Puritans and Quakers are two religious groups that played important roles in the colonization of America. Both groups left England and came to America with the desire to practice their religions more freely. Both Puritans and Quakers disliked the ritualistic, hierarchical practices of the Church of England. Both emphasized simplicity in lifestyle and worship. Yet the two 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. The Puritans believed in predestination, the theory that most people were destined for eternal damnation, but some were chosen by God for salvation. These few, called the "elect," had to undergo a conversion process, including a personal testimony about how God had changed them. Sanctification, or holy behavior, was expected to follow conversion. The Quakers' belief in the "inner light" that leads 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.
While both Puritan and Quaker church services were simple, there were many differences. The Puritans believed in baptism and communion, but 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. They did not have clergy and were suspicious of theology, believing it interfered with the individual's ability to communicate with God. During the meeting, 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 community, he 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 allowed more religious freedom. They refused to follow laws and civil practices that violated their beliefs about equality and nonviolence, and some 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. Only men could be elected as community leaders, and only men were allowed to be ministers. The Quakers, however, believed strongly in gender equality. They were one of the first churches to allow women to hold leadership roles, and they encouraged women to get an education. The Puritans viewed Native Americans as savages, 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.
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