BLM protests are patriotic

We’ve noticed this week that one of our posts–The Boston Tea Party and a tradition of violence–which we posted back on November 21, 2011, has been getting a lot of traffic. We wonder if this is connected with people searching for historical justifications or damnations of public protest currently taking place in America. Let us say unequivocally that nonviolent protest in the name of liberty and justice for all is one of the greatest acts of patriotism that any person, anywhere, including the United States of America, can make. Black Lives Matter protestors are patriotic Americans desperately trying to save this country from those un-American citizens who would turn it into a race-based dictatorship.

We at the HP are taking part in Black Lives Matter protests nightly in our towns. It’s the very least we can do to fight against those who want an end to America as a land of liberty and justice for all.

The U.S. is founded on the Third Article of the Bill of Rights added to our Constitution, which says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Peaceful protests (“assemblies”) which demand change from our government (“petition the government for a redress of grievances”) are not just some kind of inheritance from the past. The right to peaceful protest against injustice is fundamental to our form of government, and our rights as citizens.

Gradually since the 1980s, and the presidency of Ronald Reagan, we’ve built a harmful paradox in America: the government is at once “the problem,” and needs to be utterly dismantled so people can be free of taxes and laws they don’t like; but at the same time, people who protest publicly against the government are ridiculed or threatened as dangerous outliers.

To be frank, it’s a specific kind of protestor who is threatened as un-American: the non-white, non-male, non-Christian, and/or non-straight protestor. As racist, sexist, and homophobic people attempt to make white straight Christian male the definition of “American”, the only American who has the right to protest because he’s protesting all those other “non” people, we find that neo-Nazi marchers are basically unopposed by police while everyone else (the “nons”) are met with military-level shows of force.

These anti-“non” protestors usually claim that they are the majority and therefore have the right of tyranny over everyone else. This claim grows in ferocity as white men steadily slip into the minority of the U.S. population, and is transformed into a call for oligarchy–government by the minority, oppressing the majority.

Just two months after the birth of this blog, in May 2008, we posted the first version of our tyranny of the majority post, in which we pointed out that our three-part government is set up specifically to prevent tyranny of the majority by empowering the judiciary to protect and uphold the rights of minority citizens. We’ve reposted this almost a dozen times since then, as gay marriage was legalized in individual states, and as Americans were heard wondering why the courts “pass laws” they don’t like. America is not an oligarchy. It’s a democracy. That’s the torch you must accept as it is passed to you if you want to claim that you are patriotic.

So when we see people searching out our post on the riots that characterized pre-Revolution Boston, we feel uneasy because we fear that our condemnation of those riots will be used to condemn Black Lives Matter protests. It should not be. Here’s why.

As we put it in our post,

When you read about the events leading up to the Tea Party, you quickly become a little uncomfortable with the readiness of Bostonians to physically attack people and destroy their property as the first means to their ends.

…This willingness to use violence got mixed reviews from patriot leaders. Some felt it was justifiable because it was in protest of an unfair government. Others felt it gave the patriot cause a bad name, and attracted lowlifes who weren’t fighting for democracy. All of them knew it had to be carefully managed to keep it under control: at any moment a mob nominally in the service of colonial leaders could become a force that knew no loyalty and could not be controlled by anyone.

It is certainly unsettling for modern-day Americans to read about the tactics our ancestors were ready to use when they believed themselves to be crossed. Mob violence is not something we condone today, and so much of the violence in colonial Boston seems to have been based not in righteous anger but in personal habit and popular tradition that it’s hard to see it as truly patriotic.

Patriot leaders like Samuel Adams knew they would have to keep violence out of their official platform,  disassociating the decisions of the General Court from the purveyors of mob violence. The Tea Party would be a triumph of this difficult position.

The problem with pre-Tea Party Boston was that it relied on mob violence–people tearing down the houses of men who they felt were unjust, throwing bricks at them, pouring hot tar over their naked bodies and covering them with feathers, then forcing them to run through the streets or be beaten. That is mob violence. Those are acts of revenge. They do not further the cause of justice. They can never be actions taken in the name of justice.

Public protest is different from mob violence. Public protest can be violent or non-violent. Violent public protest is just one half-step above mob violence, because it cannot be controlled in a way that promotes justice. It is about revenge, not change.

Non-violent public protest is, by its very nature, controlled to force change rather than take revenge. Building are not burned, people are not beaten. It is the ultimate in democracy, and a legacy given to Americans by their Founders.

Unfortunately, there are always low-lifes who attach themselves to a non-violent protest, wait until it is peacefully ending, then start looting and throwing smoke bombs and forcing violence. Some do this to further their own ends of looting and/or expressing their contempt for human suffering and individual liberty. Some do it to make the protestors–the “nons”–look bad. People who have contempt for, and fear of, liberty and justice for all infiltrate the crowd to destroy the movement.

Those who protest against racism, sexism, homophobia, and religious bigotry are patriotic Americans, and the true inheritors of the American Revolution.

Truth v. Myth: What did Anne Hutchinson believe?

As a Puritan scholar, I am constantly amazed at the hero-worship surrounding Anne Hutchinson. Let’s set the record straight with a little truth v. myth. Here’s part 1.

Hutchinson was a Puritan who arrived in Boston in 1634. Like the other Puritans who were in Boston, Hutchinson had left England because she believed the country was about to be punished by God for failing to live up to its commission. The Puritans believed that every valid nation had a covenant with God in which it promised to obey God’s commandments and God’s word. This was called a commission. Most Puritans of the Great Migration left England because they feared that the country’s failure to purify the Anglican church (England’s established Protestant church) was a breach of its holy commission.

