Baptists and the American Civil War: February 4, 1865

iowa_mapDuring the war years Southern Baptist elites have constructed a narrative of a Christian Confederacy and a Satanic Union, at least one to the point of labeling the abolitionist North as the “final Antichrist.” Abolitionist Christians—and that includes a seeming majority in the North by this point—are, according to this storyline, the very instruments of the devil.

So earnest are Southern Baptist elites, and some Baptist common folk, in such accusations that many truly believe their rhetoric. Whether such belief is the result of white Southern Christianity having too long ago been becoming captive of the Southern slaveocracy, or the South’s white Christians sharing responsibility for creating the Southern slaveocracy, is difficult to discern.

While such wild accusations of a Satanic Union make for good copy in state Southern Baptist newspapers and verbal drama from Baptist pulpits of the South, the reality is that Northern Christianity, for decades increasingly embracing a Gospel of freedom for all, has thrived during the war years.

In Iowa this day, one brief article published in one small town newspaper is indicative of the pride that many towns in the North feel of their community’s robust religious life.

There is probably no town in the west that can boast of more or better churches in proportion to population than Mt. Pleasant. We have five thousand inhabitants and seven large and commodious churches, namely: Methodist, Presbyterian, Congregational, Christian, Baptist, Universalist and Catholic. Besides these, the Methodists have a good congregation and support a minister at what is known as the College Charge, holding their services in the College Chapel. We also have a small but comfortable frame church which is occupied by the colored people, under the control of the Baptist denomination.

As Northern churches thrive and white Southern Baptists fume, today’s Christian Recorder newspaper—a leading black newspaper of the day, published by the African Methodist Episcopal Church—celebrates the passage of the 13th Amendment.

The Lord be praised for his great work of reformation in the hearts of the American people. We know that this welcome news will gladden the hearts of all patriots and true lovers of God and humanity, freedom and liberty. We hope that our Legislatures will act wisely in the premises. Once more may the old State House Bell ring forth, as in days of yore, proclaiming Liberty throughout the land – proclaiming that the martyrs of today have not cast their lives away in vain. A wild hum of joy comes to our ears on the dancing breeze as the bondman’s shackles fall, and we can almost hear the glad cry gushing like a fountain from his heart – “O God, we thank thee.”

Such sentiments are echoed by black Baptists South and North.

Sources: “Churches in Mt. Pleasant,” Home Journal, Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, Saturday, February 4, 1865, page 3, posted by Pat Ryan White (link); “Glorious News–Slavery Abolished from the Constitution,” Christian Recorder, February 4, 1865, posted by JD Thomas, Accessible Archives (link)