Baptists and the American Civil War: October 19, 1865

Civil War States MapIn today’s Virginia Baptist Religious Herald, an editorial offers a Southern Baptist commentary on “Relations Between Northern and Southern Baptists.”

Of the recent war: “The conflict was unfortunate, terrible, and, to the South, most desolating. The fortune of war was against us. Our armies were overthrown, our fair heritage was overrun and wasted, immense quantities of private property [slaves, primarily] were destroyed or carried off, and the Government, to which we yielded willing obedience, was subverted. We acknowledge the hand of God in our afflictions; and unmurmuringly acquiesee in the order of things which His providence has established.”

Hence, “what has been decided by the issue of the war? It has decided questions of power, but not of morality …. All questions of right–of morality–are left precisely where they were before the war. Whether secession was a legitimate or revolutionary measure? whether slavery was right or wrong? whether the forcible emancipation of the slaves will prove a blessing or a curse? and whether those who engaged in the war, on either side, were innocent or guilty? are grave questions, on which the issue of the war has shed no light. They must be decided, not by artillery, but by argument–not by armies, but by facts and logic. All the questions, then, that agitated the churches before the war, are still unsettled. As, however, most of these questions grew out of the institution of slavery, its abolition has rendered their further discussion unprofitable and useless.”

Translation: The South was right and moral on the issue of slavery, and the military triumph of Northern abolitionists does not negate the righteousness of white supremacy.

Baptist churches North and South remain divided and alienated from one another, and some sort of “a restoration of fraternal affection and intercourse” must take place “as soon as practicable.” However, the “Baptists of the South have their peculiar views, interests and institutions; and these must not be abandoned, but maintained and promoted. It is highly important that their resources should be developed, their talents cultivated, their literature improved and increased, their energies combined and well directed, and their extended home field home field diligently cultivated. For some purposes it may be proper for them to affiliate with their Northern brethren, when that affiliation can be secured without any sacrifice of truth, independence and self-respect.”

In these words and many similar self-righteous pronouncements from other Southern Baptist leaders, the course of Southern Baptists is set. White supremacy and black servitude are too important as principles and realities to set aside for the sake of reconciliation and reunion with equality-minded Baptists of the North.

Herein are shades of solidifying Lost Cause mythology and a determination to maintain racial separation and inequality in the South. Already, efforts by Northern Baptists to help freedmen obtain freedoms and equality comparable to that of white Southerners are met with stiff resistance and even violence.

God is the God of whites, and He will never view blacks as equals of whites. Of this Southern Baptists are most certain.

Source: Religious Herald, “Relations Between Northern and Southern Baptists,” October 19, 1865