Baptists and the American Civil War: April 8, 1863

Civil War States MapNorth Carolina Biblical Recorder editor J. D. Hufham today offers a commentary on sin in the Confederacy.

A short time since we noticed a gentleman indulging in practices which in other days, he would severely and justly have censured in another. He stood high in the estimation of his brethren, for the consistency and apparent earnestness of his christian character, and we were equally surprised and pained to see him drifting away from the old landmarks. But we were still more surprised and pained to hear him say, with evident unconcern, in reply to expostulations on the subject, “Once I would not have done it, but it is necessary now. I must go with the current.”

Going with the current! What a strange course for a professed follower of Him, who through the whole of His earthly pilgrimage, fearlessly and firmly breasted the tide of worldliness and sin, and ascending again to heaven, left his spotless example a sacred heritage to those who seek His favor. And yet, strange as it is, we fear it is but too common. For, how else shall we explain the derelictions of duty, and the open sins so prevalent among church members? When iniquity abounds the love of many waxes cold.

Many who were formerly, rigid in their observance of the Sabbath, and carefully avoided even the appearance of desecrating it, have lost their scruples and abandoned the strictness of that holy day has become so common. Borne along by the current of thoughtless and ungodly men, they are now less punctual in their attendance at the place of public worship, and less guarded in their thoughts and words and actions. They now perform labors, indulge in amusements, and make journeys for pleasure or profit, from the bare thought of which they would have shrunk in calmer times.

Others, who, heretofore, have been considered liberal and humane, and careful about the means which they have adopted for the accumulation of money, have caught the wild thirst for gain which now prevails so extensively and joined themselves to the horde of merciless speculators who are spreading want and misery throughout the land, and are draining the life blood of the country.–Dazzled by the prospect of amassing wealth, they forget, alike the vows which they have made, the obligations which rest upon them, the wickedness of the course which they are pursuing and the threatenings which God in His word has pronounced against them–If conscience seems to make herself heard in the midst of their hopes and plans, they comfort themselves with the reflection that they are only doing as others do,–are going with the current.

Some, who, at home, were punctual and fearless in the discharge of their religious duties and bore the character of earnest and consistent christians, yielding to the influence of the camp have fallen into sin and are scarcely distinguishable from the mass of ungodly men around them. Withdrawn from the restraints and associations of home-life, they seem to feel that they are also withdrawn from all responsibility, and even if they are not caught in the snares which Satan so skillfully lays for them, and led into open wickedness, they manifest an utter indifference to spiritual things. They, too, are going with the current.

It saddens one to reflect how many professing christians, yielding to the force of evil examples have “forgotten their first love,” relaxed the vigor of their principles and drifted out on that current which bares them farther and farther away from God and happiness. It is to be feared that whole churches have been affected in this way, and thus ceased to exert the proper influence on the world around.

Going with the current! How poor the plea for sin! How shallow the delusion!–What deadness of heart, what base ingratitude does it exhibit? What right has any man, going with the current, to call himself a christian? This plea may serve as an opiate for the conscience here. In the excitement of pursuit and the exultation of success, but little uneasiness or remorse may be felt. But it will not still the clamors of conscience or lighten the sense of guilt in the hour of death, for the unfaithful and the false professor of religion to reflect that the only did as others, that he went with the current.

Reader, have you drifted from the safe harbor, and are you floating away on the stream of worldliness and vanity? Be warned, and return in time.

Far to the southwest, in Corsicana, Texas, a prominent attorney and faithful Baptist layman offers a casual observation that reflects how deeply Baptists of the South are a part of the “current” of the Confederacy.

April 7, 63: — Tuesday: — Today I sold a negro woman and child for C.S.A. at $2660. Mr. H. C. Moss was the purchaser.

April 8, 1863: — Just paid $30 to H. Brown and $5. to A. Duren for the expense on the sale of negro woman and child, and $100. for my own services as a lawyer. I now have $2525 net proceeds of sale of negro woman and child. In my own charge is included some other services. I do not intend to make any bill for. Just paid eight cents per pound for beef steak. This is the highest I have ever paid in Texas.

The church clerk of the Corsicana Baptist Church, much of Jacob Eliot‘s wealth as an attorney is in the buying and selling of human beings for personal profit, as well as on behalf of clients, as the remainder of his Civil War-era diary testifies. Other prominent Baptists of the South prior to and during the war also depend upon the enslavement of Africans for their livelihood, including many of the Baptist ministers who in a month’s time will attend the biennial Southern Baptist Convention as delegates.

And yet this was not always the case. Prior to the nineteenth century, most white Baptists of the South were either anti-slavery or ambivalent about the peculiar institution. Only as African slavery became the engine of the Southern economy in the nineteenth century did Baptists, growing in numbers and desirous of status in the South, become vocal advocates of the practice.

In short, white Baptists of the South have for decades now been guilty of “going with the current” by sanctifying the evil of African slavery, a practice in which Southern Baptist elites and the denomination itself are so deeply mired that they dare not consider it to be a sin.

Sources: J. D. Hufham, “Going with the Current,” Biblical Recorder, April 8, 1863 (link); Journal of Jacob Eliot (link)