Baptists and the American Civil War: March 3, 1863

Samuel Boykin

Samuel Boykin, Editor, Christian Index

In this week’s Georgia Baptist Christian Index, editor Samuel Boykin discusses at length “The Ministry and the War,” in reaction to secular criticism of Christian pastors in the Confederacy.

Some very startling and dangerous sentiments upon this subject have been published recently. Infidelity is becoming bolder as our prospects of success grow brighter. When the day was darker men felt that our success depended upon the favor of God, but now the ungodly are wishing to assume the position, that we can succeed by our own power. This is a device of Satan, and if we yield to it we shall be plunged into the scenes of infidel France. Let ministers and christians take the alarm and stand up for God and their country.

A member of Congress has spoken contemptuously of the ministry and indirectly of God. A writer from the army of the Potomac speaks flippantly of what he says is a fact, that “the ministry has sent fewer men to the army than any other profession.” Some churches, it is said, are willing to close their temples and advise their pastors to enter the army. These views are wicked and as dangerous to the country as wicked. We hope it is true, that fewer ministers have gone into the ranks of the army than of any other profession. It would be a burning shame to them were it otherwise.–No minister called of God to the work can voluntarily abandon his profession for any secular calling without unfaithfulness to God and his country.

How great the inconsistencies of wicked men! In times of peace they are unsparing in their censures upon a minister, if he meddles in politics or worldly callings. They will scarcely allow him to hold a political opinion, or cast his vote in an election, but when war arises they would have him violate his vows, trample his call from heaven in the dust, and become wholly secularized. At all times Christ and his cause must be subservient to Caesar.

The ministry is a separate class of society, called to a spiritual work. Under the old dispensation God provided that they should not be conscribed for war, but abide by his altars. The call which God makes upon them now to give themselves wholly to the ministry contains no exception. Where is the man who can say, “God called me to devote my life to the ministry except in times of war?” There is no exception. God calls him for life and he best serves his country as he is obedient to that call.

The Government has already taken our theological students, and all our ministers who are not actually engaged in the ministry.–Now the misguided require that all the pastors between eighteen and forty-five leave their flocks and shoulder the musket. Will God approve of such a thing? Never! Will Satan approve? Verily, it is his own measure.

Have the ministry at home been useless in this war? Let facts answer. The deeds of women are justly lauded in this revolution.–We have counseled, organized and lead them under trials. Next to God their pastors have done it. They have chiefly given form, order, and success to the efforts of the women of the Confederacy. Who have pleaded as they have done for hospitals; for clothing for the soldiers; for support for the wives and children of absent soldiers? Is all this nothing to the country; nothing to the soldiers? Who have comforted the widows and orphans of soldiers, and provided for their wants as the pastors at home?

Again, is it nothing that the greatest difficulties have been overcome, and the religious reading secured so largely for the army? Who have affected this? Who have begged the funds, printed Testaments, tracts, papers;–and distributed them broadcast over the land, in most cases, without money and without price to soldiers? There is but one answer;–this is chiefly the work of ministers.

Who have thrown the safe guards of virtue around our homes in a time of great lawlessness; who have reproved sin in high places, and denounced the extortioner and swindler? The ministers at home. Who in the darkest hours have stirred the hearts of all with courage, fortitude and hope as the pastors at home have done? Whatever the soldier in the field may say, his family at home knows the value of their spiritual shepherds.

There are complaint against chaplains, and abuse of ministers because there are not more chaplains. No doubt but there are some unfaithful, worthless chaplains. They were worthless at home, and went to war because they were so; but there are faithful and self-denying chaplains. True some of them have resigned, and why? Because the government and the army threw so many difficulties in their way that they could not labor with success. The army regulations make no provision for their preaching on Sunday, but on the contrary make it the busiest of all days. Ungodly officers interpose difficulties, and thus for weeks and months they are not allowed to preach. They become discouraged and feel that they can do more good as missionaries or pastors.

Who have maintained the union prayer-meetings for the country; who have led the congregations in the public fasts which preceded our great victories, and enabled our generals to say, “God has given us another victory?” The ministers. Who has sustained the public thanksgivings for our deliverances, so acceptable to God? The ministers!

Still all this is nothing! Pull down the altars: close the house of God and send his consecrated servants to the battle field. God forbid!

Let not the ministers be moved from duty by any popular clamor which Satan may excite. They are the Aarons and Hurs of the Confederacy in this great struggle.

Despite now arguing that ministers should remain in the pulpit, Boykin in the second half of the war–as the Confederacy’s prospects dim in the face of numerous battlefield defeats–increasingly criticizes pastors for refusing to leave the pulpit and serve as chaplains and army missionaries.

The fluid nature of the war, in short, leads some Southern Baptist elites to refine, and even altogether change, their messaging dependent upon current developments and perceived trajectories.

Sources: “The Ministry and the War,” Christian Index, March 2, 1863; see also Bruce T. Gourley, Diverging Loyalties: Baptists in Middle Georgia During the Civil War, Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 2011 (link)