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Winthrops Utopian Vision and the Threat of Anne Hutchinson Discussion

Winthrops Utopian Vision and the Threat of Anne Hutchinson Discussion



Start with a 1-2 sentence description of Winthrop’s Utopian vision as expressed in A Model of Christian Charity. Then, choose either the trial of Anne Hutchinson or the Merrymount incident, and describe how Winthrop and/or Bradford believed Hutchinson or Morton threatened that vision. Do you think the threat was real? How does the Puritan responses to these events reflect or betray Puritan values? 

Include at least one sentence that explains how the contextual reading/viewing helped you this week. Be specific. 


Please also respond substantively and thoughtful to two of your classmates:

1) Winthrop’s vision of Utopia is that of subservience and obedience. The Lord requires thoughtless obedience, and so proper Puritan citizens should act in blind, faithful obedience. Winthrop’s beliefs, and Puritan beliefs in general, are deeply rooted in Calvinism and the idea that people are successful because God has blessed them. If someone is in a position of power and comfort, they are there because they are favored by God, and people who are lesser than them should simply obey them in order to prove their own righteousness. A bit rich coming from a religious sect known for its dissent of monarchy and the established state churches. In short, a Utopian Puritan society has stark class division, and the status quo is happy to remain as it is with no complaint or unrest from the lesser class. The idea of charity and giving beyond one’s means is critical for this. In order for a righteous person to display that Puritan generosity Winthrop describes, there must be people who are impoverished and suffering: “In all times there must be some must be rich, some poor, some eminent and high in dignity; others mean and in subjugation.” (Gustafson A-173)

Naturally, any sort of dissent, especially from someone considered a subservient class, is a threat to the foundation of that society. Anne Hutchinson speaking out and calling the authority of the church into question was a threat to that imagined Utopia, and a very real one. While I don’t believe it was inherently bad or even necessarily radical that she expressed a differing opinion of her religious text, any form of questioning is inherently dangerous to people who are in power and intend to stay in power. It’s especially dangerous inside a religious sect that broke off in the first place because of challenging the authority of religious leaders. There was need to maintain an image of incontestable power and authority, and Anne Hutchinson’s banishment was an appropriate reaction for the severity of unrest she caused. A woman’s place was only to act as a subservient wife and be “yoked” to their husbands’ authorities while gladly viewing it as a liberation in itself (Gustafson A-192). Any action to the contrary bucked that hierarchy, and any upset to the hierarchy in place was an upset to the very core of Puritan society. 

2) Winthrop seems to propose the ideals of what a perfect Christian world would look like. He places a strong emphasis on forgiveness and the concept of “loving your enemies” as described in the book of Matthew. For example, Winthrop states “the law of nature could give no rules for dealing with enemies, for all are to be considered as friends in the state of innocency, but the Gospel commands love to an enemy.” (pg. 175) However, these moral principles described in the Bible were often not reflected in Christian cultures of the time, as lots of Christian sub-groups held extremely prejudiced and often violent grudges. In the trial of Anne Hutchinson, although it almost seems as if he intends to sound unbiased in his writing, Winthrop takes issue with Anne Hutchinson’s perceived usurpation of the Boston church. Not surprisingly, the primary issue with Hutchinson’s leading weekly lectures was that she was a woman. She also held a position that Winthrop strongly disagreed with. His underlying tone is evidenced in lines such as “for not preaching a covenant of free grace, and that they had not the seal of the spirit, nor were able ministers of the New Testament; which were clearly proved against her” (pg. 187.) Winthrop continued to hold notably judgmental views toward her and her hardships after she was banished. Despite his attempt to frame his point of view as fact, Winthrop consistently portrays Hutchinson as having been immoral and out of line throughout page 189 of the text. In statements such as “confessed that what she had spoken was rash and ungrounded” Winthrop makes it clear there is no room for argument that anything Hutchinson had done was right or moral. In my opinion, page 189 is truly the page where Winthrop’s literary mask finally slips. He displays strong opinions on the trial while leaving no room for any counterargument. This tactic is somewhat manipulative and is a perfect example of our inability to fully trust documents from one person, especially from centuries ago. Winthrop describes individuals whom Hutchinson taught as “poor souls who had been seduced by her” and plainly states her ways as errors and the church’s ways as “truth”. However, Hutchinson’s teachings were a threat to the law at the time. The morality of the law is a separate issue, but the reality is that Hutchinson did pose a threat to many positions in the church. Unfortunately, as Puritans tend to argue that man can only forgive through visibly changed character, many of these descriptions of Hutchinson’s actions were consistent with Puritan values.

The introduction to John Winthrop from pages 171-173 gives a solid background on his position in the church and therefore gives us insight as to why Winthrop felt as strongly as he did about the Anne Hutchinson trial. 

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