In this respect, Hutchinson was like her fellow Puritans in New England. But she held beliefs that made her a distinct minority, and even a heretic.

The Puritans believed that everyone should be on a journey to discover if they had been given God’s grace, and therefore were saved, and destined for Heaven. This was not a passive thing. No one knew if they were destined to receive God’s grace, and thus what the Puritans called “elect.” You had to find out your status by a well-laid out series of steps. Picture a ladder with several rungs.

First you heard sermons by a respectable Puritan minister. Then you went to study groups to discuss the sermon and get more out of it. Then you read the Bible, and looked for God’s word to you in it. You prayed, and were in constant communication and discussion with other Puritan seekers.

At the same time, you had to do good works. You had to be a fair and honest businessperson, a fair and kind family member, and a friend to the poor and downtrodden. Your dedication to God had to be evident in every part of your life.

Just when you felt you were succeeding in all this, and a little confident, you would most likely suddenly realize you were trying to earn salvation, God’s grace, through these efforts, and you would feel completely let down and depressed. Then you would start the whole process again, chastised, realizing that your good works and other efforts were done merely to make you more able to recognize God’s grace if and when it was given to you, not to earn that grace.

This exhaustive process was very active. You couldn’t be a passive Puritan, sitting back waiting to feel saved. While your exertions wouldn’t earn you salvation, they were the only way to make yourself ready for the gift of grace if it was to be given to you.

What Hutchinson believed was that this whole precious process, so communal and intellectual, was bogus. She believed it only encouraged people to believe that their efforts and their good works did indeed earn their salvation. This was what the Catholic church had taught for centuries, that good works earned you a place in Heaven, and the more works, the higher the place. This was called the covenant of works, and it was the direct opposite of the covenant of grace.

Hutchinson dismissed and rejected the whole Puritan ladder of opening oneself to grace as a covenant of works. She believed that God would suddenly appear to you and let you know if you were saved. God would approach you directly. This was high heresy to the Puritans because it was so passive. You just sat back, doing nothing, and God suddenly gave you private information about your soul. This belief in direct revelation struck at the social foundation of Puritanism, which required you to make the world a better place because of your faith by doing good works. You did the good works not to earn salvation, but to help others see the goodness of God, to help purify the world. It struck at the religious foundation of Puritanism by making sermons, ministers, study groups, and prayer obsolete. None of these things were necessary if God was simply going to tell you if you were saved.

Even more dangerously, Hutchinson believed that if you were saved, Christ dwelled within you—literally. You became Christ. This was her interpretation of the scripture “Jesus Christ is come in the flesh”. Therefore, those who were truly saved could not do wrong: if they lied, or stole, or even killed someone, it could not be counted as sin because all these were acts of Christ himself. Hutchinson, therefore, wanted to overthrow the law itself. Christ is not subject to human law, so no one who is truly saved can be subject to the law. This extended to areas like contracts, which Hutchinson rejected.

All those doubts Puritans had about whether they were saved? Those were not signs of healthy humility but proof that someone was not saved, according to Hutchinson, because if you are Christ then you can’t doubt Christ. Doing good works was not only unnecessary but another proof that you were not saved, because Christ did not have to do anything to be Christ—he just was.

Finally, and most explosively, Hutchinson held that you did not even have to believe in Jesus to have him dwell within you. The whole basis of Protestantism is, and was, salvation through faith in God alone. Faith was the only thing and everything. But Hutchinson denied this, saying that someone who did not believe in Jesus as the savior could still receive Jesus to dwell within her—if that was what Jesus chose to do, Jesus would do it. You might still heap scorn on all Jesus’ teachings, and commit heinous sins and crimes, because you had no faith in God, and be not just saved but Christ himself living on the earth, free from all law and human judgment.

The cult-like qualities of Hutchinson’s beliefs become clear. Anyone in her group, and of course she herself, was perfected by becoming Christ and could do no wrong, was not bound by any law, and had no social or legal obligations to anyone outside the group. She alone could tell who was really saved, and if she chose you you owed her everything and if she didn’t, you were her enemy. And, crucially, anyone who criticized her or her followers was clearly the Antichrist, in her words, under a covenant of works, and had to be “dealt with as such”. This could mean shunning people, publicly criticizing people (including during church services), or physically harming people; many of her followers rioted on an election day—May 17, 1637—when the Court would not delay voting for a lengthy petition protesting the charges against John Wheelwright (a minister and Anne Hutchinson’s brother-in-law, whom we’ll learn more about in the next post) to be read and debated.

So Hutchinson was a level-one heretic and a powerful force for civil disruption. So often she is portrayed by historians as a generous and compassionate soul who wanted everyone to have a personal relationship with God, but was struck down by mean and sexist Puritans who told people they were dirt in God’s eyes. This comes from a failure to read the documents of her time, including her own court testimony and the petitions written by her followers, which make it very clear that there was no such thing as a personal relationship with God for Hutchinson: you either were God yourself or you were the antichrist, and she was ready to declare 90% of the Puritans antichrist and deal with them accordingly.

The meetings Hutchinson held in her home in which she expounded her beliefs quickly grew to include hundreds of people anxious to know their status. We are often told that the Puritan hierarchy cracked down on her because she was a woman, and women could not hold these kinds of meetings, but this is untrue. Women could and did hold meetings to discuss sermons they heard, and those meetings were allowed, even at the height of the Hutchinson controversy. The problem with Anne Hutchinson’s meetings was that she did not use them to parse sermons but to say that all of the ministers in New England were sinners, unfit to preach, except for John Cotton, minister at Boston and her beloved mentor.

How did such a heretic find such a following in Puritan Boston? Find out in Part 2!