Baptists and the American Civil War: November 3, 1862

The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina is wrapping up their annual convention. The subject of war has arisen a number of times, including a lengthy discussion of the need to put religious periodicals–particularly the state Baptist paper, the Biblical Recorder–into the hands of Confederate soldiers.

Seemingly the most spirited debate related to the war is the question of whether or not Baptist preachers should be talking about the war.

This debate among the pastors present begins when Elder Purefoy (“elder” being a term meaning pastor) motions that “a committee be appointed to report on the state of the country.” Many other associations and state conventions of the Confederacy have issued such reports in the eighteen months of the war to this point. However, Elder Finch stands up to oppose the motion, offering the following rationale.

He [Finch] thought the affairs of the country were in safe hands. Wise and experienced men are guiding in our councils, and it does not look well for a collection of preachers to be discussing such matters. As a religious body we have nothing to do with politics. The people of the United States whom, within the last eighteen months, we have learned to loathe, have shown us the danger of this course. He doubted the propriety of the course proposed by the motion [to issue a report on the state of the country].

In response, Elder James dismisses Finch’s reservations of the impropriety of religion supporting the war effort.

… war presents to us, its political and moral aspects. With its political aspects, as a religious body we have nothing to do. Its moral aspects, we should consider. It is proper and right that we should do it; should express our sense of the justice of our cause, our approval of the course of our Government, and our own feelings under the dreadful chastisements which God has on us. He [James] had lately seen in a religious paper a proposition to hold a Convention of all the religious denominations, for the purpose of expressing their views in regard to the war. He thought this an appropriate time, while the Baptist State Convention is in session, to say that we regard the cause in which we are engaged, a sacred one. If there ever had been a justifiable war, one in which the men engaged in it could look up to God and confidently pray for His blessing on them, it is the cause in which we are engaged, the war which we are waging in defence of our dearest rights and liberties, and to preserve inviolate the sanctity of our homes. That this course has been pursued by some of the religious bodies of the United States, is no reason why we should not do it. We may learn even from our enemies. In the revolutionary war, the preachers did not hesitate to let it be known which side they were on; neither should we. We can not ignore the war or divorce ourselves from it. It is the all absorbing topic of the country. It has penetrated into every family, carrying with it anxiety and suffering. Our all is at stake. He thought it right that we should give expression to our sentiment under the circumstances. He favored the motion.

A third pastor, Elder Hume, then chimes in, declaring that

he could not sympathize with the sentiments of the brother who opposed the motion. He thought this an appropriate occasion to give expression to our views and feelings. Many of our brethren are within the enemy’s lines, cut off from intercourse with their friends, or are exiles in their homes. He thought it right that we should express our sympathy for them. He was a refugee himself and knew how to appreciate their condition. At the last meeting of the Portsmouth Association two hours had been profitably and pleasantly spent in this way. Many of our brethren do not know what the war is, and they need to have their feelings stirred. It is right that our brave men, now in the field, and the sufferers around us should know that we sympathise with and pray for them. We have learned many lessons by this war. Why not note the hand of Providence in it all?–He had learned, among other things, the excellence of the principles of the Gospel, as developed in these days of trial. Let us have a paper setting forth these things.

Yet another pastor, Elder Skinner, tires to be a peacemaker among those present. Skinner

didn’t think the brother who opposed the motion really believed what he said. He had only taken that side of the question to elicit discussion, and had got his foot into a hornet’s nest.–Although Mr. Lincoln has said that North Carolina is in favor of the old Union, he hoped no one would suppose that any one here opposed the war. Our Government is established in our hearts, and we will pray on and work on until our independence is gained.

In response to such strident opposition, Finch backs down.

After some playful remarks, said he was in favor of such an address as had been referred to by brother Hume. He was only opposed to the decision of political questions by religious bodies. The motion was unanimously adopted and the committee appointed…

Later during the convention, two more conversations “of considerable length” take place regarding a report on the state of the country. Eventually, a statement is passed expressing strong support of the government of the Confederate States of America. Nonetheless, it is evident that at least one Baptist among those gathered is notably concerned with violating the Baptist heritage of church state separation.

In addition, evident among white North Carolina Baptist pastors is the belief that African slavery, the cause for which the white South fights, is a “sacred cause.”

Source: Baptist State Convention [of North Carolina], Biblical Recorder, November 5, 1862 (link)

Notes: The rumored multi-denominational Confederate-wide religious convention in support of the Confederacy apparently never takes place (probably not due to a lack of religious enthusiasm for the Confederacy).