By the time the clock strikes midnight this coming Halloween night, over one million people will have visited the historic coastal city of Salem, Mass., this past month alone, a trend driven by the town’s annual “Haunted Happenings Festival.”
Students of history and popular culture will remember that the area is best known for holding the “Salem Witch Trials” that took place in the Massachusetts Bay Colony between February of 1692 and May of 1693.
One of the more notorious chapters in the story of the American colonies, more than 150 people were accused of being witches back then – and 19 were hung on a site then known as Proctor’s Lodge. Yet another man was deliberately crushed to death by rocks. A Walgreen’s pharmacy now borders the property of the historic horror.
The hysteria all started when an eleven-year-old girl named Abigail Williams and a nine-year-old girl named Elizabeth Parris, who also happened to be the daughter of a local pastor, began behaving oddly. At one point they complained of unspecified bite wounds. Once examined, the doctor declared that the two youngsters were allegedly caught under the spell of witchcraft.
Anxious to find those responsible for the evil acts, officials pressed the girls for names – and the two youngsters began dishing out all kinds of details on all kinds of unsuspecting people. Of course, it was all made up, or at least the most important parts. Plenty of other accusations began flying. Paranoia raged like wildfire. Local pastor George Burroughs was one of the victims. Standing at the gallows, he recited the Lord’s Prayer – an act that left many wondering if they had gotten the wrong guy. But no matter. That day, Burroughs and four others were hung.
Increase Mathers, who would go on to serve as the eighth president of Harvard, was one of the few people of influence to speak up and object to the insanity. “It were better that ten suspected witches should escape than that one innocent person should be condemned,” he said.
The benefit of time and distance now makes clear the lunacy and wickedness of the Salem Witch Trials – but even while the manifestation and consequences aren’t identical, a similar spirit of accusation and condemnation remains at play today.
Ironically, though, while some Puritans drove the frenzy back in 1692 and 1693, the mob mentality now threatens religious freedom and deeply held beliefs of Christians.
The runaway zealotry went unabated for a time back then because few wanted to speak up our out – lest they be accused of being witches themselves. Cowardice led to conformity – which resulted in deadly chaos.
Today, “cancel culture” threatens to drive people into bankruptcy, deprive them of promotions or pensions, or even prevent others from living peacefully as productive citizens.
Consider the protestors who have threatened Supreme Court justices and picketed their homes. Or what about those who want to ruin the careers of bakers, florists and graphic artists because they won’t lend their creative talents to activities that contradict biblical truth.
Like the Salem “witch trials” of the 1690s, where the harassment and horror were driven by intolerance and madness, today’s attacks are similarly motivated. How else can you explain forcing nuns to pay for abortions (Little Sisters of the Poor v. Obamacare) or prohibiting moms and dads from knowing their minor children are beginning to “transition” genders.
It wasn’t until the Massachusetts governor’s wife, Mary Spencer Hull, was accused of being a witch that officials had enough. The governor halted the trials, dissolved the special court causing all the chaos – and only then did the hysteria began to slowly abate.
When it comes to dealing with dangerous thinking and activity, it takes the sane and courageous to speak up.
We shouldn’t need to stand trial for standing up for the sacredness of life, the sanctity of marriage, the exclusiveness of two genders, and the authority of mothers and fathers. Suggesting otherwise is the equivalent of a modern-day witch hunt, an odyssey that like the Salem Witch Trials, history will one day relegate to foolish and ill-inspired motives.
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