Baptists and the American Civil War: September 16, 1862

This week’s North Carolina Biblical Recorder reports on a discussion of an unusual topic at the recent “Ministers and Deasons’ Meeting” of the state’s Central Baptist Association: extortion.

Some white Christians of the Confederacy, in seeking to determine why God has not yet given victory to his chosen nation and instead is allowing the war to continue, have determined that the primary sin of the South is that of extortion. Many merchants and others, in short, are taking advantage of the scarcity of foods and other goods by dramatically raising their selling prices. While the underlying reason for price hikes is escalating inflation due to untrustworthy Confederate currency, those who identity extortion as the sin of the South seemingly overlook, or least minimize, inflationary pressures in a tight marketplace.

The question addressed by the Central Association is: “In view of the teachings of Scripture on the sin of extortion, should not our churches notice cases coming under their observation among their members?”

While the topic of extortion has, in recent months, cropped up a number of times in Southern Baptist newspaper commentaries and editorials, the formal addressing of the subject in an associational assembly–a setting in which representatives from member churches gather to hear preaching, discuss collective mission work, and sometimes debate issues–is rare.

The Biblical Recorder thus summarizes the discourse regarding the question raised:

The difficulty of debating the act of extortion was acknowledged by most of the speakers, while all present seemed to be agreed that the sin itself called for the censure, and when proper, the severest discipline of the churches.–That a Christian should sell an article at any time for a price, which betrayed a spirit of greediness to get gain, was thought to be criminal, and that the present scarcity and distress among the people instead of excusing such conduct in Christians, rather increased their guilt than otherwise.

The embracing of extortion as that which the South is guilty of before a holy God grows as the war drags on. Conversely, whether in local congregational settings, associational meetings or state conventions, slavery is simply not considered to be the reason God is punishing the South (although slavery is frequently identified by Baptists of the South as the cause of the unjust war).

Source: “Ministers and Deacons’ Meeting,” Biblical Recorder, September 17, 1862 (link)