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“An Institution Sanctioned by God” Southern Religious Support of Slavery

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Here is another excerpt from one of my Civil War texts dealing with the role of the Christian faith in justifying Southern Slavery. Once again it is not an easy subject to deal with for many people. Most American Christians of any denomination, Northern or Southern, would prefer that our often less than stellar practice of our faith didn’t exist, or be relegated to the deepest part of the dustbin of history. If they would stay that wouldn’t be a bad thing, but those attitudes, prejudices, and actions seem to always find a way back into current practice, if not in this case against African Americans, with the group du jour. Most of the time now it seems to involve immigrants, both legal and illegal, Muslims, and LGBTQ people. As the evangelical Anglican theologian Alistair McGrath writes: “the arguments used by the pro-slavery lobby represent a fascinating illustration and condemnation of how the Bible may be used to support a notion by reading the text within a rigid interpretive framework that forces predetermined conclusions to the text.”

So have a great day

Peace

Padre Steve+

furman

The noted South Carolina Baptist minister, the Reverend Richard Furman wrote: “The right of holding slaves is clearly established by the Holy Scriptures, both by precept and example.”  [1]

Like other people who supported the institution of slavery in the Americas before them, Southerners turned to the Christian faith to buttress their cause. Catholic and Protestant churches of England, France, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal all provided their theological and ecclesiastical blessing to slavery and the slave trade. When a Catholic priest wrote his superiors asking if the slave trade and all of its components were legal according to Canon Law he received this answer:

“Your Reverence writes me that you would like to know whether the Negroes who are sent to your parts have been legally captured. To this I reply that I think your Reverence should have no scruples on this point, because this is a matter which has been questioned by the Board of Conscience in Lisbon, and all its members are learned and conscientious men. Nor did the bishops who were in Sao Thome, Cape Verde, and here in Loando – all learned and virtuous men – find fault with it. We have been here ourselves for forty years and there have been among us very learned Fathers…never did they consider the trade as illicit. Therefore we and the Fathers of Brazil buy these slaves for our service without any scruple….” [2]

In the American colonies, the Church of England accommodated itself to the plantation system by adapting itself to the ways of the plantation owners and slave traders. This began in 1619 when planters in Virginia and Maryland began to bring in slaves due to their “growing success by growing and exporting tobacco.” [3] To escape the ancient Christian prohibition on believers owning other believers most plantation owners refused to all their slaves to be baptized. However, to allow for some slaves to be baptized a law was passed in 1667 “declaring that baptism did not change a slave’s condition – another indication of the degree to which established religion was willing to bend to the interests of the powerful.”  [4] It is interesting to note that this uniquely American Anglican idea that baptism did not change the nature of a person, was also used by the Nazis in regard to Jews who had converted to Christianity.

In light of the threat posed to slavery by the emerging abolitionist movement, slaveholders were forced to shift their defense of slavery away from it being simply a necessary evil to a positive good. The institution of slavery became “in both secular and religious discourse, the central component of the mission God had designed for the South.” [5] Like in the North where theology was at the heart of many abolitionist arguments, in the South theology was used to enshrine and defend the institution of slavery. British Evangelical-Anglican theologian Alister McGrath notes how “the arguments used by the pro-slavery lobby represent a fascinating illustration and condemnation of how the Bible may be used to support a notion by reading the text within a rigid interpretive framework that forces predetermined conclusions to the text.” [6]

Southern religion was a key component of something bigger than itself and played a role in the development of an ideology much more entrenched in the Southern culture than the abolitionist cause did in the North.  This was in large part due to the same Second Great Awakening that brought abolitionism to the fore in the North. “Between 1801 when he Great Revival swept the region and 1831 when the slavery debate began, southern evangelicals achieved cultural dominance in the region. Looking back over the first thirty years of the century, they concluded that God had converted and blessed their region.” [7] The Southern political and religious ideology enshrined slavery as a key component of all areas of life. It was a complete worldview, a system of values, culture, religion and economics, or to use the more modern German term “Weltanschauung.” The Confederate worldview was the Cause. As Emory Thomas wrote in his book The Confederate Nation:

“it was the result of the secular transubstantiation in which the common elements of Southern life became sanctified in the Southern mind. The South’s ideological cause was more than the sum of its parts, more than the material circumstances and conditions from which it sprang. In the Confederate South the cause was ultimately an affair of the viscera….Questions about the Southern way of life became moral questions, and compromises of Southern life style would become concession of virtue and righteousness.” [8]

Despite the dissent of some, the “dominant position in the South was strongly pro-slavery, and the Bible was used to defend this entrenched position.” [9] This was tied to a strongly Calvinistic theology which saw slavery in context with the spread of the evangelical Protestant faith that had swept through the South as slavery spread. For many, if not most Southern ministers “the very spread of evangelical religion and slave labor in the South was a sign of God’s divine favor. Ministers did not focus on defending slavery in the abstract but rather championed Christian slaveholding as it was practiced in the American South. Though conceding that some forms of slavery might be evil, Southern slavery was not.” [10]

The former Governor of South Carolina, John Henry Hammond, led the religiously based counter argument to the abolitionists. Hammond’s arguments included biblical justification of blacks being biologically inferior to whites and slavery being supported in the Old Testament where the “Hebrews often practiced slavery” and in the New Testament where “Christ never denounced servitude.”  [11] Hammond warned:

“Without white masters’ paternalistic protection, biologically inferior blacks, loving sleep above all and “sensual excitements of all kinds when awake” would first snooze, then wander, then plunder, then murder, then be exterminated and reenslaved.” [12]

Others in the South, including politicians, pundits and preachers were preaching “that slavery was an institution sanctioned by God, and that even blacks profited from it, for they had been snatched out of pagan and uncivilized Africa and been given the advantages of the gospel.” [13] The basic understanding was that slavery existed because “God had providential purposes for slavery.” [14]

At the heart of the pro-slavery theological arguments was in the conviction of most Southern preachers of human sinfulness. “Many Southern clergymen found divine sanction for racial subordination in the “truth” that blacks were cursed as “Sons of Ham” and justified bondage by citing Biblical examples.” [15] But simply citing scripture to justify the reality of a system of which they reaped the benefit, is just part of the story. The real issue was far greater than that. The theology that justified slavery also, in the minds of many Christians in the north justified what they considered “the hedonistic aspects of the Southern life style.” [16] This was something that abolitionist preachers continually emphasized, criticizing the greed, sloth and lust inherent in the culture of slavery and plantation life, and was an accusation of which Southern slaveholders, especially evangelicals took umbrage, for in their understanding good men could own slaves. Their defense was rooted in their theology. The hyper-individualistic language of Southern evangelicalism gave “new life to the claim that good men could hold slaves. Slaveholding was a traditional mark of success, and a moral defense of slavery was implicit wherever Americans who considered themselves good Christians held slaves.” [17] The hedonism and fundamentalism that existed in the Southern soul, was the “same conservative faith which inspired John Brown to violence in an attempt to abolish slavery…” [18]

Slave owners frequently expressed hostility to independent black churches and conducted violence against them, and “attacks on clandestine prayer meetings were not arbitrary. They reflected the assumption (as one Mississippi slave put it) “that when colored people were praying [by themselves] it was against them.” [19] But some Southern blacks accepted the basic tenets of slave owner-planter sponsored Christianity. Frederick Douglass later wrote “many good, religious colored people who were under the delusion that God required them to submit to slavery and wear their chains with weakness and humility.” [20]

The political and cultural rift began to affect entire church denominations. The heart of the matter went directly to theology, in this case the interpretation of the Bible in American churches.  The American Protestant and Evangelical understanding was rooted in the key theological principle of the Protestant Reformation, that of Sola Scripura, which became an intellectual trap for northerners and southerners of various theological stripes. Southerners believed that they held a “special fidelity to the Bible and relations with God. Southerners thought abolitionists either did not understand the Bible or did not know God’s will, and suspected them of perverting both.”  [21]The problem was then, as it is now that:

 “Americans favored a commonsense understanding of the Bible that ripped passages out of context and applied them to all people at all times. Sola scriptura both set and limited terms for discussing slavery and gave apologists for the institution great advantages. The patriarchs of the Old Testament had owned slaves, Mosaic Law upheld slavery, Jesus had not condemned slavery, and the apostles had advised slaves to obey their masters – these points summed up and closed the case for many southerners and no small number of northerners.” [22]

In the early decades of the nineteenth century there existed a certain confusion and ambivalence to slavery in most denominations. The Presbyterians exemplified this when in 1818 the “General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, while opposing slavery against the law of God, also went on record as opposing abolition, and deposed a minister for advocating abolition.” [23] There were arguments by some American Christians including some Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians and others to offer alternative ways to “interpreting and applying scripture to the slavery question,  but none were convincing or influential enough to force debate”  [24] out of the hands of literalists.

