Since childhood I have been attracted to the spiritual dimension of life, yet I seemed to have no choice but to question the dogmas and narrowness of so many aspects of organized religion. In particular, I have never been able to limit the scope of Deity to just one set of religious teachings, to one little slice of “truth,” and more especially to just one religion. Now in my retirement, I have been using some of my time to research my family genealogy. Doing this seriously, insisting at every stage on having more than one primary document to verify information and not relying on stories or reports that cannot be verified has been a demanding and tedious process. But it has been rewarding.
I have discovered, for instance, that I am descended from a long line of folk who took their faith very seriously, but who also resisted being forced into an orthodoxy that conflicted with their own understanding of spiritual truth.
For example, many of my colonial ancestors were Quakers who were among the first English settlers in Jamestown Colony. They left England due to religious persecution and became successful farmers in Virginia. However, from the beginning of the slave trade they not only resisted owning slaves, they actively opposed the practice, causing them great difficulty in their communities.
Some of my ancestors came to the New World from Germany, having migrated there from Switzerland where they were active leaders in the early Protestant movement. They took their faith seriously and over several generations were forced to leave all they had behind to flee persecution. Perhaps there is some genetic memory that has come down to me that has caused me since my teen years to strongly oppose any religious teaching that oppresses or condemns those who hold differing views.
One of my best known ancestors, my 11th Great Grandmother, was Anne Marbury Hutchinson. Anne was born in Alford, Lincolnshire, England in 1591. She was baptized at the parish church in Alford on July 20, 1591. Her parents were Francis Marbury and Bridget Dryden. She was 21 when she married William Hutchinson at St. Mary Woolnoth in London on August 9, 1612. Anne was first a mother, giving birth to 15 children altogether, all but two of whom lived to adulthood. She was also an intelligent and strong willed woman, attracted to the study of the Bible and of theology. She and her husband were so enthralled with the Puritan preacher, John Cotton, they quickly followed him to the New World after he fled England due to persecution by the Anglican Church. She arrived in Boston aboard the Griffin in 1634 at the age of 43. While her husband’s business flourished and his civic roles increased, she began to teach Bible classes in her home, a situation quite unusual for a woman in those days. Soon, the classes were filled with both men and women, some coming from distant towns and cities. Because her views were generous to other people of faith (non-Puritans in other words), the Puritan leaders of the colony took offense. Governor John Winthrop, in 1636, began to warn that her views were dangerous to the state, and she must stop her teachings. Anne continued to teach and the crowds attending her classes only grew. Finally, in 1637 a trial was held and she was convicted of heresy. The court banished her from the Colony. She was given three weeks to leave. Because of this, Anne and William, along with a few others, used their wealth and experience to purchase land from the Indians and in 1638 they established a purely secular colony which eventually became Rhode Island.
I am proud to be descended from heretics like Anne. I pray that I may continue in old age to question, doubt, and resist any effort by religious authorities to limit Deity and to condemn those whose spiritual experience is different from theirs.