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Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A., Editor
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Level IV Conflict In Salem, Mass.
Thomas F. Fischer
- It all started with a charter from King George I in 1629. This charter was intended to
create the "perfect" community for a splinter group of puritans in Salem Town,
Massachusetts. Little did anyone know that this "perfect" community would become
the most ignomious example of the proliferation of evil within a community.
- It Started With A Baby Sitter
- Salem Town began as the result of an Edict of King George I of England in 1629. The
purpose of this splinter group was noble: to create a "model" community where
holiness would dominate and the people of God would prosper.
- This little experiment would have gone largely unnoticed would it not have been for a
nine-year-old preachers daughter, Elizabeth Parris and her baby-sitter, Tituba, a
slave from Barbados.
- In retrospect it must have seemed a foolish thing for the pastor to have a Barbadonian
slave. Especially a puritan pastor. Her background was anything but Christian. To her
peril, she shared stories of her past, her self, and her experiences with little
Elizabeth. This sharing also include stories of witchcraft, spells, and occultic practices
such as voodoo.
- Elizabeths nine-year-old fascination was piqued. Though careful not to tell any
adults in this puritan community, she started invited her girlfriendsone at a
timeto hear Titubas tales. The more stories they heard, the more afraid they
became. The guilt they had for listening to the forbidden stories of the demonic started
to affect them. Behavioral changes including screaming, crying out uncontrollably,
throwing things and other violent behaviors including convulsions.
- The parents were visibly shaken by the sudden changes in their daughters. The community
doctor examined them. There were no physical symptoms of disease, he concluded. Something
else was causing these bizarre behaviors. That something else, they concluded, was
witchcraft. Only witchcraft could cause such convulsions.
- Having determined it was the work of a witch, this bewitching "whodunit"
started. Because of the high anxiety of the parents and the colony, the witch hunt ended
as quickly as it began. After all, the girls had been with Tituba. Since she was not
"one of them," the only logical conclusion was that she was the witch.
- Higher Anxiety And Trials
- But the witch hunt didnt stop with Tituba. The citizens just knew that evil this
evident couldnt be the work of just one witch. They considered a woman named Sarah
Good, the irascible, temperamental beggar. Surely she must be a witch. Sarah Osborn, who
married an indentured servant contrary to the strict rules of the puritan colony, must
also be a witch. After all, how could she not be? And so, they determined, there must be
- The three women were brought before the tribunal. Two judges, one of them Jonathan
Ha[w]thorne, the great-grandfather of Nathaniel Ha[w]thorne, presided. The pre-trial proceeding
commenced. But there was one problem. What evidence did they have? How could one prove
that one was a witch?
- The current laws could notand would nothelp them purge the community of the
evil which lurked within. The standards of evidence would certainly not be admissible to
court. After all, what kind of evidence proves that one is a witch?
- In their search they looked in the witches handbook, the Maaleus Malefecarum.
There they found the evidential standard that would work, the "Specter. A specter
could be anythinga bird, a spirit, or anything else. But whatever the specter was or
in what form it appeared, it would only be visible to the accuser. The specter was visible
to no one elseincluding the accused.
- Nine girls, including the parsons daughter, Elizabeth, were called to testify.
Testify they did. The told of "spectral" evidence. To make their testimony more
believable, they demonstrated wild, uncontrolled shows of emotions. The onlookers, seeing
the bizarre behavior of these "good" girls, could only come to one conclusion.
They had seen the specters. Their testimonies must be true.
- Anxious onlookers responded in horror. The gravity of the charges against the three
women demanded that they be guilty. How could they not be? Though there was little or no
real evidence, the only standard of evidence they neededspectral evidence--pointed
to the unmistakable conclusion: they were guilty. They were all witches.
- More Witches
- The soon-to-be-terminated trio were sentenced
to death. There was no appeal. No
second chance to go to neighboring villages and towns with more sophisticated judicial
resources and a more honorable system of jurisprudence. The three would die.
- But before the execution was carried out that March of 1692, Titibula dealt her accusers
with an even graver claim. The specters indicated to her that there were a total of nine
witches in Salem.
- Six more? Who could they be?
- The mystery, the anxiety and the fear swelled into an uncontrolled frenzy of paranoia.