However the real schisms between the Northern and Southern branches of the major denominations which began to emerge in the mid to late 1830s continued to grow with the actual breakups of the major denominations coming in the 1840s. The first denomination to split was the Methodist church. This occurred in 1844 when “the Methodist General Conference condemned the bishop of Georgia for holding slaves, the church split and the following year saw the birth of the Methodist Episcopal Church.” [25] Not all Methodists in the South agreed with this split and a few Methodist abolitionists in the South “broke away from mainline Methodism to form the Free Methodist Church.” [26]

defense-of-slavery

The Baptists were next, when the Foreign Mission Board “refused to commission a candidate who had been recommended by the Georgia Baptist Convention, on the ground that he owned slaves” [27] resulting in the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention. The Baptist split is interesting because until the early 1800s there existed a fairly strong anti-slavery movement in states such as Kentucky, while in 1790 the General Committee of Virginia “adopted a statement calling slavery “a violent deprivation of the rights of nature, and inconsistent with a republican government; and therefore [we] recommend it to our brethren to make use of every legal measure, to extirpate the horrid evil from the land.”  [28]

However, in many parts of the Deep South there existed no such sentiment and in South Carolina, noted Baptist preachers including “Richard Furman, Peter Bainbridge, and Edmund Botsford were among the larger slaveholders.” [29] Furman wrote a defense of slavery in 1822 where he made the argument that “the right of holding slaves is clearly established in the Holy Scriptures by precept and example.” [30]  After a number of slave uprisings, including the Nat Turner Revolt in Virginia, pro-slavery voices “tended to silence any remaining antislavery voices in the South.” [31]

These voices grew more ever more strident and in 1835 the Charleston Association “adopted a militant defense of slavery, sternly chastising abolitionists as “mistaken philanthropists, and denuded and mischievous fanatics.”  [32] Those who met in Augusta Georgia to found the new Southern Baptist Convention indicated that “the division was “painful” but necessary because” our brethren have pressed upon every inch of our privileges and our sacred rights.”  [33] Since the Baptist split was brought about by the refusal of the Triennial Convention to appoint slaveholders as foreign missionaries the new convention emphasized the theological nature of their decision:

“Our objects, then, are the extension of the Messiah’s kingdom, and the glory of God. Not disunion with any of his people; not the upholding of any form of civil rights; but God’s glory, and Messiah’s increasing reign; in the promotion of which, we find no necessity for relinquishing any of our civil rights. We will never interfere with what is Caesar’s. We will not compromit what is God’s.” [34]

Of course, to the Baptists who met at Augusta, “what was Caesar’s” was obviously the institution of slavery.

The last denomination to officially split was the Presbyterians in 1861 who, “reflecting the division of the nation, the Southern presbyteries withdrew from the Presbyterian Church and founded their own denomination.” [35] The split in the Presbyterian Church had been obvious for years despite their outward unity. Princeton’s eminent Charles Hodge tried to be a peacemaker in the denomination warning of the dangers of disunion. He wrote, “If we are to be plunged into the horrors of civil war and servile insurrections, no tongue can tell how the cause of the Redeemer must suffer throughout our whole land.” [36] But like many conservatives of his time Hodge was misguided in thinking that moderates could prevail and that a sentimental attachment to the Union would prevent secession and war.

Some Southern pastors and theologians were at the forefront of battling their northern counterparts for the theological high ground that defined just whose side God was on. James Henley Thornwell presented the conflict between northern evangelical abolitionists and southern evangelical defenders of slavery in Manichean terms, a battle between Christianity and Atheism, and he believed that abolitionists attacked religion itself.

Robert Lewis Dabney, a southern Presbyterian pastor who later served as Chief of Staff to Stonewall Jackson in the Valley Campaign and at Seven Pines and who remained a defender of slavery long after the war was over wrote that:

“we must go before the nation with the Bible as the text and ‘Thus saith the Lord’ as the answer….we know that on the Bible argument the abolition party will be driven to reveal their true infidel tendencies. The Bible being bound to stand on our side, they have to come out and array themselves against the Bible. And then the whole body of sincere believers at the North will have to array themselves, though unwillingly, on our side. They will prefer the Bible to abolitionism.” [37]

Southern churches and church leaders were among the most enthusiastic voices for disunion and secession. They labeled their Northern critics, even fellow evangelicals in the abolition movement as “atheists, infidels, communists, free-lovers, Bible-haters, and anti-Christian levelers.”  [38] The preachers who had called for separation from their own national denominations years before the war now “summoned their congregations to leave the foul Union and then to cleanse their world.” [39] Thomas R.R. Cobb, a Georgia lawyer, an outspoken advocate of slavery and secession who was killed at the Battle of Fredericksburg, wrote proudly that Secession “has been accomplished mainly by the churches.” [40]

The Reverend William Leacock of Christ Church, New Orleans declared in his Thanksgiving sermon of 1860: “Our enemies…have “defamed” our characters, “lacerated” our feelings, “invaded “our rights, “stolen” our property, and let “murderers…loose upon us, stimulated by weak or designing or infidel preachers. With “the deepest and blackest malice,” they have “proscribed” us “as unworthy members… of the society of men and accursed before God.”  Unless we sink to “craven” beginning that they “not disturb us,…nothing is now left us but secession.” [41]

The fact that so many Protestant ministers, intellectuals, and theologians, not only Southerners, but men like “Princeton’s venerable theologian Charles B. Hodge – supported the institution of slavery on biblical grounds, often dismissing abolitionists as liberal progressives who did not take the Bible seriously” leaves a troubling question over those who claim to oppose issues on supposedly Biblical grounds. There were many such men in the North who spoke out for it and against Christian Abolitionists “in order to protect and promote interests concomitant to slavery, namely biblical traditionalism, and social and theological authority.” [42] The Northern clerical defenders of slavery perceived the spread of abolitionist preaching as a threat, not just to slavery “but also to the very principle of social and ecclesiastical hierarchy.” [43] Alistair McGrath asks a very important question for modern Christians who might be tempted to support a position for the same reasons today, “Might not the same mistakes be made all over again, this time over another issue?” [44]

Notes

[1] Furman, Richard Exposition of the Views of Baptists, Relative to the Coloured Population in the United States May 28th 1823, In Communication the Governor of South Carolina, Second Edition A.E. Miller, Charleston SC 1838 retrieved from http://faceweb.furman.edu/~benson/docs/rcd-fmn1.htm 15 July 2016

[2] Ibid. Zinn A People’s History of the United States pp.29-30

[3] Ibid. Gonzalez The History of Christianity Volume 2: The Reformation to the Present Day Harper p.219

[4] Ibid. Gonzalez The History of Christianity Volume 2: pp.219-220

[5] Gallagher, Gary W. The Confederate War: How Popular Will, Nationalism and Military Strategy Could not Stave Off Defeat Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 1999 p.67

[6] Ibid. McGrath Christianity’s Dangerous Idea p.324

[7] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom p.69

[8] Ibid. Thomas The Confederate Nation 1861-1865 p.4

[9] Ibid. McGrath Christianity’s Dangerous Idea p.324

[10] Ibid. Varon Disunion! p.109

[11] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume One p.29

[12] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume One p.29

[13] Ibid. Gonzalez The History of Christianity Volume 2: p.251

[14] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom p.54

[15] Ibid. Thomas The Confederate Nation p.22

[16] Ibid. Thomas The Confederate Nation p.22

[17] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom p.30

[18] Ibid. Thomas The Confederate Nation p.22

[19] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.116

[20] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.116

[21] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom p.60

[22] Ibid. Rable God’s Almost Chosen Peoples  p.14

[23] Ibid. Gonzalez The History of Christianity Volume 2 p.251

[24] Ibid. Rable God’s Almost Chosen Peoples  p.14

[25] Ibid. Gonzalez The History of Christianity Volume 2 p.251

[26] Ibid. McGrath Christianity’s Dangerous Idea p.324

[27] Ibid. Gonzalez The History of Christianity Volume 2 p.251

[28] Ibid. McBeth The Baptist Heritage p.383

[29] Ibid. McBeth The Baptist Heritage p.384

[30] Ibid. McBeth The Baptist Heritage p.384

[31] Ibid. McBeth The Baptist Heritage p.384

[32] Ibid. McBeth The Baptist Heritage p.384

[33] Shurden, Walter B Not a Silent People: The Controversies that Have Shaped Southern Baptists Broadman Press, Nashville TN 1972 p.58

[34] Ibid. Shurden Not a Silent People p.58

[35] Ibid. Gonzalez The History of Christianity Volume 2 p.251

[36] Ibid. Rable God’s Almost Chosen Peoples p.13

[37] Ibid. Rable God’s Almost Chosen Peoples  p.14

[38] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom  p.97

[39] Freehling, William. The Road to Disunion Volume II: Secessionists Triumphant 1854-1861 Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2007 p.460

[40] Ibid. Rable God’s Almost Chosen Peoples  p.39

[41] Ibid. Freehling  The Road to Disunion Volume II p.462

[42] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom  p.38

[43] Ibid. Varon Disunion! P.108

[44] Ibid. McGrath Christianity’s Dangerous Idea p.324

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The Bible on Our Side: Southern Religious Support of Slavery

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This week I have been relating religion to civil rights through the lens of the slavery, abolition, and the ante-bellum United States and today I will continue that with another section of my Civil War and Gettysburg Staff Ride text. It comes from the same chapter as my past few posts dealing with the role of religion and ideology in the period and its effect on the antagonists before, during and after the war. 

