Baptists and the American Civil War: June 15, 1865

richmond_1st_african_baptistConfederate soldiers who survived the war are settling back into home life. Many of those who are Baptists return to their home churches this month.

In Georgia, the Harmony Primitive Baptist Church in Pike County and the Houston Factory Baptist Church of Houston County each extend “the right hand of fellowship” to returning soldier members.

Meanwhile, in Virginia earlier this month white Southern Baptists, meeting at their annual state convention, resolved to “prosecute the work of instructing and evangelizing the colored people among us, in which we have been for so many years and with such gratifying success engaged.” They also declared their intention to resist “dissentions between the races.”

The statements are made within the larger stated context of moving beyond the war, as declared in a resolution:

That whatever may have been our past views, aims or efforts regarding the issues which have divided the Northern and Southern States, we deem it our duty as patriots and Christians to accept the order of Providence, yield unreserved and faithful obedience to the ‘powers that be’ and to cultivate such a spirit and to preserve such a course of conduct as shall best promote the peace and prosperity of the country.

The language of the resolutions, however, thinly veils white supremacist, paternalistic attitudes. White citizens of Richmond, Baptists and otherwise, are not about to treat freedmen as equals. Even now, Richmond officials continue a campaign of terror against black citizens that includes mass arrests for minor offenses and the routine raping of black women.

Some white Baptist pastors, such as Robert Ryland, in these tense days treat freedmen well and attempt, earnestly albeit paternalistically, to help black Baptists move forward in a yet racially-divided city.

Sources: Bruce T. Gourley, Diverging Loyalties: Baptists in Middle Georgia During the Civil War, Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 2011, p. 223 (link); Elsa Barkley Brown, “Negotiating and Transforming the Public Sphere: African American Political Life in the Transition from Slavery to Freedom,” pp. 111-112 (link)