Can you imagine leaving your home country to find a new place to worship free of religious persecution? The names of faith denominations like Baptist or Catholic are common today. However, other faiths helped pave the way for religious freedom by coming to America for that religious freedom. Two religious groups that played important roles in the colonization of America are the Puritans and the Quakers. Both groups left England and came to America with the desire to practice their religions more freely since both disliked the ritualistic, hierarchical practices of the Church of England. In addition, Puritans and Quakers emphasized simplicity in lifestyle and worship; however, the two religious groups also had significant differences in their beliefs.
Original Sin vs. Original Blessing
The Puritans viewed humanity as hopelessly sinful while the Quakers believed God lives inside everyone. With their belief in predestination, Puritans subscribed the theory that most people were destined for eternal damnation while some were chosen by God for salvation. Those few, called the "elect," had to undergo a conversion process. The process included a personal testimony about how God had changed them. Sanctification, or holy behavior, was then expected to follow this conversion. The Quakers' belief in the "inner light" that lead a person to God influenced them to adopt a more positive view of humanity. They believed everyone could hear the voice of God and favored a gentler approach in dealing with people.
Even with similarly-simple services, many differences existed in both Puritan and Quaker church services. The Puritans believed in baptism and communion while the Quakers did not believe in any sacraments because they considered all acts sacred if committed to God. Puritan services often included a lengthy sermon during which the minister expounded on a section of the Bible, using the text to point out the faults and sins of the congregation. Quakers referred to their church services as meetings and the gathering place was called the meeting house. Without clergy, the Puritans were suspicious of theology, believing it interfered with the individual's ability to communicate with God. During their meetings, they came together and waited silently for God to speak to their individual spirits. Those who felt spiritually moved shared what they believed God was telling them. Spontaneous singing was also a part of the Quaker service.
Role of Church and State
The Puritans believed they were chosen by God to establish a pure Christian state in America. Matters of church and state were tightly interwoven. Only male church members could vote for selectmen or community leaders. If a person wanted to leave the Puritan community, they had to be released by permission of the local church or risk losing the title to his property. Religious beliefs and the Bible were used to establish the rule of law. Quakers, on the other hand, allowed more religious freedom. They refused to follow laws and civil practices that violated their beliefs about equality and nonviolence. Some Quakers were forced to give up their property or even move away because they refused to pledge allegiance to the Revolutionary War effort.
Equality for All?
The Puritans held traditional beliefs about male and female roles. Female ministers were not allowed and only men were allowed to be elected as community leaders. The Quakers, however, believed strongly in gender equality. One of the first churches to allow women to hold leadership roles, Quakers also encouraged women to get an education. The Puritans viewed Native Americans as savages which is a belief the Quakers did not share. The Quakers were also concerned with the plight of African-Americans. They built schools for African-American children and came to be strong supporters of the abolition of slavery.