It is a lens through which we can view other topics that divide us today including the continuing battle against racism, Women’s rights and Gay rights. The fact is that we cannot isolate these issues from the understanding that the defense of liberty for all safeguards liberty for all. Sadly, there are a substantial number of Christians in the United States who do not believe that and through the legislative process seek to limit, role back, or completely deny rights to groups that they despise, especially Gays, but also women, and racial and religious minorities. We cannot get around that fact. It is happening with new instances occurring almost every week, and much of these laws are being passed due to the “sincerely held religious beliefs” of Christians to deny other people’s rights based on their interpretation of Biblical texts.

The words of the current politicians, preachers and pundits who fight to limit the rights of others is strikingly similar to those who defended slavery and attacked those who fought against it.   

This is not new, it has happened many times in our history, but the most notorious and injurious to American society was the defense of the institution of Slavery by American Christians, particularly those in the South. This article discusses that defense of slavery which arose in response to the tiny, but vocal number of Christians who helped lead the abolition movement.

Have a great day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

OTCauction

Southern Religious Support of Slavery

“we must go before the nation with the Bible as the text and ‘Thus saith the Lord’ as the answer….we know that on the Bible argument the abolition party will be driven to reveal their true infidel tendencies. The Bible being bound to stand on our side…” Reverend Robert Lewis Dabney on defending slavery and condemning its critics

In light of the threat posed to slavery by the emerging abolitionist movement, slaveholders were forced to shift their defense of slavery away from it being simply a necessary evil to a positive good. The institution of slavery became “in both secular and religious discourse, the central component of the mission God had designed for the South.” [1] Like in the North where theology was at the heart of many abolitionist arguments, in the South theology was used to enshrine and defend the institution of slavery. British Evangelical-Anglican theologian Alister McGrath notes how “the arguments used by the pro-slavery lobby represent a fascinating illustration and condemnation of how the Bible may be used to support a notion by reading the text within a rigid interpretive framework that forces predetermined conclusions to the text.” [2]

Southern religion was a key component of something bigger than itself and played a role in the development of an ideology much more entrenched in the Southern culture than the abolitionist cause did in the North. This was in large part due to the same Second Great Awakening that brought abolitionism to the fore in the North. “Between 1801 when he Great Revival swept the region and 1831 when the slavery debate began, southern evangelicals achieved cultural dominance in the region. Looking back over the first thirty years of the century, they concluded that God had converted and blessed their region.” [3] The Southern ideology which enshrined slavery as a key component of all areas of life was a complete worldview, a system of values, culture, religion and economics, or to use the more modern German term “Weltanschauung.” The Confederate worldview was the Cause. As Emory Thomas wrote in his book The Confederate Nation:

“it was the result of the secular transubstantiation in which the common elements of Southern life became sanctified in the Southern mind. The South’s ideological cause was more than the sum of its parts, more than the material circumstances and conditions from which it sprang. In the Confederate South the cause was ultimately an affair of the viscera….Questions about the Southern way of life became moral questions, and compromises of Southern life style would become concession of virtue and righteousness.” [4]

Despite the dissent of some, the “dominant position in the South was strongly pro-slavery, and the Bible was used to defend this entrenched position.” [5] This was tied to a strongly Calvinistic theology which saw slavery in context with the spread of the evangelical Protestant faith that had swept through the South as slavery spread. For many, if not most Southern ministers “the very spread of evangelical religion and slave labor in the South was a sign of God’s divine favor. Ministers did not focus on defending slavery in the abstract but rather championed Christian slaveholding as it was practiced in the American South. Though conceding that some forms of slavery might be evil, Southern slavery was not.” [6]

The former Governor of South Carolina, John Henry Hammond, led the religiously based counter argument to the abolitionists. Hammond’s arguments included biblical justification of blacks being biologically inferior to whites and slavery being supported in the Old Testament where the “Hebrews often practiced slavery” and in the New testament where “Christ never denounced servitude.” [7] Hammond warned:

“Without white masters’ paternalistic protection, biologically inferior blacks, loving sleep above all and “sensual excitements of all kinds when awake” would first snooze, then wander, then plunder, then murder, then be exterminated and reenslaved.” [8]

Others in the South, including politicians, pundits and preachers were preaching “that slavery was an institution sanction by God, and that even blacks profited from it, for they had been snatched out of pagan and uncivilized Africa and been given the advantages of the gospel.” [9] The basic understanding was that slavery existed because “God had providential purposes for slavery.” [10]

At the heart of the pro-slavery theological arguments was in the conviction of most Southern preachers of human sinfulness. “Many Southern clergymen found divine sanction for racial subordination in the “truth” that blacks were cursed as “Sons of Ham” and justified bondage by citing Biblical examples.” [11] But simply citing scripture to justify the reality of a system of which they reaped the benefit, is just part of the story. The real issue was far greater than that. The theology that justified slavery also, in the minds of many Christians in the north justified what they considered “the hedonistic aspects of the Southern life style.” [12] This was something that abolitionist preachers continually emphasized, criticizing the greed, sloth and lust inherent in the culture of slavery and plantation life, and was an accusation of which Southern slaveholders, especially evangelicals took umbrage, for in their understanding good men could own slaves. Their defense was rooted in their theology. The hyper-individualistic language of Southern evangelicalism gave “new life to the claim that good men could hold slaves. Slaveholding was a traditional mark of success, and a moral defense of slavery was implicit wherever Americans who considered themselves good Christians held slaves.” [13] The hedonism and fundamentalism that existed in the Southern soul, was the “same conservative faith which inspired John Brown to violence in an attempt to abolish slavery…” [14]

Slave owners frequently expressed hostility to independent black churches and conducted violence against them, and “attacks on clandestine prayer meetings were not arbitrary. They reflected the assumption (as one Mississippi slave put it) “that when colored people were praying [by themselves] it was against them.” [15] But some Southern blacks accepted the basic tenets of slave owner-planter sponsored Christianity. Frederick Douglass later wrote “many good, religious colored people who were under the delusion that God required them to submit to slavery and wear their chains with weakness and humility.” [16]

The political and cultural rift began to affect entire church denominations. The heart of the matter went directly to theology, in this case the interpretation of the Bible in American churches. The American Protestant and Evangelical understanding was rooted in the key theological principle of the Protestant Reformation, that of Sola Scripura, which became an intellectual trap for northerners and southerners of various theological stripes. Southerners believed that they held a “special fidelity to the Bible and relations with God. Southerners thought abolitionists either did not understand the Bible or did not know God’s will, and suspected them of perverting both.” [17]The problem was then, as it is now that:

“Americans favored a commonsense understanding of the Bible that ripped passages out of context and applied them to all people at all times. Sola scriptura both set and limited terms for discussing slavery and gave apologists for the institution great advantages. The patriarchs of the Old Testament had owned slaves, Mosaic Law upheld slavery, Jesus had not condemned slavery, and the apostles had advised slaves to obey their masters – these points summed up and closed the case for many southerners and no small number of northerners.” [18]

In the early decades of the nineteenth century there existed a certain confusion and ambivalence to slavery in most denominations. The Presbyterians exemplified this when in 1818 the “General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, while opposing slavery against the law of God, also went on record as opposing abolition, and deposed a minister for advocating abolition.” [19] There were arguments by some American Christians including some Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians and others to offer alternative ways to “interpreting and applying scripture to the slavery question, but none were convincing or influential enough to force debate” [20] out of the hands of literalists.

