Baptists and the American Civil War: February 21, 1864

Civil War States MapNews of the the Lincoln administration granting permission to the American Baptist Home Mission Society to fill pulpits in abandoned Baptist churches of the South does not sit well with Southern Baptist divines. A caustic and defiant editorial originally published in the Virginia Baptist Religious Herald , reacting to an earlier editorial in the New York Baptist Examiner, resonates with Baptists across the South, and is this week republished in the North Carolina Baptist Biblical Recorder.

The heart of the editorial is in the form of a condemnation of the American Baptist Home Mission Society and their “Abolition despotism”. Southern Baptists are determined to preserve black slavery and white supremacy while crushing their abolitionist Northern Baptist counterparts.

It is announced in the Examiner, New York, that the American Baptist Home Mission Society has received full and formal authority from the Federal Secretary of War, to take possession of every abandoned Baptist house of worship within the limits of the insurrectionary district, and of every other Baptist church edifice now in the hands of the rebels! On this subject the Examiner says:

“The great authorization was obtained through the agency of the Home Mission Secretary and Senator Harris; and the Home Mission Board will need pre-eminent wisdom and energy, besides many men and much means, adequately to meet their new responsibilities. The Baptist population of the Seceding States is probably larger than that of any other denomination, and hundreds of abandoned Baptist pulpits will be open to loyal Baptist ministers of the North. This is an important movement, and it is hoped that every Rebel Baptist, (if there are any such,) as well as every abandoned Baptist meeting-house, will speedily be restored to loyalty.”

The Examiner need not doubt that there are Baptists, of the class falsely styled “Rebels,” because, in harmony with American traditions and scriptural principles, they assert the right of Southern self government. Every one of whom we have met, since the 16th of April, 1861,–every one, without exception,–has belonged, and belongs now to that number. There is a double aspect of this “important movement,” which, let the Examiner rest assured, must prevent their servile acceptance of Abolition despotism, under the abused name of “loyalty.” By one comprehensive act of robbery, all the churches which have not been demolished by the hordes of armed miscreants turned loose upon the South, are to be wrested from our ownership; and none are to be allowed to minister in holy things among us, but the “pulpiteers” who, secum tum usum Masachusettensom, (as Cotton Mather expresses it,), have spirited these miscreants to the work of desolation, and now seek the reward of their infamy in this unblushing robbery. We are not conquered yet, though Wendell Phillips says it, and the Examiner believes it. We see no reason for despairing of such an issue to the conflict as our wishes prompt and our interests and rights demand. The North will not pay the price of blood necessary to put the American Baptist Home Mission Society in possession of these church edifices. That Society will never display the preeminent wisdom and energy which, by the testimony of the Examiner, it “needs” in this sphere–never!–Rel Herald.

The wording of the protest is such that an appeal is made to Southern autonomy, rather than local church autonomy, in terms of the right to self governance.

Sources: “Baptist Interest in the War,” Biblical Recorder, February 20, 1864 (link)