Titibulas words opened up Pandoras box. "Theres a traitor living in
this community!" the townspeople cried.
- The fear of the unknown among them proliferated throughout the community. Who could the
witch be? How would I know? Could it be me? Is it me? What if it is me...and I don't know
- Soon the terror-struck communitys paranoia turned neighbor against neighbor. There
was a traitor in their midst! The evil must be removed! But who were the evil ones? Who
were those bearing the evil among us? They must be removed
- But were there just six more? If Titibula was a witch, surely she couldnt be
trusted, could she? The anxiety said, "No!" The spectral evidence said,
"No!" The terrifying fear and the haunting sense of evil which permeated the
entire town said, "No!" Even their perfectionistic, highly anxious religiosity
- The conclusion was inescapable. The vengeance of evil was among them. There must be more
witches. But how many more
and who were they
and how could they find them?
- By the fall of 1692, things had become outrageous. "Witch-finders" covertly
sought out witches based on the gossip they accumulated. Suspicious fear had so
overwhelmed the community that even the most casual conversation became feared. Family
members and friends were suspected of being witch-finders or possessed by the witches
- Their anxiety aroused uncertainty the ever-growing unrest might have political
consequences. The King might revoke the colonys charter. What would they do then?
Where would they live? This only increased their anxiety-driven certainly that witches
were everywhere. Witches were in the woods, the devil was in the surrounding Massachusetts
wilderness. The witches were among them.
- As reports of "spectral sightings" increased and hysterical accusations
proliferated, more witches were tried, condemned and executed. But the more witches they
tried, the more out of control things got.
- So they set out to findand trymore witches. Even after their execution, the
community would not let the alleged witches be buried. There were considered total
pariahs. They were merely put in shallow graves
so as to wipe them off the face of
the earth. Not only were the trial proceedings not recorded, neither were their deaths.
Whether guilty or not, the record of those condemned was stricken from reality.
- Executions were held each month that summerJune, July and August. Even those like
Rev. George Burroughs, who demonstrated at his execution that he could recite the
Lords Prayer perfectly (it was believed that witches and those possessed could not
do so), were mercilessly killed with the rest of them.
- The Fire Begins To Burn Out
- By the fall of that year, the witnesses testimonies became far-reaching and
dramatically exaggerated. The people finally began to question their testimonies of
spectral evidence. The accusations had gone out of control. People as far away as Boston
were being considered as witches.
- The girls accusations had gone too far. The "Spectral sights" had gone wild
beyond even the most wildest imagination. And those accused now included the trial judges,
including Governor Phipps.
- Finally, on October 29th, spectral evidence no longer allowed. Without the necessary
standard of "evidence" for trying witches, the witch hunt ended. In all 200 of
the 500 townspeople were accused. Though no one was burned at the stake twenty-four lost
their lives, nineteen by hanging, four died in prison, and one was crushed to death under
a pile of rocks for not entering a plea of "guilty" or "not guilty" as
his accusers demanded.
- The Aftermath
- The aftermath of the Salem witch trials was far reaching. This event, more than any
other, shaped the American system of jurisprudence. Realizing that it would be better that
10 suspected witches be released than one innocent one be condemned, it was decided that
everyone would be considered innocent until proven guilty, not the other way around.
- On January 16, 1693, the Salem community held a rite of public fasting and forgiveness
for the horror which occurred in their midst
by their own hands. The 12 jurors at the
signed a plea of forgiveness. Public apologies were made.
- But, of the nine children who presented the accusations and saw the alleged specters
which sent people to their grave and the community into extreme anxiety, only one child,
Anne Putnam, formally apologized. The other eight remained silent.
- Justice for the wrongfully condemned came
nearly two-hundred and fifty years later.
In 1957, the wrongful sentences of those executed because of the spectral testimonies of
the nine girls was reversed.
- Lessons About Anxiety From Salem Town
- The Salem witch trial is certainly an interesting piece of history. But perhaps its
greatest value is that it is an important case study of the effects of organizational
anxiety. The events in this colonial setting provide a remarkable paradigm for what
happens in high levels--and specifically Level IV and Vof conflict.
- 1) Virtually any system of beliefs, theological or otherwise, becomes anxious when
confronted with non-indigenous content. This content, whatever its origin, may cause
such anxiety that the non-indigenous content will be attributed to the
demonicwhether it is or not.
