My family recently went on a vacation road trip to Boston, MA and stayed with dear friends in the nearby community of Beverly. Rocks, trees, and harbor towns basking in the May weather accompanied our jaunt around the historical sites. We sipped tea at the site of the Boston Tea Party, stopped by Paul Revere's house and successfully went whale watching off the coast. Beverly is also close to Salem, the town made infamous for its witch trials in the late 17th century. Not on our original itinerary, we stopped by and noticed immediately the distinct vibe of the landmark town.
Salem completely oriented its identity around its historical association with witches. Folks dressed in pointy hats and black capes traipse around on the
streets, some for pure entertainment, others offering spells and
encounters with your future. People around the world call it Witch City, and flock there every Halloween on pilgrimage. Most of the mall stores have some kind of witchcraft or
occult connection both in name and product, often utilizing a terrible
pun. Even the logo on the police cars contains a female witch riding a broom. Our local friends informed us a popular term for the concentration of witch memorabilia is "witch kitsch." A name I found extremely apt.
Guess what I didn't find?
Nary a Puritan anywhere. I did not go door to door asking for Puritans, and had I showed a little gumption, I'm sure I could've found a solitary gentlemen reading the King James' Bible and packing a blunderbuss. But clearly the Puritans were not victorious in the battle for cultural supremacy in Salem.
The Salem Witch Trials are frequently, and rightly, used as a cautionary tale to the dangers of insular thinking, unquestioned power, and religious fanaticism. People today often employ the term to describe any situation where people in power appear to persecute a minority group without much evidence.
The easiest application of the Salem errors to our current culture is how quickly we make conclusions about a person's character when we listen to a 30 second blurb on our favorite news station. We have a tendency to judge when we are not only absent of all the facts but do not have any sort of relationship with the persons involved or any vested presence in their community. But I'm not interested in that application, though our mentality in the arena of public opinion could use some major surgery . . .
The Puritans acted out of a desire to eradicate evil, a convincing motive and position when verbalized with passion. A perspective still held today by those who name themselves conservatives. We could debate the applicability of the Old Testament verses about witchcraft and the occult, but I'd rather look for insight from the Author of our faith, and the image of the invisible God.
Jesus did not instruct us to judge our enemies but to love them, serve them, and pray for them. He didn't condemn the demon-possessed; He was full of compassion for them. The young girls having seizures and other bizarre health issues caused the powers-that-be to assume Evil was manifesting under their watch. The Us vs. Them mentality of paranoia and judgment ran like a fever through the populace, accusations flying faster than broomsticks, and a few conversations later, 19 people were dead by hanging.
300 years later, the very thing the Puritans thought they were destroying is thriving exponentially. Lord, help us to remember that shining our lights not winning cultural fights is our calling, Love is personal action not victorious legislation, and darkness is defeated by compassion not persecution. In fact, darkness may be multiplied by the very efforts to stamp it out-- an irony we should be quick to recognize.