This week’s Religion in America post will be about Bishop Hill in central Illinois. Like last week’s post it is about a group who escaped a State sanctioned Lutheran system of belief in the mid 1800s. This time it is from Sweden but pretty much mirrors that of Zoar Village story from Germany.
This group settled into a communal colony where everything was held in common. But unlike most religious colonies escaping to America. Bishop Hill was more intense/fundamental than the one that they escaped from and were often in bitter opposition to many other versions of Lutheranism in America.
Here is a little about what Wikipedia says of Bishop Hill’s founder:
The village was founded in 1846 by Swedish immigrants affiliated with the Pietist movement, led by Erik Jansson. Prior to founding the Bishop Hill Colony, Jansson preached to his followers in Sweden about what he considered to be the abominations of the Lutheran Church and emphasized the doctrine that the faithful were without sin.
This story is common to many religious groups established in America. It was primarily founded around a strong and charismatic leader who chose a few particular verses in one version or another holy document to concentrate on. But this same thing was also typical of other world religions. Lutheranism, which was founded by Martin Luther who started the Protestant Reformation about 500 years ago when he became fixated on “works” not being important to God and uttering words of faith being the primary purpose of religion. Some say this was due to an overwhelming inferiority complex by Luther. When he found the words from St. Paul (not Jesus) “you are saved by faith, not works” it became by far the most important aspect of his version of religion.
Getting back to the story at hand in 1854 when Jansson was assassinated by a former member and six years later the communal contract ended due to mismanagement. There are some common historic buildings left at the site but most of the dwellings in the village are now privately owned.