- 2) The degree of anxiety which the non-indigenous content produces is dependent on
numerous factors. Such factors may include the perception of the organizations
relative strength, the leaders ability to cope with anxiety, the degree of
perfectionism required to maintain the organizations identity and, among other
things, the degree to which an organization evinces dysfunction.
- 3) The degree of anxiety is also dependent on the theological systems ability to
communicate confidence in the face of fear. This does not mean that a theological system
must not have absolute beliefs. What it does mean is that, insofar as the church is
Christian, it must maintain an absolute belief and predominance of the Gospel in every
aspect of its life.
- 4) As anxiety increases within an organization, the standard of truth verification
becomes increasingly more subjective. The corollary of this is that the more subjective an
anxious organization becomes, the less "relevant" objective truth becomes. In
extreme anxiety, the "truth" is simply ignored making it difficult for anyone to
really know what is going on, what happened, or what will happen.
- 5) As the anxious organization becomes more vulnerable to hearsay, this vulnerability
intensifies the potential for behaviors which specifically increase anxiety. Chief among
these is triangling. As the triangling increases anxiety, the heightened anxiety often
dramatically increases the triangling.
- 5) Since triangling always involves a perceived protagonist and antagonist, triangling
always requires one toward who to project anxiety. As anxiety increases, the triangling
increases. This may result in irrational and severely intense projection attacks: blaming,
shaming, scapegoating, etc. These attacks can be against individuals, groups, sub-groups,
the powerful, the weak, etc.
- 6) Once anxiety escalates and the concomitant anxious behaviors arise, there is
virtually nothing that can stop the tragic consequences. People will get hurt. Reputations
will be destroyed. Fellowship and relationships will be threatened. Organizational values
will be ignored and often jettisoned.
- 7) As anxiety increases, organizations can deal with the potentially destructive
consequences of anxiety in two basic ways.
- * The first way is through prevention. When all involved parties are able to
overcome their anxieties and "come to the table," their reconciliative actions
are often able to prevent the devastation high anxiety often causes.
- * The second way organizations deal with destructive anxiety is to increase the
levels of anxiety. Ever-increasing levels of anxiety serves as a denial mechanism which
masks the damage. As increased levels of alcohol effectively "numbs" anxiety
and denies the damage done, increased levels of anxiety become quasi-addictive. Since
ever-increasing levels of anxiety require ever-increasing levels of anxiety to mask the
it, the addiction to anxiety will continue to escalate until it reaches frenzied levels.
- 8) Every organization has a peak tolerance level for anxiety. When this peak is reached,
the organization becomes so intoxicated by extremely saturated, uncontrolled levels of
anxiety that, like the alcoholic, it crashes with a "hangover." This
"hangover" is marked by the burning out of the conflict.
- Recognizing there are no longer sufficient resources to maintain the fight, the focus of
anxiety changes from trying to destroy the enemy to the anxious recognition that if the
they dont gain control of the anxiety, the destructive effects of anxiety which they
encouraged will ultimately irreversibly reduce their power base. Indeed, it may destroy
them, too. Unfortunately, this realization may come too late for some organizations to
- 9) Recovery is marked by non-anxious approaches to reconcile. These efforts necessarily
involve making amends, agreements, and initiatives designed for to rebuild the war-torn
community. Part of this rebuilding includes restoring reputations, righting what was
wrong, and restoring credibility to individuals and the community as a whole.
- 10) Some of the damage resulting is irreparable. Other damage can, with a great deal of
efforts, be repaired, renewed or refashioned. In either case, there will be a time of
mourning over the loss. During this time individuals must be directed through healthy
processes of recovery.
- 11) One of the important tasks of the final stages of this recovery is to restore those
relationships which are possible to reconcile. Those who have been wrongedbut not
able to be reconciledmust be remembered, honored, exonerated and grieved. The wrongs
cannot be undone. But somehow the wrongs must be righted. Depending on the circumstances
this may take months, years, decades or, in some cases, centuries.
- 12) The healing from the recovery may be short-lived or relatively enduring depending on
what adaptations the organization has made to deal with anxiety. If healthy adaptations
are made, the organization begins to realize healthy growth as it utilizes these healthy
- If unhealthy adaptations are made, or if no adaptations are made at all, the
organization will merely perpetuate their anxieties. When the next anxious-trigger occurs,
the organization will go through the same cycle again. Each time it does, the organization
becomes weaker and less able to overcome the results of the vicious cycle of anxiety.
