Moral Courage . . . & the Lack Thereof

At first, I was grateful that more states were taking a stand for religious liberty. No one expected the firestorm that has resulted. It has become a “gay-rights” agenda item. Whoever would have thought that our First Amendment guarantee of “free exercise of religion” would attempt to be undermined in this manner? Aided and abetted, of course, by a media sympathetic to the homosexual New Totalitarians. Suddenly, this is more important to the media than real threats:

Threat

Disappointing as this may be, I expect it from the activists and their media allies. What is more disappointing is the lack of moral courage being exhibited by Republican governors on this issue. Mike Pence, in Indiana, and Asa Hutchinson, in Arkansas, both have histories of moral courage.

Asa HutchinsonI’ve never met Governor Pence, but I have met Governor Hutchinson, back in 2000, when he was a congressman. He was one of the House Managers who argued for Bill Clinton’s removal from office during the impeachment trial. I interviewed him for my book Mission: Impeachable. I know he is a committed Christian, and I honor him for his stand for Christ. I just wish he would now extend the kind of courage he displayed back in the Clinton impeachment trial to the current controversy.

This has become a witch hunt. Have you been following the account of a small pizza shop in Walkerton, Indiana? Most people don’t know where Walkerton is, but I do. It’s just a few miles from my hometown. I have relatives—a grandmother and an uncle—who are buried in the Walkerton cemetery. It’s a very small town, just above 2000 people, but is now embroiled in this controversy without ever intending to be.

A reporter, seeking out some business somewhere that might “discriminate” against homosexuals, entered Memories Pizza in Walkerton and asked the owner if she would serve homosexuals. She is a dedicated Christian—there are even Scripture verses on the walls of the business—and she said she would serve pizza to anyone. Her only reason not to do so would be—hypothetically, of course, since this has never happened—if a homosexual couple wanted her to cater pizzas for their wedding.

Memories PizzaWhat happened? News stories popped up everywhere about this “hateful, bigoted” business. One headline blurted outright that the business would not serve homosexuals, which was a complete distortion of what the owner said. Notice the misleading statement in the photo on the left: “Restaurant Denies Some Service to Same-Sex Couples.”

Death threats followed on Twitter immediately. One person even asked who would go with her to burn down the shop. The latest is that the pizza business may have to close down.

The only redeeming feature of the story thus far is that more than $50,000 has been raised to help the owner who has been unwittingly caught in this homosexual agenda/media hype trap.

Moral courage. She is showing it, and I honor her. When will the politicians do the same? The latest rumor is that there is a movement afoot within Republican circles to remove opposition to same-sex marriage from the party’s platform. My ties to the party are becoming more tenuous over time because of this tendency to go with the cultural flow and the loss of principle.

Moral courage. May those of us who say we stand on our Christian faith be the examples that others may follow, despite the threats and intimidation. God wants to work through us, but we have to give Him something to work with, don’t we?

Puritan Controversy #2: Anne Hutchinson

Last week, I looked at the Roger Williams episode in early Puritan history and came to the conclusion that the Puritan establishment had good reasons to worry about his influence, given their desire not to have their charter taken away.

Today, let’s move on to the second major controversy to arise in Massachusetts in the 1630s. It had to do with a movement that historians call “antinomianism.” That’s just a fancy name for people who believe there is no law. It refers to both theology and the civil government.

Anne HutchinsonThis controversy didn’t begin with Anne Hutchinson—there were many others involved and questioned also—but her case seems to have come to the forefront, especially in our day when feminists are looking for a cause everywhere. They try to say that Hutchinson was bucking the “good-old-boy” system of Massachusetts. The historical record, though, doesn’t support that claim.

Here are the essentials of what happened:

  • First, Anne Hutchinson and her husband were part of a band of followers of the minister John Cotton, and when he removed to the New World, so did they.
  • She began to claim that Cotton was the only preacher preaching the true Gospel, and that all others were preaching a gospel of works. Cotton, as a result, had to defend himself against being associated with her.
  • What did she mean by a gospel of works? She said the ministers were wrong in telling people to prepare themselves for conversion through self-examination and a heart of repentance. What’s wrong with that? Well, even though the official theology of the Puritans was Calvinist, and predicated on predestination (it’s up to God who has been called and not the choice of man), they still believed one should prepare oneself in case God decided to choose you. Hutchinson said that was trying to work one’s way to heaven. In one sense, she was more consistent logically with Calvinism than the Calvinist ministers.
  • That charge, however, got her into trouble because she was essentially saying all the ministers were leading people astray, and that since God was the ultimate decider of one’s salvation, one couldn’t look at a person’s life and determine if that person was saved or not. If a person’s outward life looked pious, that was no indication of salvation; a person who looked less pious might be the one God has chosen. That was one basis for the charge that she taught there was no “law,” i.e., any regard for outward actions.
  • Then, they claimed she also made that application to society as a whole, teaching that true believers (the chosen) are taught directly by the Spirit of God and no civil or ecclesiastical authority could tell them what to do.
  • Added to all this was the fact that she was holding meetings in her home to spread these ideas, and those meetings were being well attended, even by men. Puritans didn’t believe a woman should be teaching doctrine to men. This is the thin thread feminists use to say she was persecuted for being the first feminist. Yet that was only the proverbial tip of the iceberg for her accusers. The accusations were more foundational than that.

Hutchinson was put on trial and questioned on her views because they threatened to undermine the very basis of ecclesiastical authority and the need for civil government. By all accounts, she acquitted herself well since she had a sharp mind and ability to communicate effectively. Up until the end of this trial, she fended off their questions and seemed to have defended herself ably, never stepping over the line publicly about her beliefs.

Anne Hutchinson's Trial

Just when it seemed she would get off without a guilty verdict, she blew it. Apparently too flush with her “victory,” she began to regale the accusers with a special revelation she received from God in which He told her that they would fall under His judgment for their actions against her.

That was the step too far. Puritans were wary of anyone saying he or she had received any kind of special revelation, and when that revelation included a condemnation of the judges themselves, they reacted by pronouncing her guilty. The sentence was banishment, the same sentence pronounced on Roger Williams.

Hutchinson and her family moved first to Rhode Island, then down to New York, where a few years later, they were killed in an Indian attack. Her death, the Puritan magistrates concluded, was confirmation of their verdict. God had judged her.

Anne Hutchinson StatueSo was Anne Hutchinson a heroine, standing up for women’s rights? There’s really no evidence of that. Was she a martyr, persecuted by evil men? That depends on whether you agree with her beliefs. If she was off the charts theologically [which is where I place her], then she was prosecuted for causing disturbances in the community and attempting to destroy the entire concept of authority in society.

The judges, though, have their share of pride in this. They didn’t like being told the theology their ministers were preaching was wrong. From my perspective and my understanding of Scripture, both sides held incorrect views.

Bottom line: this was a lose-lose situation. Neither side comes out looking all that good. Yet this was nothing compared to what happened when Quakers started showing up in Massachusetts in the 1650s. That’s where we’ll go next.