Baptists and the American Civil War: July 28, 1861

Montgomery Alabama 1861

Montgomery Alabama 1861

Today, Sunday, is a national Confederate Day of Thanksgiving, as proclaimed by the Confederate Congress on July 22, the day after the great victory at Bull Run / Manassas. The Congress has asked churches throughout the land to devote the day to thanking God and asking for God’s continued blessing upon his chosen nation:

Resolved, That we recognize the hand of the Most High God, the King of kings and Lord of lords, in the glorious victory with which he hath crowned our army at Manassas; and that the people of the Confederate States are invited, by appropriate services on the ensuing Sabbath, to offer up their united thanksgiving and praise for this mighty deliverance.

By the thousands, White Protestant churches comply with the government’s request – Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and Episcopalians. From pulpits, pastors deliver political messages laced with scripture. In Montgomery, Alabama – original capitol of the Confederacy – Basil Manly, Sr., chaplain to the Confederacy, preaches a sermon entitled “A People Seeking God.” In Spartanburg, South Carolina, First Baptist Church, following a patriotic sermon, collects $130 “for the relief of our sick and wounded soldiers.”

The scene  in the North, however, is somber. Northern Baptists are saddened, bewildered, uncertain. Where is God in the midst of battlefield losses to a rebellious people who fight to keep fellow human beings enslaved?

Tonight, when southern white Baptists turn out their lamps and candles, they rest in the knowledge of God’s divine favor and blessings upon the Confederacy. Thus were they assured from the pulpits of their churches.

Meanwhile, far to the West, the religious leader of another group is also assured today of God’s divine favor and blessings, certain that “the redemption of Zion” is near. But the kingdom of God, in the mind of Mormon leader Brigham Young, speaking in Salt Lake City, Utah, is not the Confederacy. “Just as soon as the Latter−day Saints are ready and prepared to return to Independence, Jackson County, in the State of Missouri, North America, just so soon will the voice of the Lord be heard, ‘Arise now, Israel, and make your way to the centre Stake of Zion.'”

The Kingdom of God will prove to be far more elusive, and far less controllable, than either Southern Baptists or Mormons anticipate. As for Northern Baptists who are now in mourning, their tears will one day evaporate in the face of the beginning of a realization of God’s Kingdom expressed on earth in the form of racial equality.

Sources: Confederate Congress proclamation of Day of Thanksgiving (link); Manly sermon (link); FBC Spartanburg special offering (link); Brigham Young remarks (link)