Baptists and the American Civil War: December 6, 1864

christian_commissionJonathan B. Fuller, a Union man, is one of many Easterners who headed west earlier during the war. Settling in the Kansas City area of Missouri, Fuller, a Baptist minister, set about ministering in churches in a state that, while far from the major armies and battlefields of the great conflict, is mired in a long-runningĀ  and bloody struggle involving local militias and guerrillas.

War-weariness and the low hanging cloud of death permeate public life and church life, as Fuller quickly learns. In addition to the regional violence, many thousands of Missourians have died on distant battlefields, leaving behind grieving and needy families. And when Christian families grieve and struggle for subsistence, their churches suffer as well.

Today Fuller receives a letter from one such church. A lay leader of the Union Baptist Church at Pleasant Hill, Cass County pleads with the young pastor to come preach at a planned “protracted [revival] meeting beginning Satturday before the 3rd Sunday in this month.” The church is “torn a sunder as it were in the consequence of the war” and is “doomed to sink” except “our Heavenly Father” intervene.

Fuller is asked to assist a “Brother Farmer in preaching the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ that sinners may be brought to Repentance the Church Revived and the name of God glorified”.

Even as violence engulfs the region and much of the nation at large, the Union church and many other Baptist congregations find solace and empowerment in enduring, comforting rituals focused on inner faith and the steering of sinners to a heavenly afterlife.

While inner faith is one dimension of Christianity North and South, many other congregations in the Union also express their faith by tangibly supporting efforts to bring freedom to all.

The freedom advocacy of some Baptist churches finds expression through support of the United States Christian Commission, a inter-denominational war-time organization devoted to helping meet the spiritual and temporal needs of soldiers and sailors who are fighting for physical freedom.

Today’s New York Times publishes a list of roughly 200 churches who have contributed funds to the New York branch of USCC since October 12. Among the contributing congregations are 19 Baptist churches, including African American churches, from the states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont.

From the plains of Missouri to the cities and villages of the North, Baptists are a people who value freedom of soul and, for many, body. Throughout the Union, these twin pillars of freedom collectively comfort the grieving and empower the liberation of the enslaved.

Sources: Jonathan B. Fuller, “From Luke Williams to Jonathan B. Fuller,” December 6, 1864, in “Civil War on the Western Border” by The State Historical Society of Missouri Research Center-Kansas City (link); United States Christian Commission (link) and (link); “United States Christian Commission, New York Committee,” New York Times, December 6, 1864 (link)