Jesus Is Female

Jesus Is Female: Moravians and Radical Religion in Early America

Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Jesus Is Female
    Book Description:

    In the middle of the Great Awakening, a group of religious radicals called Moravians came to North America from Germany to pursue ambitious missionary goals. How did the Protestant establishment react to the efforts of this group, which allowed women to preach, practiced alternative forms of marriage, sex, and family life, and believed Jesus could be female? Aaron Spencer Fogleman explains how these views, as well as the Moravians' missionary successes, provoked a vigorous response by Protestant authorities on both sides of the Atlantic.

    Based on documents in German, Dutch, and English from the Old World and the New,Jesus Is Femalechronicles the religious violence that erupted in many German and Swedish communities in colonial America as colonists fought over whether to accept the Moravians, and suggests that gender issues were at the heart of the raging conflict. Colonists fought over the feminine, ecumenical religious order offered by the Moravians and the patriarchal, confessional order offered by Lutheran and Reformed clergy. This episode reveals both the potential and the limits of radical religion in early America. Though religious nonconformity persisted despite the repression of the Moravians, and though America remained a refuge for such groups, those who challenged the cultural order in their religious beliefs and practices would not escape persecution.

    Jesus Is Femaletraces the role of gender in eighteenth-century religious conflict back to the European Reformation and the beginnings of Protestantism. This transatlantic approach heightens our understanding of American developments and allows for a better understanding of what occurred when religious freedom in a colonial setting led to radical challenges to tradition and social order.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-9168-1
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations and Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: The Challenge of Radical Religion
    (pp. 1-14)

    Religious freedom remains a popular, enduring image for many ordinary Americans when they think about the colonial period of their country’s history. Shiploads of persecuted European religious groups found a safe haven in North America, where they hoped to carve out an existence and worship their own way in peace. Many believe that these colonists founded what became a great society based on religious and other freedoms. Some pursued utopian, millennial experiments grand and small, believing that English North America was a special place, chosen by God, where special things could and would happen. Because of founder William Penn’s policies,...

  5. Part I: Religion and Gender
    • [Part I: Introduction]
      (pp. 15-18)

      In the eighteenth century European immigrants came to North America and found a much different place. Initially what impressed many immigrants were a relatively weak established church, low taxes, ethnic diversity, vast distances, dispersed settlements, and opportunity. This meant that religious toleration and freedom of sorts defined life for them in ways they never could in Europe. Yet in spite of the distances and differences, North America and its new inhabitants remained connected in many ways to Europe. In addition to the migrations themselves, the Atlantic trade and religion kept them connected. Heavy immigration occurred during the era of the...

    • Chapter 1 Radical Religion in a Colonial Context
      (pp. 19-33)

      ‘‘Everything is different in America,’’ the immigrants used to say (and still do). Many if not most free immigrants in the eighteenth century migrated with family members or others from their home village, remained in contact with those they left behind, and continued in America to promote important aspects of their old culture like religion and language. Yet the immigrants stressed difference more than similarity when comparing conditions in the colonies with their homelands. In North America there was a lot more land, a relatively weak state (which meant low taxes, greater geographic mobility, and religious tolerance), and in some...

    • Chapter 2 Gender and Confessional Order in the Protestant World
      (pp. 34-68)

      In 1700, a time of apocalyptic significance to many German radical pietist groups on both sides of the Atlantic, a new society formed in Allendorf on the Werra around a noblewoman named Eva Margaretha von Buttlar (1670–1721). The ‘‘Mother Eva Society’’ eventually moved to Wetteravia, one of the well-known refuges for religious radicals (see Map 3), and developed beliefs and practices concerning gender, marriage, sexuality, and the body that shocked the outside world. Their initiation, purification, and rebirth ritual was the most extreme. For women it involved what they called ‘‘circumcision’’ (Beschneidung): an initiate would be led into a...

  6. Part II: The Moravian Challenge
    • Chapter 3 The Challenge to Gender Order
      (pp. 73-104)

      A few years after the close of the Mother Eva drama, the Moravian movement began to take root on the estates of Count Zinzendorf in Upper Lusatia. In 1722 the first ‘‘Moravian’’ refugees settled there and began building the town of Herrnhut. By 1727 their numbers had grown significantly, the town was complete, and they celebrated the renewal or ‘‘rebirth’’ of the Moravian church. From this point until the count’s death in 1760 the Moravians experienced the most dramatic, innovative, and productive period in the modern history of their church, yet at the same time it was their strangest and...

