Baptists and the American Civil War: April 28, 1861

Slavery: A Common Scene in Georgia During the Civil WarEmerging from the annual meeting of the Georgia Baptist Convention in Athens are hints that the war will severely disrupt Southern Baptist life and ministries, and an acknowledgment that Southern Baptists’ mission enterprise is dependent upon the profits of slave labor (illustrated is a common scene in Georgia during the Civil War years).

The Committee on Education commends the patriotism of Baptist students, but requests that they finish their degrees before joining the military, or at least remain in school until the governor issues a call for their services “in the field.” The Board of Mercer University (a Georgia Baptist institution) reports that, “The condition of the country, the past year, has forbidden any vigorous efforts” in terms of completing the endowment of a department chair.

Missionary efforts were especially affected by secession and the war, to the point that “the present crises has fearfully diminished” income since September of the prior year:

The [southern mission] Board have been compelled to discontinue about 50 of their missionaries in the Domestic field, so that they have remaining only about 69 now engaged …

Your Committee learn with pleasure, that the domestic operations of this Board, will hereafter be confined to the limits of the Confederate States …

Owing to the embarrassments of the present crisis, our Foreign Board have thought best to retrench, as they were able – they have been unable to do much in this respect, save in Liberia, where our missionaries had some other scanty resources to fall back upon.

Two causes have contributed to produce the present embarrassment in our mission operations:

1. The drought last year cut off the crops, so that it required the amount for which the cotton crop was sold, to supply the deficiency in the provision crop. Our country has never before been so dependent upon for the necessities of life upon other States.

2. Our political troubles have rendered the future uncertain, as to peace or war, and our people have been disposed to hold their money, that they might be prepared for any emergency. Very large amounts of money have also been given to our volunteer companies who have gone to defend our country. These amounts were well deserved by our patriotic soldiery, and therefore were nobly contributed by our citizens.

We are not surprised, with these facts before us, that our boards should be embarrassed and compelled to retrench. But what is to be done in the future? Shall our Boards be compelled to abandon any of their Foreign or Indian missions? Shall the cause of Christ and of souls suffer further? Shall we abandon any of the positions now occupied, with such brightening prospects of future success before us and yield the vantage ground already gained? Never, never. Now is the time to show our love to the cause of Jesus, our anxiety for the world’s regeneration. We cannot give now without feeling it, without a sacrifice, a self denial. Let us meet the crisis, prove equal to it, and by the help of God bear the tottering ark through its present severe trial.

Among the men elected as delegates to next month’s meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention is Ebenezer W. Warren, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Macon, Georgia. Warren had preached his now-famous pro-slavery sermon, “The Scriptural Vindication of Slavery,” a few months earlier. He also chaired the mission committee, whose report is noted above.

Source: “Minutes of the Thirty-Ninth Anniversary of the Baptist Convention of the State of Georgia,” April 26-29, 1861; illustration (link)