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Anne Hutchinson's Challenge to Puritan Theology

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Considered one of the first women to disagree extensively with the puritan doctrine and to criticize the American socio-political structure, Anne Hutchinson (1591-1643) was a significant feminine advocate for the rights women and other minority groups in the seventeenth-century socio-political and religious domains. An American dissenter and a proponent of the rights of individual conscience against the state, she revolted against the then society’s insistence on the submission of women to the men in positions of power. Living during the period of American Puritan principles, she regularly invited women to freely explore the scriptures thereby regularly disagreeing with the clergy on such principles as the doctrine of salvation that the clergy had outline as dependent upon the observation of covenant of work. It is hypothesized that although both the proceedings of Hutchinson’s 1638 trial and those of her teachings evidences her puritan roots, they also substantiate serious deviation from the school of thought’s teachings indicative of her advocacy for free religious thinking.

Contrary to the then puritan beliefs, Hutchinson argued that one could feel his/her own salvation and that everyone was filled with the spirit of God afterconversion and belief in salvation. The question of human’s ability to know with certainty whether they were saved and going to heaven was controversial with Puritans asserting that all humanity was condemned due to the original sin committed by Adam and Eve. The controversy among the puritans was whether one could attain and maintain salvation through legal obedience or justification or whether this was only possible through holiness or sanctfication. Knowing one’s true salvation position was dependent upon the Puritan’s dual principles of ‘the elect’ and the ‘saved.’ Hutchinson also believed that contrary to the Puritan teachings, it was not mandatory for one to learn the Bible or the teachings of other Puritan writers in order to be saved but one could attain salvation through the attainment of the Holy Spirit.

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In opposition to the puritan doctrine that Native Americans the Indians were inferior before God, Hutchinson argued that Indian slavery was wrong and that all people, irrespective of their skin color were of one blood. The puritan belief that other humans were made low in society by God was a position that led to the subjection of the Indians to their third class state, a development that was advantageous to both the ruling and the middle classes. Since the then American society was run by the puritan discipline in which every institution in society inclusive of the courts and the government had to maintain moral and spiritual holiness. Hutchinson’s outburst during the trial, affirming that ‘…you (the court) have no power over my body, neither can you do me any harme…’ clearly undermined the Puritan’s view that the church legal proceedings were an important process of disciplining, restoring and rehabilitating sinners.

The puritans’ theology was firmly founded on the principle of predestination, a stand that Hutchinson challenge noting that predestination was unfounded given the true interpretation of the biblical principles. Puritans believed that in the manifestation of his Justice, God had predestined that all humanity go to hell. However, by his mercy, he had also predestined that aa small group of the elect would go to heaven hence the conviction that one’s position in the afterlife had been predetermined hence not every individual could attain true salvation. They also noted that the almighty God in his providence had predisposed the condition of mankind on earth that some must be rich and some poor, that some must live in power and dignity while others, destitute and in subjection. Hutchinson however noted that predestination was unfounded, and that all individuals irrespective of their status in society could go to heaven through the acceptance of salvation.  

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The Puritan teachings of the time affirmed on the need for the Christian community to live in love and harmony. Yet Hutchinson challenged the Puritan leadership affirming than the Massachusetts’ society was lacking in harmony, unity and orthodoxy. Criticizing nearly all ministers who were mostly male and puritanical, she established herself as a female leader gaining platform to question and to refute a number of Puritan theological errors. Conclusively, it is indisputable that Anne Hutchinson played a critical place in the religious social history as an icon of the first feminist movement and a critical positive challenger of the puritan movement. Being brought to trial in the general court for sedition proves to her status as a strong woman who stood to challenge the puritans beliefs to which she had been brought up. Hutchinson remains one of the important figures involved in the broader trans-Atlantic theological and political dispute of the 17th century, a challenger of the patriarchal society that praised the male power structure and a champion for the free interpretation of Biblical teachings.  


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