    • Chapter 4 The Ecumenical Challenge
      (pp. 105-130)

      Moravian ambitions in North America were motivated by a zealous ecumenism that they attempted to extend to other radical groups and churches alike, and it challenged or threatened those groups for a number of reasons. Unlike other radicals who pursued the philadelphian ideal, it was not enough for Moravians to separate themselves from the fallen institutional churches in order to unite with other like-minded Christians. Instead, they embraced both radical separatists and the established churches, hoping to find a way to unite all of them. Unfortunately for the Moravians, few Protestant Christians truly desired this kind of unity at this...

    • Plates
      (pp. None)
  7. Part III: Religious Violence and the Defense of Order
    • Chapter 5 The Orthodox Response
      (pp. 135-155)

      The struggle against the Moravians that began in the 1730s played an important role in the transatlantic Protestant awakening until the 1750s. One of the most important weapons the Lutheran, Calvinist, and other rivals employed in the battle against the Moravians was the printing press. They published and circulated hundreds of polemics in numerous languages on both sides of the Atlantic that warned innocents of the dangerous Moravian threat at hand. For example, in Frankfurt Johann Philip Fresenius published a widely read anti-Moravian polemic in 1746 that included an ‘‘autobiography’’ written by a renegade mystical seeker living in Pennsylvania named...

    • Chapter 6 The Confrontation in the Middle Colonies
      (pp. 156-184)

      The struggle against the radicalism of the Moravians that began in Europe in the 1730s spread across the Atlantic to Georgia, Suriname, and the Caribbean and intensified in the mid-Atlantic colonies in the 1740s, where thousands of Lutheran and Reformed immigrants were settling and building new religious communities. All sides used military rhetoric to describe the growing conflict. Count Zinzendorf established a ‘‘corps de reserve’’ in Philadelphia in 1742 to assist any threatened Moravians, and in 1743 the Moravian itinerants held a ‘‘Warriors’ Communion’’ in Bethlehem. Fresenius described people in Philadelphia who had fled the Herrnhuters, yet were still plagued...

    • Chapter 7 Religious Violence Erupts
      (pp. 185-216)

      In the 1740s the conflict between the Moravians and the Lutheran and Reformed clergy and their supporters raged from Virginia to New York, but it was most intense in the German and Swedish communities of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, where widespread religious violence erupted, and a typical pattern of community conflict emerged throughout the region. Moravians sent one or more preachers to a community where there was no other regular Lutheran or Reformed pastor, who gained acceptance by most congregants, as well as the elders and church council members. They often focused on new, unestablished immigrant communities, or old communities...

  8. Conclusion: The Limits of Radical Religion in America
    (pp. 217-220)

    Although the social and political conditions in British North America created a much greater potential for radical religion to flourish there than in Europe in the eighteenth century, there were definite limits to how far religious radicalism could develop in the colonies. When the radical Moravians adopted an ecumenical position and then tried to extend their message to the rapidly growing Lutheran and Reformed communities of the mid-Atlantic colonies, claiming a legitimate right to do so, they eventually provoked a violent response that defeated their movement. In Europe the intrusions on Lutheran and Reformed gender order could not seriously threaten...

  9. Appendices
    • Appendix 1. Anti-Moravian Polemics Written, Published, or Reprinted in North America, 1741–1763
      (pp. 221-224)
    • Appendix 2. Court Cases, Arrests, Imprisonment, and Pursuits of Moravian Preachers in the Mid-Atlantic Colonies of British North America, 1742–1747
      (pp. 225-228)
    • Appendix 3. Pastors and Assistants Sent by the Four Competing European Religious Centers to Work in the Lutheran and German Reformed Communities in the Mid-Atlantic Colonies of British North America, 1726–1754
      (pp. 229-236)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 237-288)
  11. Bibliography of Primary Sources
    (pp. 289-298)
  12. Index
    (pp. 299-328)
  13. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 329-330)