- Hope...Even In The Witch Hunt?
- There are certainly many other lessons from this incident in Salem town. But perhaps the
most important are that no matter how difficult or destructive the conflict, there is also
the possibility for hope. Even when leaders are virtually powerless to stop the
escalating, senseless, self-sabotaging and destructive dynamics of Level IV and V
conflict, the possibility for renewal is always present.
- Unfortunately, sometimes the opportunity for renewal comes at a great price. Whether one
should pay the price is one of the most difficult leadership decisions a minister can
make. The conflicts experienced can be over many things. But, in many cases, the most
important issue which often arises is the calling of the pastor.
- In these times it is absolutely imperative that pastors remember the reason that the
ministry is not a "job" but a calling. It is because the testimony of Scripture
is that in Gods sight, the prophetic ministry was never for hire or
fire," it was for as long as God had ordained.
- Pastors: Objects In The Witch Hunt
- The reason God extends the call to ministry is not because He needs spokesman for the
good times, the prosperous times, the happy times. He needs them for the bad times, the
time of conflict, the times of spiritual uncertainty. No time is this more apparent that
during the "witch hunt."
- The faithful prophets of scripture are not remembered because of the good times,
prosperous circumstances, and crowd pleasing messages. They are remembered because they
were the objects of witch hunts. The prophetic tradition is such that each one experienced
remarkable riskeven deathto maintain the full exercise of their call
to a stubborn and rebellious people (Isaiah 1:2-3 et al).
- * The prophet Samuel risked treason by anointing David King while Saul was
- * Daniel had to stand up to Nebuchadnezzar and the fiery furnace,
- * The three men, Shadrack, Meshach, and Abendnego, faced the fiery furnace,
- * Isaiah and Jeremiah preached to nations that ultimately rejected them and
- * And many other men and women of faith (Abraham, Queen Esther et al) simply had
to remain faithful to Gods calling even when they did not
know the outcome or
where they should go.
- Whats Your Calling?
- While experiencing ministry duress, Paul told Timothy,
- "Fight the good fight of faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were
called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the sight
of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before
Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or
blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Timothy 6:12-14 NIV).
- In the difficult circumstances to which Timothy ministered, Pauls advice was not
to leave, escape or run. Instead, it was to remain firm, honor God's calling, make the
good confession...and do so without spot. Whatever the circumstances in ministry, that is
Gods highest calling for pastors.
- One mega-church pastor threatened with unjust removal sought advice of his
pastor-father. "Should I stay? Or should I defend the call." His fathers
response was simple." After 30 years of ministry I learned one thing. If God has given
you a call, the most important thing you can do is to uphold and defend it."
- Whether you minister in Salem Town or anywhere else in the world, there will be times
when your calling will be tested. It is the experience of virtually every minister called
by God. No matter how difficult or intense the conflict, dont focus on the pain.
Focus on the call. Thats what that mega-church pastor did. Thats what many
others have done too.
- There are numerous strategies that can be implemented to preserve and protect one's
calling and the ministerial office in even conflicted congregations. Some of these involve
negotiation, some are directed toward the end that the minister seek another call, while
others are directed toward restoring the pastor's ministry in the same location. But,
whatever the strategies used the most important focus must always be around two questions:
- * What is the best way to uphold the ministerial office in this
- * "Whats God's calling for you?"
- Uphold The Office
- When the witch hunt is on, what can you do to uphold the ministerial office in your
ministry? Recognize the process. Understand how the anxiety permeates. Become aware of the
ramifications of the emotional processes which ensue. Perhaps most important to ask,
however, is "What can I do to hold firm to God's calling for me?
- Hold firm to your calling. Make the good confession. And, in spite of the circumstances,
do so "without blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Timothy
Thomas F. Fischer
Factual information above based on "Historys
Mysteries: The Salem Witch Trials" with Arthur Kent produced by
The History Channel.
Index Articles 1-49
Articles 50-99 Articles
100-149 Articles 150-199
200-249 Articles 250-299
Articles 300-349 Articles
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was revised on:
Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:02:39 PM