Haters of John Calvin (including many Christians) love to blame him for the burning of the heretic Michael Servetus, and they use the execution of Servetus to paint Calvin as a harsh, hateful, soulless Pharisee. But nothing could be further from the truth.
--Because Servetus openly taught against the doctrine of the Trinity, he had already been condemned as an heretic in France. He had escaped from prison and fled to Geneva, where he hoped to be treated more leniently.
--Servetus wasn't merely a denier of the Trinity. Servetus was a supporter of the radical anabaptist movement, which often used violent revolutionary tactics to try to usher in the kingdom of God. The peaceful anabaptists (Mennonites, Amish, etc.) were a later reaction to the extreme violence of the early anabaptists.
--John Calvin was not a member of the city council that condemned Servetus. In fact, Calvin was not even a voting citizen of Geneva.
--As a pastor, Calvin was a member of the Consistory (sort of like a presbytery). Calvin assessed the views of Servetus as heretical, but his ill health prevented him from participating much in the trial.
--Calvin urged Servetus to repent of his heresy so that his life would be spared, but Servetus refused.
--Because of the unusual situation with Servetus, the council of Geneva sought legal advice from many different Reformed Swiss cantons (counties). Everyone agreed that Servetus ought to be executed, because he wasn't a citizen and couldn't legally be banished.
--The council sought to burn Servetus with his heretical writings, but Calvin requested that they show mercy and execute Servetus by beheading instead.
Many Christians think it's inappropriate to condemn or punish someone for their theological beliefs, but the fact is that every society punishes heretics and blasphemers. The only question is whether a society is using a biblical standard or a man-made standard to define heresy and blasphemy. Our society won't condemn anyone for denying the Trinity or blaspheming Christ, but you can lose your livelihood and your reputation for saying there are only two genders or that a man in a dress is still a man. We will either be ruled by the word of God, or we will be ruled by the whims of sinful men. Those are the only two options.
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