However the real schisms between the Northern and Southern branches of the major denominations which began to emerge in the mid to late 1830s continued to grow with the actual breakups of the major denominations coming in the 1840s. The first denomination to split were the Methodists. This occurred in 1844 when “the Methodist General Conference condemned the bishop of Georgia for holding slaves, the church split and the following year saw the birth of the Methodist Episcopal Church.” [21] Not all Methodists in the South agreed with this split and a few Methodist abolitionists in the South “broke away from mainline Methodism to form the Free Methodist Church.” [22]

The Baptists were next, when the Foreign Mission Board “refused to commission a candidate who had been recommended by the Georgia Baptist Convention, on the ground that he owned slaves” [23] resulting in the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention. The Baptist split is interesting because until the early 1800s there existed a fairly strong anti-slavery movement in states such as Kentucky, while in 1790 the General Committee of Virginia “adopted a statement calling slavery “a violent deprivation of the rights of nature, and inconsistent with a republican government; and therefore [we] recommend it to our brethren to make use of every legal measure, to extirpate the horrid evil from the land.” [24]

However, in many parts of the Deep South there existed no such sentiment and in South Carolina, noted Baptist preachers including “Richard Furman, Peter Bainbridge, and Edmund Botsford were among the larger slaveholders.” [25] Furman wrote a defense of slavery in 1822 where he made the argument that “the right of holding slaves is clearly established in the Holy Scriptures by precept and example.” [26] After a number of slave uprisings, including the Nat Turner Revolt in Virginia, pro-slavery voices “tended to silence any remaining antislavery voices in the South.” [27]

These voices grew more ever more strident and in 1835 the Charleston Association “adopted a militant defense of slavery, sternly chastising abolitionists as “mistaken philanthropists, and denuded and mischievous fanatics.” [28] Those who met in Augusta Georgia to found the new Southern Baptist Convention indicated that “the division was “painful” but necessary because” our brethren have pressed upon every inch of our privileges and our sacred rights.” [29] Since the Baptist split was brought about by the refusal of the Triennial Convention to appoint slaveholders as foreign missionaries the new convention emphasized the theological nature of their decision:

“Our objects, then, are the extension of the Messiah’s kingdom, and the glory of God. Not disunion with any of his people; not the upholding of any form of civil rights; but God’s glory, and Messiah’s increasing reign; in the promotion of which, we find no necessity for relinquishing any of our civil rights. We will never interfere with what is Caesar’s. We will not compromit what is God’s.” [30]

Of course, to the Baptists who met at Augusta, “what was Caesar’s” was obviously the institution of slavery.

The last denomination to officially split was the Presbyterians in 1861 who, “reflecting the division of the nation, the Southern presbyteries withdrew from the Presbyterian Church and founded their own denomination.” [31] The split in the Presbyterian Church had been obvious for years despite their outward unity. Some Southern pastors and theologians were at the forefront of battling their northern counterparts for the theological high ground that defined just whose side God was on. James Henley Thornwell presented the conflict between northern evangelical abolitionists and southern evangelical defenders of slavery in Manichean terms. He believed that abolitionists attacked religion itself.

“The “parties in the conflict are not merely abolitionists and slaveholders,…They are atheists, socialists, communists, red republicans, Jacobins, on one side, and friends of order and regulated freedom on the other. In one word, the world is the battle ground – Christianity and Atheism as the combatants; and the progress of humanity at stake.” [32]

Robert Lewis Dabney, a southern Presbyterian pastor who later served as Chief of Staff to Stonewall Jackson in the Valley Campaign and at Seven Pines and who remained a defender of slavery long after the war was over wrote that:

“we must go before the nation with the Bible as the text and ‘Thus saith the Lord’ as the answer….we know that on the Bible argument the abolition party will be driven to reveal their true infidel tendencies. The Bible being bound to stand on our side, they have to come out and array themselves against the Bible. And then the whole body of sincere believers at the North will have to array themselves, though unwillingly, on our side. They will prefer the Bible to abolitionism.” [33]

Southern churches and church leaders were among the most enthusiastic voices for disunion and secession. They labeled their Northern critics, even fellow evangelicals in the abolition movement as “atheists, infidels, communists, free-lovers, Bible-haters, and anti-Christian levelers.” [34] The preachers who had called for separation from their own national denominations years before the war now “summoned their congregations to leave the foul Union and then to cleanse their world.” [35] Thomas R.R. Cobb, a Georgia lawyer, an outspoken advocate of slavery and secession who was killed at the Battle of Fredericksburg, wrote proudly that Secession “has been accomplished mainly by the churches.” [36]

The Reverend William Leacock of Christ Church, New Orleans declared in his Thanksgiving sermon:

“Our enemies…have “defamed” our characters, “lacerated” our feelings, “invaded “our rights, “stolen” our property, and let “murderers…loose upon us, stimulated by weak or designing or infidel preachers. With “the deepest and blackest malice,” they have “proscribed” us “as unworthy members… of the society of men and accursed before God.” Unless we sink to “craven” beginning that they “not disturb us,…nothing is now left us but secession.” [37]

The fact that so many Protestant ministers, intellectuals, and theologians, not only Southerners, but men like “Princeton’s venerable theologian Charles B. Hodge – supported the institution of slavery on biblical grounds, often dismissing abolitionists as liberal progressives who did not take the Bible seriously” leaves a troubling question over those who claim to oppose issues on supposedly Biblical grounds. Such men in the North spoke out for it “in order to protect and promote interests concomitant to slavery, namely biblical traditionalism, and social and theological authority.” [38] The Northern clerical defenders of slavery perceived the spread of abolitionist preaching as a threat, not just to slavery “but also to the very principle of social and ecclesiastical hierarchy.” [39] Alistair McGrath asks a very important question for modern Christians who might be tempted to support a position for the same reasons today, “Might not the same mistakes be made all over again, this time over another issue?” [40]

Notes

[1] Gallagher, Gary W. The Confederate War: How Popular Will, Nationalism and Military Strategy Could not Stave Off Defeat Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 1999 p.67

[2] Ibid. McGrath Christianity’s Dangerous Idea p.324

[3] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom p.69

[4] Thomas, Emory The Confederate Nation 1861-1865 Harper Perennial, New York and London 1979 p.4

[5] Ibid. McGrath Christianity’s Dangerous Idea p.324

[6] Ibid. Varon Disunion! p.109

[7] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume One p.29

[8] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume One p.29

[9] Gonzalez, Justo L. The History of Christianity Volume 2: The Reformation to the Present Day Harper and Row Publishers San Francisco 1985 p.251

[10] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom p.54

[11] Ibid. Thomas The Confederate Nation p.22

[12] Ibid. Thomas The Confederate Nation p.22

[13] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom p.30

[14] Ibid. Thomas The Confederate Nation p.22

[15] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.116

[16] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.116

[17] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom p.60

[18] Ibid. Rable God’s Almost Chosen Peoples p.14

[19] Ibid. Gonzalez The History of Christianity Volume 2 p.251

[20] Ibid. Rable God’s Almost Chosen Peoples p.14

[21] Ibid. Gonzalez The History of Christianity Volume 2 p.251

[22] Ibid. McGrath Christianity’s Dangerous Idea p.324

[23] Ibid. Gonzalez The History of Christianity Volume 2 p.251

[24] Ibid. McBeth The Baptist Heritage p.383

[25] Ibid. McBeth The Baptist Heritage p.384

[26] Ibid. McBeth The Baptist Heritage p.384

[27] Ibid. McBeth The Baptist Heritage p.384

[28] Ibid. McBeth The Baptist Heritage p.384

[29] Shurden, Walter B Not a Silent People: The Controversies that Have Shaped Southern Baptists Broadman Press, Nashville TN 1972 p.58

[30] Ibid. Shurden Not a Silent People p.58

[31] Ibid. Gonzalez The History of Christianity Volume 2 p.251

[32] Ibid. Rable God’s Almost Chosen Peoples p.13

[33] Ibid. Rable God’s Almost Chosen Peoples p.14

[34] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom p.97

[35] Freehling, William. The Road to Disunion Volume II: Secessionists Triumphant 1854-1861 Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2007 p.460

[36] Ibid. Rable God’s Almost Chosen Peoples p.39

[37] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume II p.462

[38] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom p.38

[39] Ibid. Varon Disunion! P.108

[40] Ibid. McGrath Christianity’s Dangerous Idea p.324

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The Historic “Christian” War on Christmas

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“The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.
It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right.
It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.
But I think that the most likely reason of all
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small…” Dr Seuss How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Yes my friends I hate to admit it there is a war on Christmas. However unlike those that want to blame it on all of those Godless types I have to say that the real war on Christmas has been waged by Christians for centuries.

Now I do have to be fair. There are some people in the secularist camp who file lawsuits against municipalities that have Christmas displays on public property and even some who will push those lawsuits to exhibits on private property.  However, despite the media attention these are nothing in comparison to what Christian Grinches have done over the years.

So despite the efforts of some I do not fear for Christmas because the celebration of Christ’s Incarnation and Nativity has survived far worse even from those within the faith.

Now let me be fair here. Some of the things that the Christian Grinches have protested are frivolous and at their heart not very spiritual. But that tends not to be the case today. As Christians we seem perfectly at home in the crass materialism and consumerism of our modern Christmas celebrations even within the walls of our churches. It seems that as long as we are willing to put a nativity scene made by Third World slave laborers in the middle of an otherwise completely capitalistic consumer orgy we don’t care. But God forbid an Atheist object or a member of a minority religion demand equal time and space for their display in the otherwise crassly materialistic celebration. But I digress….

