March: Salem Witches
On March 1, 1692, Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne, and a slave named Tituba were arrested and accused of witchcraft in colonial Massachusetts. The three young women were not model citizens. In fact some of their behaviors were, at best, strange. The church/government was not at all tolerant of strange behaviors and charges were brought. Soon others were accused. Scores were indicted. The hangings and pressings began in July. Over two dozen were executed and 150 more were imprisoned. The Puritan church was at the forefront of this insanity, which has been described as one of the most infamous cases mass hysteria in history.
As we look back over history we can see the Church at its best and at its worst. It seems to be at its best when it is standing up for those who are oppressed and suffering under some kind of injustice. The Abolitionist movement of the early 1900s, the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s, and the missionary work in poverty-stricken third world nations comes to mind. History will always look back on those ventures and see the Church as heroic.
But the Church has not always been so heroic. The behavior of the Christian warriors who went on the Crusades was horrific. The Church in Europe persecuted the Jews for centuries right up through the Holocaust. The priests who came with the Spanish conquistadors as they conquered Latin America encouraged the soldiers to convert the Native Americans through torture and threat of death. For every Abolitionist preacher in the North before the Civil War there was an equally zealous preacher in the South defending the institution of slavery.
The Church must be careful as to the stand it takes on the issues of the day. History will someday look back and judge us. As hard as it is for us to believe today, the witch hunters of Salem. the Crusaders, the anti-Semites, the Spanish priests in early America, and the Southern congregations who supported slavery were firm in their convictions that what they were doing was righteous in the eyes of God.
The Church can never go wrong by defending the poor and the oppressed. The Church can never go wrong in its attempts to evangelize by convincing rather than by even the slightest coercion. The Church can never go wrong when it tries to lift people up rather than cut them down. The Church can never go wrong when it opposes hatred. The Church can never go wrong when it refuses to punish those who oppose it, but loves them instead.
That is the Church of Christ.