rights.

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