Baptists and the American Civil War: June 24, 1865

James M. PendletonThe war may be over, but many Southern Baptist preachers remain opposed to the “fanaticism” (a common Southern word to describe abolitionism) of Baptist preachers of the North, particularly now that slaves have been emancipated, thereby effectively destroying the slave-driven economy of the South.

This month a battle of essays plays out in the Kentucky Baptist Western Recorder, a Border State which during the war was home to strong contingents of both pro and anti-slavery Baptists.

Henry McDonald, pastor of the Waco Baptist Church in Madison County, is upset at emancipation. In the wake of the American Baptist Home Mission Society’s announced efforts (at their recent annual meeting in St.Louis) to help black Baptists of the South establish their own congregations, McDonald fumes over Baptists of the North and “the negro subject.” Northern Baptists, he insists, are too focused on “Negro suffrage, negro bravery, negro superiority.” Sarcastically, McDonald proclaims that Northern Christians are not really Christians at all, because “They have determined to know nothing among the people but the negro and him crucified.” And the Baptist missionaries appointed by the North are no more than “abolitionist evangelists” who are “destructive of Baptist principles” and “subversive of the law of Christ.”

Kentucky native and popular Baptist minister James M. Pendleton counters McDonald’s letter by defending Northern (American) Baptist and declaring McDonald’s charges an exaggeration, even while denying that he is an abolitionist. McDonald in turn lashes out at Pendelton. Neither one supports the freedom of black persons, their differences being only one of a matter of degrees. Nonetheless, Pendleton’s reputation takes a hit among Kentucky Baptists of stricter pro-slavery, anti-abolitionist opinions.

This, after the matter of black slavery has been forever settled and the institution ended. Such arguments portend the century-long efforts that white Baptists of the South following the war employ to keep blacks in servitude and inferiority to the white race.

Sources: J. M. Pendleton, “Elder J. M. Pendleton,” Western Recorder, June 24, 1864; Luke E. Harlow, Religion, Race, and the Making of Confederate Kentucky, 1830-1880, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014, pp. 198-201 (link)