Let us go back and look at some history. Not that fake David Barton and Glenn Beck history but real history. You know, stuff that actually happened and that we have documentary evidence to support, not stuff that we pull out of thin air.

puritans

Back in the the 1600s a religious group influential in our nation’s early development hated the celebration of Christmas. I am not kidding. These were the Puritans, who by their name we must assume were pretty pure.

Since the Puritans already believed that they were the “elect” based on the Calvinist doctrine of double predestination they knew they were right. For those that don’t know what this doctrine means let me explain. The idea was that the Puritans and other strict Calvinists believed that they were the elect. In other words they believed that they were pre-ordained by God before the foundation of the world to go to heaven. Now that isn’t uncommon in religion but they also believed based on the same doctrine that all other people were destined to go to Hell because God decided they would before the creation of the world.

But there was another interesting part of this doctrine that wasn’t about heaven. They also believed that they had the “Biblical Mandate” to rule for God on earth. Their successors in the modern Christian Dominion or 7 Mountains Theology movement believe the same thing. They believed that sine it was God’s will that they rule that whatever they they said that others needed to obey, after all God put them in charge.

The Puritans came out of the Protestant Reformation in England. Unlike today the English took religion pretty seriously.  Now despite the cultured accent that we hear on the BBC or CNN World the English of that day were actually more like unruly football fans only worse. When it came to matters of religious tolerance and loving their neighbors they were pretty un-Christian.

English Protestants of the non-monarchical Reformation type like the Puritans did their best to rid the Church of England of anything that appeared to even look Catholic, especially Christmas. Of course this cleansing of the church often included real people including the few remaining stick in the mud Roman Catholics and Anglicans who still liked Catholic stuff.

But to be fair to the Puritans back then the English of all Christian denominations tended to be a bit intolerant. They would lop off the heads of, burn at the stake or crush with heavy stones anyone that deviated from their beliefs first and ask questions later. It was kind of like the fans of the Premier League only not as well behaved.

Oliver Cromwell by Samuel Cooper

Oliver Cromwell

Early in their history the Puritans were a persecuted group. Militant, intolerant, exclusive  who could not find reasons not to like them? But when the Puritans took power when Oliver Cromwell overthrew the monarchy they took their revenge and they enjoyed it. They didn’t just decide to lop, crush and burn their opponents of all denominations, but they also decided to outlaw the celebration of Christmas.

Christmas law 1658

Of course they did so for noble reasons such as ridding the country of anything that smelled Catholic or did not fit within their rather harsh and purist views of the faith. Thus when they took power they did their best to ensure that everyone was as miserable as them. This included banning the celebration of Christmas. They were kind of like the Taliban in a sense, except they were not Moslems.  But that being said they ruled in a similar manner and made most other people miserable.

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In 1652 it was declared that no Observation shall be had of the Five and twentieth day of December, commonly called Christmas-Day; nor any Solemnity used or exercised in Churches upon that Day in respect thereof’.

In 1647 the Puritan dominated Parliament backed up by the brute force of the Army and Police led by Oliver Cromwell simply abolished the Christmas feast and all that went with it, including the Roast Beast. Gone were such nasty pagan ideas such as Christmas Trees, feasting, caroling, and decorations. And let’s not forget the favorite target of Grinch’s everywhere, Nativity scenes. Of course the Puritans had a different reason than modern secular Grinches for banning them. Nativity scenes were banned because they were “idols.” Not content with banning the outward festivities the Puritans even frowned on the use of the word Christmas because they believed that it was akin to taking the Lord’s name in vain.

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Wassailing 

Likewise the Puritans were not content with inflicting their beliefs on church going people, they inflicted them on the majority of the people who simply wanted some relief for the drudgery of daily life in 17th Century England. The Puritans even banned the poor from the tradition of Wassailing. Wassailing was a custom in which the rather pungent poor would go from house to house, begging for treats in exchange for drinking a toast to the family.  The drink called wassail, was a hot spiced wine.  Now this was not a vintage Napa Valley or French wine but a pungent English wine, thus the need for spices and heat. Wassailing sometimes ended up in an out of control scene of drunken revelry, much like current English Football match celebrations, which is why the Puritans objected so strenuously. They didn’t like football either. No kidding, back then it was known as Mob Football and didn’t have very many rules. It was particularly popular at Christmas which meant that it must be of the Devil.

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Mob Football

Be it known that the Puritans did had no sense of fun as we know it. They viewed any religious practice that might include something fun harmful and as such religious practices such as these needed to be removed from public life altogether.

Well this situation lasted until 1660 a year after the Lord Protector and head of the Army and Police Oliver Cromwell kicked the bucket. The anti-Christmas laws were quickly overturned and the populace went back to simply lopping, burning and crushing and everyone, save those being lopped, crushed or burned was happy because Christmas was back.  People were so happy to bring Christmas back that the new rulers in England exhumed Cromwell’s body from Westminster Abbey and executed him posthumously. Since they had a flair for decorating they lopped off Cromwell’s head and displayed it outside Westminster Hall for about four years.

A popular verse of the time said:

Now thanks to God for Charles’ return,
Whose absence made old Christmas mourn;
For then we scarcely did it know,
Whether it Christmas were or no.

PURITAN-BAN-ON-CHRISTMAS-WAS-TO-PREVENT-DEMONIZATIONS-OF-CITIZENS-IN-COMMUNITY

Not to be outdone the Puritan colonists in the Massachusetts Bay Colony enacted similar laws to their brethren in England. In 1659 through the newly appointed Governor Sir Edmund Andros. The laws remained on the books until 1681. During the time that the laws were in force everyone had a grand time. Like others in places like Cromwell’s England, Stalin’s Soviet Union, the Ayatollah’s Iran and the Taliban’s Afghanistan the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony banned the celebration of Christmas and other such holidays at the same time it banned gambling and other lawless behavior.

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Grumpy Puritan and Revelers 

Grouping all such behaviors together the court placed a fine of five shillings on anyone caught feasting or celebrating the holiday in a manner that might be construed as fun. Things like taking time off from work, feasting, partying, wassailing, playing Mob Football or anything else. The law read like this:

“For preventing disorders, arising in several places within this jurisdiction by reason of some still observing such festivals as were superstitiously kept in other communities, to the great dishonor of God and offense of others: it is therefore ordered by this court and the authority thereof that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way, upon any such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for every such offence five shilling as a fine to the county.”

That sounds lovely doesn’t it? At least they didn’t go lopping, burning or crushing with heavy stones unless you were proven to be a Christmas celebrating witch. Unlike England where the lifting of the ban was celebrated with the aplomb given to a World Cup championship the Colonists up in the Massachusetts Bay Colony and their descendants frowned upon the celebration of Christmas until the 1820s. That was  when enough Irish showed up in Boston to turn the place around and make it the fun town that it is now.  Coincidently the last “State Church” in the United States was the Congregational Church in Massachusetts. It wasn’t disestablished until 1833.

So the next time you hear about those that want to impose their beliefs to quash Christmas regardless of their religious or non-religious reasons please realize that this isn’t a new thing at all. Christians have been doing it for centuries.

Let us also remember that some of the un-fun Fundamentalists screaming about the “war on Christmas” actually want to re-establish the Puritan view of faith which would in effect eliminate any celebration of Christmas if they could only convince the corporations that profit off of Christmas but otherwise support their political causes to go along with it.

But for now we only have to suffer those fun and sentimentality deprived army of Grinch’s that without the religious flair of the Puritans attempt to crush the spirit of Christmas. Thankfully, more people like all the tinsel and bells as well as the presents and time off regardless of their religion or lack thereof and so the Christmas celebration as we know it will survive.

Maybe in doing so a few people will discover the humble, less than pretentious babe laying in the manger. One can always hope.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Double Edged Sword of Denying Religious Rights

Puritans in Massachusetts Bay Colony Hanging Quakers

“Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects?” James Madison

“We believe that institutionally Christianity should be the official religion of the country, that its laws should be specifically Christian” David Chilton (leader in Christian Reconstructionist and Dominionist Theology)

We love to talk about religious liberty in the United States, especially we who are of the Christian faith.  In fact religious liberty is deeply entwined in the story of the United States of America.  We love to call attention to those brave souls that came to North American search of religious liberty to the point that sometimes we fail to realize that we  have moved from history to myth.  The story of the Massachusetts Bay Colony is heralded by many conservative Christians as a triumph of religious liberty as English Separatist dissenters established that colony in the New World.  The story of the religious liberty of that colony is enshrined in the myth of American history presented by David Barton of Wall Builders and others that embrace the political, theological and historical ideas of R. J. Rushdooney who is the originator of Christian Reconstructionism or Dominionism.

