In To Kill a Mockingbird, what is a foot-washing Baptist, according to Miss Maudie?

In To Kill a Mockingbird, a foot-washing Baptist, according to Miss Maudie, is a person who follows the "laws" of the Bible while missing the overall mission that Jesus gave to His followers, to love one another greatly.

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Foot washing is found in the New Testament book of John. Before He is betrayed and crucified, Jesus ended his final meal with his disciples by pouring water into a basin and washing their feet. This was an important act in Jesus's time and setting: wearing sandals in a dusty climate meant that feet got very dirty while traveling from place to place. When he had finished, Jesus instructed his disciples to use Him as an example; in his absence, they should wash each other's feet because "no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him" (John 13:16).

In theory, a "foot-washing Baptist" would describe a person who interpreted this act literally, performing acts of service with great humility to serve mankind. That's not how Mrs. Maudie uses the term, though. She tells Scout that some of the local Baptists did not find her gardening to be in accordance with their views. They believed that she enjoyed taking care of her flowers so much that it was sinful. According to their views, she should spend more of her time indoors reading her Bible and less time gardening. Miss Maudie continues by telling Scout that these "foot-washing" Baptists think that she (and Scout) are examples of walking sin because they are women. This is a reference to Genesis, when Eve is accounted as the source of original sin when she disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden.

"Foot-washers" are so caught up in following the "laws" of the Bible that they often miss the big picture: Christians, including Baptists, are called to love their neighbor as much as they love themselves. People like those who would condemn Miss Maudie for gardening believe themselves to be more "religious" because they adhere to a strict code of laws, but they miss the calling of Christ when they condemn those around them. Just as Christ served his disciples with a humble spirit, Christians should love others and serve them with a genuine spirit, not one of condemnation. This is the point Mrs. Maudie is trying to impress upon Scout.

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In chapter 5, page 24, Miss Maudie tells Scout that the reason that Boo Radley, or Arthur Radley (as she insists Scout calls him), stays at home is that his father was a foot-washing baptist. According to Miss Maudie, "foot-washers believe anything that is a pleasure is a sin." She even says that some of them told her that "my flowers were going to hell." They thought that Miss Maudie was committing a sin because she spent more time admiring and sitting in her garden than staying inside reading the Bible.

From this perspective, it is no wonder that Boo Radley stays in his house. He has grown up to believe that he should take the Bible literally. According to Miss Maudie, foot-washers believe that even women are a sin.

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Miss Maudie tells Scout that old Mr. Radley was a foot-washing Baptist. This refers to a religious ritual that is meant to show humility and love. Jesus himself performed this very same ritual on his apostles in John 13:1–17.

But that's not quite what Miss Maudie means by the term. She uses "foot-washing Baptist" in a pejorative sense, as a way of drawing attention to the super-strict religious practices of a particular denomination. Miss Maudie presents these Baptists in a negative light, as grim Puritans who frown on any kind of pleasure, which they regard as a sin.

That includes gardening, apparently, which is Miss Maudie's favorite hobby. One day a "foot-washer" came by and told Miss Maudie that her flowers were going to hell. But then, according to Miss Maudie, "foot-washers" believe that women are a sin by definition, so she's doubly damned in their eyes.

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In Chapter 5, Scout asks Miss Maudie why Boo Radley never comes out of the house. Miss Maudie proceeds to tell Scout that Boo's father was a "foot-washing Baptist." Miss Maudie says that "Foot-washers believe anything that's pleasure is a sin" (Lee 28). They are essentially religious fanatics who have a strict interpretation of the Bible. Foot-washers continually ridicule Miss Maudie for working in her garden because they believe that she should be spending the majority of her time indoors reading the Bible. Upon hearing this, Scout tells Maudie that she's the best lady she knows. Maudie thanks Scout and proceeds to tell her that "foot-washers think women are a sin by definition" (Lee 28). Maudie tries her best to explain to Scout the behavior of people who take the Bible literally. Scout is too young to understand how religious fanatics are often intolerant of others who do not share the same beliefs and can come across as callous individuals. 

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In chapter 5 of "To Kill a Mockingbird", Dill and Jem start hanging out together, which leaves Scout left out of the action.  So, Scout spends a lot of time sitting with Miss Maudie on her front porch, chit-chatting about various subjects.  Since Boo Radley is a fascination with all of the kids, Scout naturally brings it up to Miss Maudie, to see if she has any new information to add to the sujbect.  Miss Maude tells Scout that old Mr. Radley, Boo's father, was a "foot-washing Baptist."  She goes on to explain that "footwashers believe anything that's a pleasure is a sin."  So, it is a religious sect that strictly follows the Bible, and keeps any form of pleasure out of their lives.  They are so strict about it that Miss Maudie tells Scout that one day some foot-washing Baptists walked by her house and told her that her "flowers were going to hell" right with her; I guess planting beautiful flowers, and admiring something so lovely is a pleasure, and hence, a sin.  The foot-washers also "think women are a sin by definition," probably because Eve ate the apple first in the garden of Eden, and tempted Adam to eat of it too, causing mankind's fallen state.  So, Scout gets a bit of background to Boo's very strict upbringing, which makes his father's extreme reaction to his pranks about town that much more understandable.  I hope that helps!

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