Cushing, Spellman, O'Connor: The Surprising Story of How Three American Cardinals Transformed Catholic-Jewish Relations

By James Rudin | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
America, the Different

Many of the men and women who left Britain for its thirteen North American colonies in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries did so in pursuit of religious liberty and freedom of conscience. The Anglican Church was founded in 1534 following King Henry VIII’s break with Rome, and after decades of struggle it became the established Christian denomination in Britain. Part of this process of solidifying its power included persecuting religious dissidents, including Methodists, Quakers (originally a derisive term for members of the Society of Friends), Baptists, and Congregationalists. Christians belonging to these and other minority communities were intimidated and punished in secret tribunal sessions without juries, public indictments, appeals, or witnesses.

Such harassments, the religious equivalents of the infamous Star Chamber political proceedings of the same period, did not officially end until 1641, when the House of Commons banned ecclesiastical courts. While they lasted, England’s New World colonies came to be seen as places of physical and spiritual security for persecuted minorities. Some of these refugees even believed they were reenacting the Exodus experience of the ancient Israelites who escaped Egyptian slavery; the Atlantic Ocean was a new Red Sea and Anglican leaders in Britain were likened to the biblical Pharaoh.

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