I was introduced to this theology while attending college and attending a church of the Presbyterian Church in Americain denomination in theLos Angeles area.  We had a speaker come to the church who presented a series on “America’s Christian History.” It was a very Dominionist centered presentation and I remember buying a number of the books that the man was selling many of which are found in current Home School resources available on the internet.  It did not take long for me to see that what was being promoted bore little resemblance to historic fact. Now I find it hard to believe that what I was introduced to then is so influential today.

Unfortunately the myth of how the founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and others like them does not address the fact that for these people religious liberty that mattered was their religious liberty.  Dissenters in the Massachusetts Bay Colony were persecuted with some being tried as heretics and burned at the stake.  The colony was a theocracy which is by many on the Christian Right being held up as a model of government.  The late Dr. D. James Kennedy an early popular exponent of Dominionist theology stated:

“Our job is to reclaim America for Christ, whatever the cost, as the vice regents of God, we are to exercise godly dominion and influence over our neighborhoods, our schools, our government, our literature and arts, our sports arenas, our entertainment media, our news media, our scientific endeavors — in short, over every aspect and institution of human society.”

Gary North a leader in the Christian Reconstructionist movement and son-in-law of R. J. Rushdooney noted:

“The long-term goal of Christians in politics should be to gain exclusive control over the franchise. Those who refuse to submit publicly to the eternal sanctions of God by submitting to His Church’s public marks of the covenant–baptism and holy communion–must be denied citizenship, just as they were in ancient Israel.” Gary North, Political Polytheism: The Myth of Pluralism (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989), p. 87.

An increasing number of conservative Christians seem to like religious freedom so long as it is theirs and some like David Barton will willingly falsify the historical accounts to bolster their position. Barton once quoted William Penn as saying “Whatever is Christian is legal; whatever is not is illegal” claiming that it was in the 1681 Pennsylvania Constitution or “Frame.” However the phrase is not in the document which is one of the most progressive civil documents of its era and goes out of its way to promote religious freedom and tolerance. Penn who was a member of the heavily persecuted Quaker denomination understood how deeply persecution and intolerance was ingrained in the Christian church, Protestant and Catholic.  The 1701 Charter of Privileges noted:

“no Person or Persons, inhabiting in this Province or Territories, who shall confess and acknowledge One almighty God, the Creator, Upholder and Ruler of the World; and profess him or themselves obliged to live quietly under the Civil Government, shall be in any Case molested or prejudiced, in his or their Person or Estate, because of his or their conscientious Persuasion or Practice, nor be compelled to frequent or maintain any religious Worship, Place or Ministry, contrary to his or their Mind, or to do or suffer any other Act or Thing, contrary to their religious Persuasion.”

Penn’s Declaration of Rights stated:

“All men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences; no man can of right be compelled to attend, erect, or support any place of worship, or to maintain any ministry against his consent; no human authority can, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience, and no preference shall ever be given by law to any religious establishment or modes of worship.”

Yet the modern leaders of the Christian Right seem ready to in their writings and public statements are willing to embrace theocracy over freedom a position much more like the Iranian Mullah’s than our nation’s founders. The clash was highlighted for me today when Herman Cain a Republican Presidential Candidate, Christian minister and former CEO of Godfather Pizza claimed that it was the right of communities to deny Moslems the opportunity to build mosques I their community.  While being interviewed on Fox News Sunday Cain said:

“Our Constitution guarantees the separation of church and state, Islam combines church and state. They’re using the church part of our First Amendment to infuse their morals in that community, and the people of that community do not like it. They disagree with it.” Herman Cain

I don’t deny that in heavily Moslem countries that Islam and government are linked, but the same is true with those that promote Dominionist theology.  Their models of government are much like Islam, rather than Sharia law imposed by radical Islamists the imposed law is “Biblical law” or Biblical justice.  Take Greg Bahnsen:

“The New Testament teaches us that–unless exceptions are revealed elsewhere–every Old Testament commandment is binding, even as the standard of justice for all magistrates (Rom. 13:1-4), including every recompense stipulated for civil offenses in the law of Moses (Heb 2:2). From the New Testament alone we learn that we must take as our operating presumption that any Old Testament penal requirement is binding today on all civil magistrates. The presumption can surely be modified by definite, revealed teaching in the Scripture, but in the absence of such qualifications or changes, any Old Testament penal sanction we have in mind would be morally obligatory for civil rulers.”  Greg Bahnsen, No Other Standard (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1991), p. 68.

Gary North echo’s Bahnsen when he wrote:

“The principle of interpretation which is supposed to govern Christian orthodoxy is that Christ came to establish, confirm, and declare the Old Testament law (Matt. 5:17-18). Only if we find an explicit abandonment of an Old Testament law in the New Testament, because of the historic fulfillment of the Old Testament shadow, can we legitimately abandon a detail of the Mosaic law.

The proper exegetical principle is this: Mosaic law is still to be enforced, by the church or the State or both, unless there is a specific injunction to the contrary in the New Testament.”  Gary North, The Sinai Strategy: Economics and the Ten Commandments (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1986), pp. 242, 255.

Personally I cannot find a difference in those that advocate Sharia and those that advocate for the imposition of their understanding and interpretation of “Biblical law.” The scriptures that they use may be different but the message is the same, religious law stands above civil law.  As far as teachings of Jesus that conflict with the militaristic dominion advocated by North, Rushdooney and others they are reinterpreted in ways never put forth by orthodox Christians of any kind. North wrote concerning Jesus telling his disciples to turn the other cheek:

“Nevertheless, this one fact should be apparent: turning the other cheek is a bribe. It is a valid form of action for only so long as the Christian is impotent politically or militarily. By turning the other cheek, the Christian provides the evil coercer with more peace and less temporal danger than he deserves. By any economic definition, such an act involves a gift: it is an extra bonus to the coercing individual that is given only in respect of his power. Remove his power, and he deserves punishment: an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. Remove his power, and the battered Christian should either bust him in the chops or haul him before the magistrate, and possibly both.” Gary North, “In Defense of Biblical Bribery,” in R.J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law (Nutley, NJ: Craig Press, 1973), p. 846.

As far as any tolerance for any other religions or those at variance with the intensely hyper-Calvinist theology of the Dominionists there is none, not even for the Jews.  Chilton makes this case in the most severe of terms.

“The god of Judaism is the devil. The Jew will not be recognized by God as one of His chosen people until he abandons his demonic religion and returns to the faith of his fathers–the faith which embraces Jesus Christ and His Gospel.” David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Ft. Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1984), p. 127.

Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association claims:

Islam has no fundamental First Amendment claims, for the simple reason that it was not written to protect the religion of Islam. Islam is entitled only to the religious liberty we extend to it out of courtesy. While there certainly ought to be a presumption of religious liberty for non-Christian religious traditions in America, the Founders were not writing a suicide pact when they wrote the First Amendment.”(Blog post of23 March 2011)

Pat Roberston extends such to fellow Christians:

“You say you’re supposed to be nice to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists and this, that, and the other thing. Nonsense, I don’t have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist.” — Pat Robertson, The 700 Club, January 14, 1991

So the cry of Herman Cain that Islam is somehow unique in attempting to infuse religion into government is a fabrication because many Christians, especially he and his allies do the same thing.  This attempt to radically reinterpret American History and the Constitution as assuming that the founders of the country desired to found a theocracy is patently deceitful and being used to stir up otherwise wonderful Christians into embracing something that is neither American or Christian.

When I see Texas Governor Rick Perry organizing a “Prayer Rally” called “The Response” which is exclusively Christian and sponsored by a large number of ministers and ministries that embrace Dominionist theology, some in ways even more radical than I have mentioned here I get worried.  I don’t have any problem with Christians deciding to get together to pray for the country but when I see a likely Presidential candidate sponsoring such an event I have to ask myself if the event is simply a religious gathering or a partisan political rally cloaked with a veneer of Christianity.  Honestly I have to think that it is the latter.

Roger Williams the founder of the Rhode Island Colony was driven from the Massachusetts Bay Colony after being convicted of sedition and heresy. Williams had dared to criticize the treatment of the Indians, refused to sign a loyalty oath and was convicted of spreading “diverse, new, and dangerous opinions.” Williams later said:

“Enforced uniformity confounds civil and religious liberty and denies the principles of Christianity and civility. No man shall be required to worship or maintain a worship against his will.”

In the early days of this country a number of the former colonies retained their respective State religion.  In Virginia Anglicans fought to maintain their status as the state religion and persecuted other groups, especially Baptists.  The Constitution had said nothing about the Christian faith in fact Article VI specifically stated that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

The First Amendment in the Bill of Rights guaranteed that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….

The Dunking of Baptist Pastors David Barrow and Edward Mintz in the Nansemond River by Virginia Anglicans 

While some have advanced that this was to keep the State from meddling in the business of religion it was actually brought about by the complaints of Virginia Baptists who were being persecuted by Anglicans. Madison and Jefferson both understood this andMadisonexpressly noted the danger of establishing the Christian faith as a State religion.

“Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects?”

John Leland a leader of the Virginia Baptists attacked the foundation of what the current advocates of Dominionism in the Christian Right teach.  Leland cannot be accused of not being a Christian; he was an evangelical Christian in his day. He was not a Deist as were many of the founders of the country who Barton claims were evangelical Christians, he certainly was a believer in Christ and he understood the danger of this based on the history of persecution of Baptists in England, the New World and their cousins on the European continent, the Mennonites and Anabaptists by state mandated Churches. Leland wrote:

“The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever…Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another.  The liberty I contend for is more than toleration.  The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.”

To me it seems that the current push by the Dominionists that now lead the Christian Right is based on the fear that they cannot win the hearts of people by their witness as did the early church. Instead they must rely on the power of the government.  Those that oppose them are the enemy or aligned with the Devil himself.

If Cain wants to allow communities to ban Mosques then he should also allow those more secular communities to deny the same to Christian churches.  But wait…that’s Christian persecution.  Maybe Catholic neighborhoods can ban Protestants and Evangelical communities can ban Catholics or mainline Protestants. Rich Episcopalians then could ban those unsophisticated Pentecostals and Baptists from their neighborhoods.

Yes the sword cuts both ways. When any religious group turns to the government to advance its agenda and force its point of view on others it not only tramples their rights as Americans but also places their rights in danger.  I think that is why Madison  wrote toward the end of his life:

“The settled opinion here is, that religion is essentially distinct from civil Government, and exempt from its cognizance; that a connection between them is injurious to both; that there are causes in the human breast which ensure the perpetuity of religion without the aid of the law; that rival sects, with equal rights, exercise mutual censorships in favor of good morals; that if new sects arise with absurd opinions or over-heated imaginations, the proper remedies lie in time, forbearance, and example; that a legal establishment of religion without a toleration could not be thought of, and with a toleration, is no security for and animosity; and, finally, that these opinions are supported by experience, which has shewn that every relaxation of the alliance between law and religion, from the partial example of Holland to the consummation in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, &c., has been found as safe in practice as it is sound in theory. Prior to the Revolution, the Episcopal Church was established by law in this State. On the Declaration of Independence it was left, with all other sects, to a self-support. And no doubt exists that there is much more of religion among us now than there ever was before the change, and particularly in the sect which enjoyed the legal patronage. This proves rather more than that the law is not necessary to the support of religion” (Letter to Edward Everett, Montpellier, March 18, 1823).

Madison’s words are well worth considering now.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Book Review: Identity and War, the Lessons of King Philip’s War

This is a book review of Jill Lepore’s bookThe Name of War: The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity” Vintage Books, a division of Random House, New York NY. 1999

King Philip

The thesis of Jill Lepore’s book In the Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity” is that King Philip’s War helped lay the foundation of American identity. Lepore postulates that the history of the war and the war itself cannot be separated especially in regard to the identity of the participants.  This is of particular interest in how the participants record the history of the war and how it influences their perception of themselves and their enemies.

War and how it is recorded in history can define a people. Examples of this can be seen throughout history. For instance the history and identity of Serbia cannot be separated from the battle of Kosovo in 1389 . There are countless other examples of how war shapes the identity of people and nations.  One of the defining moments in the early history of Colonial America was King Philip’s War which lasted from July 1675 through August 1676.

Lepore maintains that King Philip’s War defined the ways in which the colonists and Indians shaped their views of themselves and each other, not just at the time of the war but in succeeding generations.  She takes an approach unlike a lot of histories of war.  Instead of simply analyzing battles Lepore looks at how war cultivates language and the questions that war provokes.

The most pressing to Lepore is “how do people reconcile themselves to war’s worst cruelties.”[i] She notes her own view of war in her introduction: “War is a contagion, the universal perversion. War is politics by other means, at best barbarism, a mean contemptible thing.”[ii] She says that her interest in war was drawn on the media coverage of the Persian Gulf War and her question of “how war could be represented without pictures.”[iii] This of course demonstrates how she views the nature of war and how she interprets it.

Lepore examines the literature of “King Philip’s War” beginning with the death of the leader of Wampanoag Indian King Philip in June 1675.  She examines the war from both sides inasmuch as that only one side had access to the means to record that history. Through the writings of the colonists she examines the brutal nature of King Philip’s War which “in proportion to population… inflicted greater casualties than any other war in American history.”[iv]

This is not a campaign history.  Instead Lepore selects incidents and battles of the war and looks at them through the eyes of the people that recorded them.  Lepore notes that “the central claim of this book is that wounds and words-the injuries and their interpretation- cannot be separated, that acts of war generate acts of narration, and that both types of acts are often joined in a common purpose: defining the geographical, political, cultural, and sometimes racial and national boundaries between peoples.”[v]

Lepore’s account is a literary and philosophical study of the nature of war and not a military history. Her understanding of the totality of this war and its effect through the years is noted by others such as Russell Weigley.[vi] She asks a poignant question that should be noted by any practitioner of war or military theorist: “If war is, at least in part, a contest for meaning, can it ever be a fair fight when only one side has access to those perfect instruments of empire, pens, paper, and printing presses?”[vii]

Lepore studies the literature of the war published by the colonists.  In particular she discusses the competing histories published by Increase Mather and William Hubbard, both pastors in New England and the writings of other colonists, especially those of Nathanial Saltonstall and Mary Rowlandson.  For Lepore the importance of the writing of these people is connected to the identity of the peoples involved, both the English colonists and the Native Americans.[viii] Lepore’s premise is that the writings of the colonists “proved pivotal to their victory, a victory that drew new firmer boundaries between English and Indian people, between English and Indian land, and what it meant to be “English” and what it meant to be “Indian.””[ix] This is still a critical question. She notes how King Philip’s War influenced later events such as the American Revolution and the deportation of the Cherokee nation in the 1820s.

For Lepore the formation of the identity of both the colonists and the indigenous people is the key theme of this war, and for that matter most wars.

Lepore depicts this in her prologue and the account of the torture of a Narragansett Indian by Mohegans Indians while the English watch.  The question that she raises and that she will ask again is “If they are to think of themselves as different from “these Heathen” whom they condemn for their “barbarous Cruelty,” how then can they consent to such treatment of a Narragansett before their very eyes? “Their enemy is killed, yet they do not have to kill him. They are allowed to witness torture, yet they not need inflict it.”[x]

Yet for the colonists such behavior risked their identity as Christians and Englishmen which was what they believed that they fought for in the first place.  Lepore notes Mather’s 1674 sermon The Day of Trouble is Near which emphasized the theme of decay and confusion present at the time.[xi]

Lepore notes the effect of literacy on both the colonists and Indians. She begins with the murder of John Sassamon a bi-lingual Indian as the seminal event which set the stage for the war. She then examines Sassamon’s relationship to the English and Christianity and his relationship with King Philip.  In Lepore’s account Sassamon was a victim of both his faith and literacy.

Lepore provides a good study of early missionary attempts to “bring the Gospel” to the Indians by translating the Bible and devotional texts from English to Massachusett[xii] and how that missionary activity converted many Indians including Sassamon.  Lepore notes that: “in a sense literacy killed John Sassamon. And herein lies one of the fundamental paradoxes of the waging and writing of King Philip’s War:  The cultural tensions that caused the war – the Indians becoming Anglicized and English becoming Indianized- meant that literate Indians like John Sassamon who were those most likely to record their version of events of the war, were among its first casualties.” [xiii]

Lepore’s depiction of the cruelties of war in chapters three and four is a study in contrasts.  Again this comes back to a question of identity for the colonists.  They saw themselves as different from the “uncivilized Indians” even the Christian Indians.  This was because the colonists believed that Indians did not value English understanding of identity which was connected to property and its improvement, houses, land and farm field’s cattle and possessions.  When the Indians destroyed English property it was a blow at their very identity as Englishmen. The tension between these tow opposite points of view remains a fixture of American life.

Religion played a major role in the conflict.  Lepore notes that “the colonists’ sense of predestination…, their natural affinity with the land, and their cultural proclivity to conflate property with identity, all combined to produce this oneness of bodies and land.”[xiv] The English did not view the Indians as having the same values because they did not have the same understanding of land and property, and thus they saw them as savage.  For example she discusses how the colonists view of how “the Algonquians’’ perceived nomadism, their failure to “improve” the land, formed the basis for the English land claims….”[xv] In  other words the English Colonists believed that if the Indians were want to improve the land upon which they dwelt than they did not deserve to remain on it.

