Baptists and the American Civil War: August 8, 1863

Civil War States MapChristian editors and writers in the slave-based Confederacy, a nation whose constitution invokes “the favor and guidance of Almighty God,” continue their quest to identity the sins of the nation. In this week’s Georgia Baptist Christian Index, in the agonizing wake of the losses at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, an editorial argues that the leaders of this self-proclaimed Christian nation have broken the fourth commandment.

Last year I labored by voice and pen to call the attention of our people to the fact that our national sin was not drunkenness or profanity or extortion, or any other sin committed by individuals against the laws of the country and without the participation, connivance or encouragement of the government. The sins punished as national sins of which we read in the Bible, were those of the official heads of the nation, or such as they permitted or encouraged. I will not repeat the argument I made last year. The conclusion to which they tended was THE SIN of our government is, that it not only permits but requires, by law, the weekly violation of the fourth commandment.

God says, upon the Sabbath we shall do no work; and our government at Richmond says that a large portion of its officials shall work on that day just as on other days. If it required them to violate the first or the second or the third or the fifth, or any other of the ten commandments, the whole country would be filled with horror. Yet it has no more right to disregard the fourth than any other. It may be that now, when God is bringing us low, the minds of his own people, at least, may turn again to this question, and ask, “Show us wherefore thou contendeth with us?”

Last year the Ga. Baptist Convention memorialized the government upon this subject and several thousand individual petitions were sent up. What was done with the memorial and the petitions? I was so situated part of the year that I did not see the newspapers and consequently did not know whether any action was taken at all by Congress. But recently I met with a published letter of the lamented Stonewall Jackson in which he refers to the report of a committee of Congress in relation to the subject. I gather from this that the matter was referred to a committee, and that it reported favorably to the prayer of the petitioners and the requirements of God’s law. But from the fact that no change has been made by our laws, I conclude that Congress voted not to observe the commandment of the Great Ruler of nations. And thus, the second time, our government has deliberately declared that it will not obey the laws of God in regard to the Sabbath day….

Baptists of the Confederacy who demand that the government follow biblical laws have seemingly forgotten their own faith forefathers, who demanded in the late eighteenth century that the government of the newly-formed American nation neither recognize nor observe any holy days of any faith. Yet for many white Baptists of the South now, God smiles with pleasure upon the peculiar institution of African slavery, while frowning upon the Confederate government for not mandating national observance of the Sabbath.

Source: “Our National Sin,” Christian Index, August 7, 1863