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The Christian Choice: The Idolatrous Worship of Power or Stand in Favor of the Weak

Dietrich Bonhoeffer 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

One of the most frightening things to me as a historian who happens of claim to be a Christian is the propensity for the Church and its leaders to be attracted to the worship of power and all of its folly. This has been the case since Constantine made Christianity the State religion of the Roman Empire. Leaders of the church in every place and clime as well as almost every denomination have cozied up to rulers in the pursuit of power almost always to the detriment the Church and sometimes their nation. The hierarchies of different churches were in the forefront of the extermination of supposed “heretics,” the persecution of non-state favored religions, the slave trade, the conquest, subjugation, and extermination of indigenous peoples in the Americas, Africa, parts of Asia; they were often the supporters of disastrous wars, and at home used their place of power to wealthy beyond all measure.

Conversely, on the occasions where the Church and its leaders have advocated for the poor, the marginalized, and others who had no earthly power it lead to advances in human rights and liberty. The abolition of slavery in Great Britain was led by William Wilberforce against heated opposition in Parliament and even the Church of England that spanned decades. During the period of the Industrial Revolution, some churches and Christians made a determined effort to end child labor, support workers’ rights, and advocate for the poor, but many others feasted upon the wealth that their rich benefactors lavished upon them and remained silent. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other African American church leaders helped lead the Civil Rights movement and were joined by some white religious leaders, but many others, including men who were early leaders of the Christian Right opposed the Civil rights movement and used their pulpits to advocate for segregation. Many other just remained silent, just as their forbears had from Constantine one. Silence and the acquiescence to injustice has been a hallmark of the Christian church.

The German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer saw the disastrous effects of the German church’s subservience to the Nazi regime and before that to the Kaiser. He wrote:

“Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christian should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong.”

Sophie Scholl (Center)

Bonhoeffer spoke those words in a 1934 sermon, just a bit over a year following the Nazi takeover as Hitler was still consolidating his power and before he and his regime began their war of conquest and extermination. Some German Christians did take the chance to stand up for those oppressed by the Nazis, both in Germany in in the areas the Nazis conquered. Many of those who did would pay for their opposition with either their freedom or their lives, but most of the church was silent. One of the young Christians who opposed the Nazis was Sophie Scholl, a 22 year old student at the University of Munich. She and a number of fellow students formed a group called the White Rose to distribute anti-Nazi materials and to speak out against the crimes of the regime. She wanted those Christians of her day that silence was not an option. She wrote:

“The real damage is done by those millions who want to ‘survive.’ The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves—or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honor, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.”

The same is true today in the United States. The vast majority of Evangelical Christians who support the policies of the Trump presidency in order to be at the table of temporal power have cast the church into the pigsty of lies and polices that crush the lives of people who have no power and mock the words of Jesus.

There is a choice to be made by anyone who claims the mantle of Jesus the Christ or claims to follow him. Will we do better than our ancestors or will we to silently slide down the road to perdition?

With that I will end for the day. Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: Religion, Ideology and the Civil War Part 2

This is part two of a very long chapter in my Gettysburg Staff Ride Text. Part one was published last night and can be found here: https://padresteve.com/2014/12/11/mine-eyes-have-seen-the-glory-religion-ideology-the-civil-war-part-1/

The chapter is different because instead of simply studying the battle my students also get some very detailed history about the ideological components of war that helped make the American Civil War not only a definitive event in our history; but a war of utmost brutality in which religion drove people and leaders on both sides to advocate not just defeating their opponent, but exterminating them.

But the study of this religious and ideological war is timeless, for it helps us to understand the ideology of current rivals and opponents, some of whom we are in engaged in battle and others who we spar with by other means, nations, tribes and peoples whose world view, and response to the United States and the West, is dictated by their religion. 

Yet for those more interested in current American political and social issues the period is very instructive, for the religious, ideological and political arguments used by Evangelical Christians in the ante-bellum period, as well as many of the attitudes displayed by Christians in the North and the South are still on display in our current political and social debates. 

I will be posting the final part tomorrow. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Henry Clay argues for the Compromise of 1850

The Disastrous Compromise of 1850

The tensions in the aftermath of the war with Mexico escalated over the issue of slavery in the newly conquered territories brought heated calls by some southerners for secession and disunion. To preserve the Union, Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, supported by the new President Millard Fillmore were able to pass the compromise of 1850 solved a number of issues related to the admission of California to the Union and boundary disputes involving Texas and the new territories. But among the bills that were contained in it was the Fugitive Slave Law, or The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. The act was the device of Henry Clay which was meant to sweeten the deal for southerners. The law would “give slaveholders broader powers to stop the flow of runaway slaves northward to the free states, and offered a final resolution denying that Congress had any authority to regulate the interstate slave trade.” [1] which for all practical purposes nationalized the institution of slavery, even in Free states by forcing all citizens to assist law enforcement in apprehending fugitive slaves and voided state laws in Massachusetts, Vermont, Ohio, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island which barred state officials from aiding in the capture, arrest or imprisonment of fugitive slaves. “Congress’s law had nationalized slavery. No black person was safe on American soil. The old division of free state/slave state had vanished….” [2]

That law required all Federal law enforcement officials, even in non-slave states to arrest fugitive slaves and anyone who assisted them, and threatened law enforcement officials with punishment if they failed to enforce the law. The law stipulated that should “any marshal or deputy marshal refuse to receive such warrant, or other process, when tendered, or to use all proper means diligently to execute the same, he shall, on conviction thereof, be fined in the sum of one thousand dollars.” [3]

Likewise the act compelled citizens in Free states to “aid and assist in the prompt and efficient execution of this law, whenever their services may be required….” [4] Penalties were harsh and financial incentives for compliance attractive.

