Dissent at the heart of unity

Daily Reading for February 5 • Roger Williams, 1683, and Anne Hutchinson, 1643, Prophetic Witnesses

When the Puritans had lived in England, it was clear who they were: they were not the established Church of England. They held up the Bible as the pure word of God and preached faith as the central requirement in the human relationship with God. They saw no need for bishops and Prayer Books. In old England, John Winthrop and Anne Hutchinson would have been united in their dissent, but in New England, where the old authorities were an ocean away, the unity among themselves that they had taken for granted was no longer so evident. The habit of questioning authority had not been left behind, and the chosen leaders of the people struggled to stifle the voices that questioned them and to create a community at peace with itself. . . .

At the end of the trial, Hutchinson and a small group of followers were exiled to Rhode Island, moved to Connecticut, and then to East Chester, New York, where she was killed in an Indian raid in September 1643. Seldom has the essential contradiction at the heart of American life been expressed so clearly as it was in her trial. Individuals must be free to choose, to follow the light they are given; but then what becomes of community? What is to bring together those who have come to these shores for so many reasons and in pursuit of such diverse visions and goals? The question is still to be answered, but sooner or later Americans have usually honored those like Anne Hutchinson, who “troubled the peace of the commonwealth and the churches,” believing that in some paradoxical way it is that very dissent that lies at the heart of our unity.

From the entry for “Anne Hutchinson,” quoted in A Year With American Saints by G. Scott Cady and Christopher L. Webber. Copyright © 2006. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

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