Baptists and the American Civil War: September 25, 1861

Georgia Map 1861Delegates to the recent Rehoboth Baptist Association of middle Georgia, held at Traveller’s Rest Baptist Church in Macon County, are this week reporting back to their respective congregations. Rehoboth Baptists, assured of God’s hand upon the Southern Confederacy, have proudly made their convictions known:

In the midst of the stiring events which are to effect so materially the history not only of this country, but of the Christian world, it is important that the Baptist, a denomination numbering nearly 100,000 in the state of Georgia should clearly define their position in so important a contest ….

We truly believe that in our separation from the old Union and in the organization of the Southern Confederate States, we have taken timely steps to save ourselves from tyranny and oppression, and to preserve, as transmitted to us by our forefathers, our rights, our religion, and our liberties, and upon the altar of our infant Republic to offer our honor, our property, our sacred all.

We honestly believe that in this great struggle for all that is dear to us as a people, we have the approving smiles of Him who rules at his will the destinies of nations, and we feel great encouragement in approaching boldly a throne of Grace, and of imploring the guidance of God, and His sure protection to our friends and relatives upon the tented field. Therefore,

Resolved 1st. We endorse fully the struggle in which our people are now engaged.

2nd. We are ready with all the aid we can command to defend our homes and firesides from our malignant foes.

3rd. As we have many Baptists in the army, that we keep a record of those who may fall in the field, that the world may know what part Baptists have taken in this contest.

Firmly convinced of their righteousness they may be, but Rehoboth Baptists nonetheless wonder whether the South can truly win the war:

We fear, however, that on account of the troubles, political, financial, and moral, the cause of education is destined to suffer. The mental culture of our children is too much to be neglected. And we fear that we may, at a day not very distant, be dependent upon a foreign, and at present hostile country for teachers.

These words will prove prophetic, as in the post-war years northern teachers flock to the South to teach the region’s children, particularly African American children.

Yet it is an internal problem within God’s Southern kingdom that garners special attention from Rehoboth Baptists: alcohol.

The subject of temperance is one of great interest to the Churches. We have to lament, that, of many of the cases which call for [church] discipline, so large a number owe their origin to the use of liquor. This may be due to two causes:

1st. The discipline of some of our churches is not sufficiently strict upon the subject.

2nd. Some of our members are not as careful as they should be to avoid the very appearance of evil, and to suffer themselves to be too easily enticed into bar-rooms and drinking saloons, to the great detriment to themselves and to the cause of Christ.

We would suggest to the churches a stricter discipline in reference to the conduct of those members who visit public drinking places, that the churches may be freed from the reproach of retaining such in our fellowship – those who dishonor their profession and disqualify themselves in the pure worship of God.

We would also in equal terms condemn the unchristian conduct of Baptists who engage in the sale of ardent spirits, whether as retail or wholesale. We consider the sale of liquors in any quantity, by any Baptists, except by druggists and practicing physicians for medicinal purposes, unchristian and as demanding the discipline of the churches.

The conversation regarding alcohol continues, in the months and years ahead, in the Rehoboth Association and in Baptist life at large in the South. Whereas currently few Baptists advocate abstinence and most local churches yet use genuine wine when observing the Lord’s Supper, the writing is on the wall: the days of Baptist equivocation on the subject of alcohol are limited, a trajectory expedited by growing abuse of alcohol during the war.

Source: Minutes of the Rehoboth Baptist Association, Georgia, September 14, 1861.