A New Adam is episode 1 from the six-part God In America series which originally aired on PBS in October 2010. These are notes I made while watching this episode.
Spanish missionaries first encountered the Pueblo Indians in the early 17th century.
“Their conquistadors came for silver; the missionaries came to save heathen souls.”
The Spanish came with absolute-truth claims of salvation…received the generous hospitality of the Pueblos…and built churches. The Pueblo’s came to the churches to see what the Christians had to say, but weren’t going to allow Christianity to replace the native spirituality.
“It was a time of militancy about ones faith.”
1675 – 47 Pueblo religious leaders were placed in jail; 5 were publicly killed.
The Pueblos responded by declaring war on the Franciscan friars. More than ½ the priests were killed. The Spanish left the region in 1680.
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1629 -- Puritans came to Mass. to save Christianity from the corruption of the Church of England.
John Winthrop – Governor of the new colony
The first winter, nearly 50% of the colony froze or starved to death. The people took this as a sign that they weren’t pious / faithful enough and that God had abandoned them.
Winthrop responded by enacting strict conformist laws so that God would bless them colony – which contradicted the core conviction of the Puritan ideals of religious freedom.
1634 – Anne Hutchinson (a pastor’s kid) arrives in Boston and becomes a high-profile member of the colony. She believed God had spoken to her directly, guaranteeing her salvation. Puritans believed that salvation was never fully assured; it depended on good works.
“Hutchinson’s easy path to heaven undermined Winthrop’s orderly society.”
Hutchinson was arrested for leading a religious gathering as a woman, and for disagreeing with the General Assembly. She goes in front of Winthrop and other judges and crushes them the first day…and the second day she claims to have heard God’s voice saying that the judges will be cursed if they disagree with her. So she is banished for being “unfit” for the colony.
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In the next 100 years, over 1 million people of varying faiths and nations come to America.
Rev. George Whitfield believes that the New Land can find its bearings by having everyone be “born again” (which he understood to be a transformation of the soul by the Holy Spirit). He had been “reborn” as a professor in Oxford. He came to America to travel the country to save people’s souls from their sinfulness.
Instead of reading “boring sermons from the pulpit, he tells stories and speaks from his heart”. He makes a dramatic presentation out of his sermons…and everyone is engaged. “It’s the sincerity of a missionary combined with the thrill of a performer.”
Puritans renamed themselves the Congregational Church and became the official church of NH, MA, CT and didn’t tolerate other denominations. Lutherans, Baptists, Quakers, Presbyterians and others found a home in other states. VA, SC, NC, GA were strongly Anglican, in the same way the Congregationalists reigned in the north.
Whitfield came to Charleston, SC and pissed off the Anglican priests because it undermined their conformist / moral society. The Baptists embraced him. Denominations didn’t matter to Whitfield – all that mattered is that you had this one re-birth experience.
In 1740 Whitfield traveled 5,000 miles, preached 350 times in 75 towns/cities. 20,000 people came to hear him in Boston, 12,000 in Philadelphia, 8,000 in New York City. 25% of the country had heard Whitfield preach.
Charles Chauncy (Mass.) challenged Whitfield’s populist appeal.
“Reverend, Sir, the affection of popularity is the ruination of the soul and the destruction of understanding; but how wide am I from the mark to talk of conscience or scruple, to one who is unsteady and variable as a weathercock, and is, yet, enthusiast enough to boast of his frequent intercourse with the Almighty.” ~ Chauncy
It set up a tension between the highly-emotional, less educated crowd and the intellectual, conventional establishment.
People began leaving the established church – for the first time people felt they had an individual choice of how/where they would worship.
This added fuel to the revolutionary fire that was stirring in the colonies…freedom of/from religion isn’t just the will of the people, it’s the will of God. They reference the Exodus story --> slavery-freedom, old world-new world, Pharaoh (King George)-democracy.
“What should this new thing be?”