The Myth of Puritan Intolerance

Anxious Bench | 4/25/2019 | Staff
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Puritan New England’s reputation for rigidity and intolerance goes back almost all the way to Plymouth Rock (that’s another myth for another time).

By 1624, several of the English financial backers of New Plymouth had received complaints from settlers who did not share the separatist principles of the colony’s leaders. The Pilgrims allegedly were “condemning all other churches, and persons but yourselves and those in your way, and you are contentious, cruel and hard hearted, among your neighbours and towards such as in all points both civil and religious, jump not with you.” Plymouth Colony’s leaders faced more complaints after they banished a minister who had criticized the colony’s government and church and began holding his own worship services.

New - England - Reputation - Intolerance - Establishment

New England’s reputation for intolerance further grew after the establishment of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It wasn’t just the occasional banishment and persecution of men and women such as Roger Williams, Anne Hutchinson, and Samuel Gorton. Rather, puritans in England — even those who became inclined toward Congregationalism (Independency) objected to the fundamental building blocks of the “New England Way.” Congregations excluded those who did not belong to covenanted churches from the Lord’s Supper and their children from baptism. In other words, even righteous men and women who arrived in New England could not partake of the sacraments until they qualified themselves to join one of the region’s churches. Although there was some variety across the region, New England’s Congregationalist churches established high standards for membership. Furthermore, in Massachusetts Bay at least, the franchise for colony-wide matters hinged on church membership.

By the mid-1640s, Independents in England wondered what was wrong with their Congregationalist counterparts across the Atlantic. Unlike the Presbyterians who controlled Parliament for most of the 1640s, English Independents — and Baptists and more radical sectarians even more so — generally favored...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Anxious Bench
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