Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Split Between Occom and Sergeant

You may remember that both Samson Occom and John Sergeant [Jr.] received calls to minister to the Stockbridge Mohicans towards the end of 1787. In the short run, their plan was to engage in cooperative ministry. That plan seems to have worked for a little while, at least. Eventually, however, the two ministers came into conflict. Neither one of the ministers ever fully recorded what their falling out was about, but Occom did leave some clues.

In Samson Occom (1935), Harold Blodgett stated the conflict was over "doctrinal differences." In order to understand what he was getting at, we'll have to address the Calvinist context. One of the central tenets of Calvinism was the "depravity of man." In other words, sin and damnation were central aspects of American religion back then. It was believed that while everyone deserved to go to hell, Christ's atonement predestined some to be saved and enter heaven. It was also believed that outward manifestations (including a conversion experience), would somehow indicate who was predestined to receive God's grace. According to The Encyclopedia of Religion (page 103), it then became common for Puritan preachers to develop some kind of "complex morphology of conversion." As a result, there were controversies over who should be baptized and over what made a person worthy of church membership and communion. (Such a controversy over communion got Jonathan Edwards thrown out of the white congregation he served before ministering to the Indians at Stockbridge, Massachusetts.)

The question of who should be baptized is the only disagreement with John Sergeant that can be found in Samson Occom's journals. I would imagine they also had other disagreements in the months that they worked together, but no other disagreements were recorded.

On July 26, 1788, Occom wrote in his journal that he expected to have a debate with Sergeant, but instead Sergeant

"declin'd and finally Concluded that everyone should have full Liberty to Choose to act according to the Light and understanding he has in religious concerns, and so we parted in Friendship, Concluded to agree and disagree."

And so I believe that the falling out was over religious ideology and not over personality or race or cultural issues. Of course there really isn't enough evidence to know that for sure. But I've put what I know on the table and if anybody can add to that, you're welcome to do so.

1 comment :

Dave S. said...

interesting detective work, Jeff