Baptists and the American Civil War: November 11, 1862

Civil War States MapWhite Southern Baptists continue debating what the Confederate States of America has done wrong to invoke chastisement — in the form of a drawn-out war and the hardships associated thereof — from God. The slave-based Confederacy acknowledges itself as a Christian nation: the nationalĀ  motto is “Deo Vindice” (Under God, Our Vindicator), while the constitution enshrines African slavery and invokes “the favor and guidance of Almighty God. Why, then, is the Confederacy — a nation constitutionally and religiously committed to upholding God’s will for the races — yet suffering from war, when obviously God could defeat the savage North and restore the fortunes of His chosen Southern nation at any given moment?

Echoing other arguments from Baptist quarters, a writer in today’s Georgia Baptist Christian Index disclaims any “national sins” as the fault of the government, instead pointing to the sins of individual citizens.

… In my view the sins of a nation are those to which the masses of its people are addicted. Idolatry was at one time the national sin of Israel. Unbelief was their national sin at another. Infidelity is the national sin of some European countries. That Sabbath-breaking is one of our sins as a people, there can be no doubt. Tried by a strict standard (and no other is reliable) multitudes even of professing christians do not keep the Lord’s day with becoming sacredness. To spend any part of this time in reading secular books or newspapers, in going (or what is worse) sending your servant to the Post office, when neither mercy nor necessity require it, in making calls upon our friends for any other than a religious object, in giving to unprofitable gossip at home hours which should have been devotedĀ  to spiritual improvement and doing good, are surely departures from the requisition which calls us to keep the holy day. Yet, alas! how many even of those who should shine as lights in the world are habitually delinquent in some of the particulars which are specified! And when to the short-comings of professed christians we add the wide spread profanation of those who not profess to accept the moral law as their directory, the evil grows to a fearful magnitude. At the same time I am far from thinking that Sabbath-breaking is a sin of such giant proportions as to dwarf all other offences. Nor do I think that our energies in our Conventions and Associations, and in our sermons should be devoted to the correction of this evil whilst so many other sins are ignored. There are many persons who would join heartily in condemning the violation of the Lord’s day by the government or by their neighbors, whose lives show them to be under the dominion of avarice, or sensuality–the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, the pride of life–in some of their protean forms. There is nothing which the Scriptures more constantly and pointedly condemn than idolatry; and yet there is no sin to which the country, both before and since its dismemberment, has been more generally addicted. The old United States could with more propriety be called a nation of Mammon-servers than a nation of Sabbath-breakers. And what is this but idolatry? This covetousness which the Holy Spirit declares to be synonymous with idolatry, continues in our separation to be our national sin–if, indeed, we can limit the number to one where there is so much profanity, intemperance, lying, licentiousness, dishonesty, and vice of every species prevailing all around us. Our secular editors tell us that the greed of gain which possesses the people is one of the most formidable obstacles to our independence. “The whole South,” says the Richmond Examiner, (one of the most discriminating papers in the Confederacy) “stinks with the lust of extortion.” And what is this extortion which prompts the manufacturers (with a few noble exceptions) to insist upon a profit from five to ten times as great as what would have been called large in ordinary times–which tells the merchant to demand from fifty to five hundred per cent profit on his old stock–which seizes sugar, flour and other necessities of life, and hides them until purchasers must pay a large advance into the pocket of the monopolist? What do we see in all of this but the natural operations of the covetous temper?–The prizes are so splendid, the reward is so immediate, the sin is so genteel–it takes so many plausible names, the multitudes who would stand back appalled at the thought of bowing down before a golden calf, prostrate their souls at the shrine of worldly gain.

The evil, alas! is not confined to the world. It is not more truly the sin of churches than it is our national sin. Yet how unfrequent and feeble our denunciations of this sin! How often do we hear of churches excluding members for covetousness? When everybody believes a person to be guilty who would think of making it a matter for church action? And yet, according to the Apostle Paul, covetousness will as certainly exclude a man from the kingdom of God as will theft, adultery, or drunkenness. How solemn his language:–“Neither adulterers, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor extortioners shall inherit the kingdom of God.” “Behold now,” says [Adolph] Monod [contemporary French Calvinist pastor], “the covetous man, who passes, perhaps, in the world for a moral man, for a religious man, behold him advancing in the centre of the most infamous company that ever existed, giving his right hand to the drunkard and his left to the thief, with the adulterer before him and the extortioner behind him! Is he journeying towards the kingdom of God? No! He is marching to the place of the thief and the drunkard; towards the extortioner and adulterer; towards the place of Satan and his angels.”

The argument that national sins are detached from government fits nicely with declarations from other Southern Baptists that Confederate government officials, ordained of God, are not to be questioned in their actions and motives. And yet, strong and repeated is Southern Baptists’ condemnation in identifying the sin of the United States as its political policy of abolition and, now, emancipation.

Source: W. O. D., “Metabasisian Letters,” Christian Index, November 11, 1862