Lepore discusses the metaphor of “nakedness” in relation to the loss of property and identity.[xvi] She notes how the Indians seemed to have understood the importance of land and property to the English. She cites a note left by a Nipmuck Indian at Medfield “we hauve nothing but our lives to loose but thou hast many fair houses cattell & much good things.”[xvii] She notes that the note offered an analysis missed by all the English accounts of the war.[xviii]

Likewise Lepore notes how religion informed both the colonists and Indians who both looked for supernatural messages in the natural world.  The English colonists, primarily Puritan Calvinists believed that the devastation of the war on them at the beginning of the war was “God punishing them for their sins, not the least of them their failure to convert the Indians to Christianity.”[xix] The English settlers were influenced by their Calvinist theology and believed that the Indians both “served the devil” but were also “the instruments of God.”[xx] The Indians also had a spiritual element to their conduct of the war and the clash of these beliefs gave the war a religious dimension especially for the Colonists a dimension that would pervade American perceptions of many of the wars which followed.

Another theme of Lepore in how the war shaped identity is in the context of the bondage experienced by the English captives of the Indians during the war that of and of the Indians following the war.  She uses the stories of Mary Rowlandson and Christian Indian James Printer to illustrate her thesis.

Rowlandson’s story is the account of her capture, captivity and release by the Indians following the attack on Lancaster, Massachusetts in February 1676.  Lepore calls the importance of Rowlandson’s account The Sovereignty and Goodness of God and how it shaped the colonial and later American understanding of the war by “the nearly complete veil it has unwittingly placed over the experiences of bondage endured by Algonquian Indians during King Philip’s War.”[xxi] Lepore writes that for Rowlandson and Printer that the story was one of redemption and return to English society, Rowlandson through her book, Printer through bringing back scalps of other Indians as a demonstration of his loyalty to the Colonists.[xxii]

Another point raised by Lepore here is the enslavement and deportation of the Algonquians by the Colonists following the war.  A key to the thinking of the colonists is elaborated by Lepore: “In the end, the colonists’ evaluation of Indian sovereignty was merely an extension of their thinking about Indian possession: Indians were only sovereign enough to give their sovereignty away.”[xxiii]

This again comes back to Lepore’s thesis of identity.  She states that the “colonists moved toward (but never fully embraced) in their writing about King Philip’s War was the idea that Indians were not, in fact truly human, or else humans of such a vastly different race as to be considered essentially, and biologically inferior to Europeans.”[xxiv] She argues that King Philip’s war was a defining moment where “Algonquian political and cultural autonomy was lost and where the English moved one step closer to the worldview that would create, a century and a half later, the Indian removal policy of Andrew Jackson.”[xxv]

Lepore’s final section deals with memory and identity.  She illustrates this by noting how the Reverend Nathan Fiske in 1775 equated the British to the Indians of King Philip’s War; and the play Metamora written in 1829 about King Philip and the war.  Both Fiske and the latter play had an impact.

Fiske’s sermon helped light the fires of American independence movement, something that which Lepore notes for the Indians was “not a gain but a loss of liberty.”[xxvi] The play Metamora opened the day Andrew Jackson declared his policy of Indian removal. It was the most popular American play of its era. Lepore says that when you “peel back all the layers …what remains is a struggle for American and Indian identity. Through plays like Metamora, white Americans came to define themselves in relation to an imagined Indian past.”[xxvii]

Overall Lepore’s treatment of King Philip’s War is a good treatment of how wars affect people and their relationships with those whom they war against.  Using Lepore’s thesis of the war, the history of war and how they shape the identities of peoples and nations’ one could conceivably analyze other conflicts from this perspective.

Since this is the premise of why Lepore began her study of King Philip’s War it is worthy of further discussion.  Such studies could be undertaken in the Balkans, Kurdistan, Palestine, Iraq or Syria as well as other regions where the impact of war is thoroughly ingrained in the minds, hearts and imaginations of the parties involved.  From this perspective one wonders what future generations of Americans and Moslems will write of the current conflicts that the United States is engaged in.

Another aspect of Lepore’s examination study is religion in the perception and interpretation of war.  In this case it is the impact of the colonists Calvinism and its relationship to other English theologies of its day as well as other Calvinistic understanding of war of that era that matters.

This is very important.  The more recent English colonists prior to King Philip’s War had in many cases experienced the brutality of English Civil War and the protectorate of Oliver Cromwell in which they dominated the English political landscape.  Thus for many of these colonists a return of the Crown and Anglicanism would drive them to seeking independence for the colonies.

Many of the soldiers among them would certainly recall the brutality of the civil war and the invasion of Ireland. The soldier’s views of the Irish were similar to the views of the colonists of the Indians, something that Lepore only mentions in passing. As such the experience of the more recent colonists and the soldiers added a dimension of brutality that was not as prevalent before the hostilities.

Likewise Lepore mentions little of Roger Williams’ beliefs and his relations to the Puritans whom he fled to found Rhode Island in 1631 on the principle of religious freedom.  Her treatment of Williams does not include his respect for the Indians and view that “perhaps their religion was acceptable in the eyes of God as was Christianity.”[xxviii] Despite this her treatment of King Philip’s War is worthwhile reading because it brings up the question of identity which seems to drive war and those who write of it to the present day.

The question that Lepore forces us to ask is how past wars shape our conduct in and interpretation of ongoing wars.  The Colonists would see their conflict with the Indians as one of life and death, one of their very survival as a people and as such they were willing at times to commit atrocities against Indian threats, real and imagined.  More recently the American understanding of the war against Japan was conducted in a similar vein with many of the same overtones.  Likewise the framing of the current war by some as a war of survival against the threat of Islam raises similar issues.  Thus Lepore’s study is valuable in examining how some view the current war on terror as well as a means to look at other wars in our nation’s history through a different lens, not simply through the eyes of battles, military forces, strategy and tactics but through the participants identity and who the war is both shaped and recorded by both sides.  Even if one does not accept her conclusions or her admitted biases the book can allow us to reexamine our own views of our past and how they shape our present view of war, conflict and identity as a people.


[i] Lepore, Jill. The Name of War: The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity. Vintage Books, a division of Random House, New York NY. 1999 p.xxi

[ii] Ibid. p.x

[iii] Ibid. p.xxi

[iv] Ibid. p.xi.  Additionally, Allen R. Millet and Peter Maslowski in For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America The Free Press, NYew York, NY 1984 note that “the colonists did not enjoy an “Age of Limited Warfare” like that which prevailed in Europe from the mid-seventeenth to the mid-eighteenth century.  To the colonists (and to the Indians) war was a matter of survival. Consequently, at the very time European nations strove to restrain war’s destructiveness, the colonists waged it with ruthless ferocity, purposefully striking at noncombatants and enemy property.” p.18

[v] Ibid. p.x

[vi] Weigley writes in “The American Way of War: A Study of United States Military Strategy and Policy,  Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN, 1973 that “In King Philip’s War of 1675-76, the Indians came fearfully close to obliterating the New England settlements. When the colonists rallied to save themselves, they saw to it that their victory was complete enough to extinguish the Indians as a military force throughout the southern and eastern parts of New England…” and that he “logic of a contest for survival was always implicit in the Indian wars, as it never was in the eighteenth-century wars …”p.19  Weigley notes how this would impact future American Wars beginning with the War against France and later the American Revolution in that “their success demanded the complete elimination of British power from all of North America, just as they had demanded and won the complete elimination of French power.” p.20

[vii] Ibid. p.xxi

[viii] Ibid. Lepore. p.x

[ix] Ibid. p.xiii

[x] Ibid. Lepore. p.4-5

[xi] Ibid. p.6.  Lepore notes a theme that will be later picked up by many in American history.  The idea that they were visible saints for all of Europe to see is a precursor to the idea of the United States as “A city set on a hill.”

[xii] See Leopre pp.33-39

[xiii] Ibid. p.25-26

[xiv] Ibid. p.82

[xv] Ibid. p.76

[xvi] Ibid. p.79

[xvii] Ibid. p.94

[xviii] Ibid. pp.95-96.  Lepore notes that the English interpreted Algonquian assaults and taunts as “expressions of mindless savagery rather than calculated assaults on the English way of life.” And the refusal of the English to “place Indian “cruelties” within the broader context of Algonquian culture, instead labeling them “barbarous” violations of English ideas of just conduct in war….”

[xix] Ibid. p.99

[xx] Ibid. p.102  Lepore does not dwell on this but this observation is entirely consistent with Calvinist theology which drew heavily on the Old Testament imagery of Israel and its relations with its neighbors.  The Old Testament prophets often spoke in terms of the enemies of Israel being used by God to punish Israel for its sin and  disobedience to God.

[xxi] Ibid. p.126

[xxii] Ibid. p.147-148

[xxiii] Ibid. p.165

[xxiv] Ibid. p.167

[xxv] Ibid.

[xxvi] Ibid. p.189 ff.  Lepore chronicles the losses of Freedom in the various states to the different tribes of New England.

[xxvii] Ibid.p.193

[xxviii] Gonzalez, Justo. The History of Christianity, Volume 2: The Reformation to the Present Day Harper and Row Publishers, San Francisco CA. 1985 p.225

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