Church history: Fasting and Repentance After the Salem Witch Trials

On Jan. 15, 1697, the town of Salem and the Massachusetts Bay Colony proclaimed a day of fasting and repentance because of the senseless witch trials and executions that had occurred five years earlier in the colony. More than 150 people were accused of being witches and were imprisoned, and 19 suspected witches were hanged.

The day of personal and public repentance was called “so all of God’s people may offer up fervent supplications unto him, that all iniquity may be put away, which hath stirred God’s holy jealousy against this land; that he would show us what we know not, and help us, wherein we have done amiss, to do so no more.”

The witch-hunting hysteria had begun when two children claimed they were bewitched by certain townspeople. Later, during the trial, other children and young people made similar accusations. No real evidence of Satan worship, witchcraft or other paranormal activities was presented. Most of the accused were women, though it included George Burroughs, former minister of Salem Village, who was hanged on Aug. 19, 1692.

While the witch trials were an isolated unbiblical miscarriage of justice in a tiny community, they point out the fact that Christians must avoid having their faith high-jacked by hysteria, scapegoating or superstition. There have been other, more extensive miscarriages in Christian history, such as the Inquisition, which remind us that we need to always live in step with the Holy Spirit and to show the wisdom and love of Christ to others in all situations.

Author: Paul Kroll

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