“Anyone caught providing food and shelter to an escaped slave, assuming northern whites could discern who was a runaway, would be subject to a fine of one thousand dollars and six months in prison. The law also suspended habeas corpus and the right to trial by jury for captured blacks. Judges received a hundred dollars for every slave returned to his or her owner, providing a monetary incentive for jurists to rule in favor of slave catchers.” [5]

The law gave no protection for even black freedmen. The created a new office, that of Federal Commissioner, to adjudicate the claims of slaveholders and their agents and to avoid the normal Federal Court system. No proof or evidence other than the sworn statement by of the owner with an “affidavit from a slave-state court or by the testimony of white witnesses” [6] that a black was or had been his property was required to return any black to slavery. Since blacks could not testify on their own behalf and were denied representation the act created an onerous extrajudicial process that defied imagination. The commissioners had a financial incentive to send blacks back to slavery. “If the commissioner decided against the claimant he would receive a fee of five dollars; if in favor ten. This provision, supposedly justified by the paper work needed to remand a fugitive to the South, became notorious among abolitionists as a bribe to commissioners.” [7]

Frederick Douglass said:

“By an act of the American Congress…slavery has been nationalized in its most horrible and revolting form. By that act, Mason & Dixon’s line has been obliterated;…and the power to hold, hunt, and sell men, women, and children remains no longer a mere state institution, but is now an institution of the whole United States.” [8]

On his deathbed Henry Clay praised the act, which he wrote “The new fugitive slave law, I believe, kept the South in the Union in ‘fifty and ‘fifty-one. Not only does it deny fugitives trial by jury and the right to testify; it also imposes a fine and imprisonment upon any citizen found guilty of preventing a fugitive’s arrest…” Likewise Clay depreciated the opposition noting “Yes, since the passage of the compromise, the abolitionists and free coloreds of the North have howled in protest and viciously assailed me, and twice in Boston there has been a failure to execute the law, which shocks and astounds me…. But such people belong to the lunatic fringe. The vast majority of Americans, North and South, support our handiwork, the great compromise that pulled the nation back from the brink.” [9]

The compromise had “averted a showdown over who would control the new western territories” [10] but it only delayed disunion. In arguing against the compromise South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun realized that for Southerners it did not do enough and that it would inspire abolitionists to greater efforts in their cause. He argued for permanent protection of slavery:

“He understood that slavery stood at the heart of southern society, and that without a mechanism to protect it for all time, the Union’s days were numbered.” Almost prophetically he said “I fix its probable [breakup] within twelve years or three presidential terms…. The probability is it will explode in a presidential election.” [11]

Of course it was Calhoun and not the authors of the compromise who proved correct. The leap into the abyss of disunion and civil war had only been temporarily avoided. However, none of the supporters anticipated what would occur in just six years when a train of unexpected consequences would throw an entirely new light on the popular sovereignty doctrine, and both it and the Compromise of 1850 would be wreaked with the stroke of a single judicial pen.” [12]

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Religion, Ideology and the Abolitionist Movement

In the North a strident abolitionist movement took root and with each failed compromise, with each new infringement on the rights of northern free-states by the Congress, Courts and the Executive branch to appease southern slaveholders the movement gained added support. The movement developed during the 1830s in New England as a fringe movement among the more liberal elites. One wing of the movement “arose from evangelical ranks and framed its critique of bound labor in religious terms.” [13] The polarization emerged as Northern states abolished slavery as increasing numbers of influential “former slave owners such as Benjamin Franklin changed their views on the matter.” [14]

Many in the movement were inspired by the preaching of revivalist preacher Charles Finney who “demanded a religious conversion with a political potential more radical than the preacher first intended.” [15] Finney and other preachers were instrumental in the Second Great Awakening “which rekindled religious fervor in much of the nation, saw new pressure for abolition.” [16] In fact the “most important child of the Awakening, however, was the abolitionist movement, which in the 1830s took on new life, place the slavery issue squarely on the national agenda, and for the next quarter century aroused and mobilized people in the cause of emancipation.” [17]

The evangelical proponents of abolition understood this in the concept of “free will” something that the pointed out that slavery “denied one group of human beings the freedom of action necessary to free will – and therefore moral responsibility for their behavior. Meanwhile, it assigned to other human beings a degree of temporal power that virtually guaranteed their moral corruption. Both master and slave were thus trapped in a relationship that inevitably led both down the path of sin and depravity” [18]

Finney’s preaching was emboldened and expanded by the American Anti-Slavery Society founded by William Lloyd Garrison “which launched a campaign to change minds, North and South, with three initiatives, public speeches, mass mailings and petitions.” [19] Many of the speakers were seminary students and graduates of Lane Seminary in Cincinnati, who became known as “the Seventy” who received training and then “fanned out across the North campaigning in New England, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Indiana and Michigan[20] where many received hostile receptions, and encountered violence. Garrison used his newspaper, The Liberator to “pledge an all-out attack on U.S. slavery.” [21] Likewise other churches such as the Presbyterians founded new educational institutions such as “Oberlin College in Ohio” which “was founded as an abolitionist institution” [22]

Theodore Parker, a Unitarian pastor and leading Transcendentalist thinker enunciated a very important theological-political analogy for many in the religious wing of the abolitionist movement which concentrated less on using chapter and verse but appealing to “the spirit of the Gospel,” [23] in as Parker’s analogy: as Jesus is to the Bible, so is the Declaration to the Constitution:

“By Christianity, I mean that form of religion which consists of piety – the love of God, and morality – the keeping of His laws. That Christianity is not the Christianity of the Christian church, nor of any sect. It is the ideal religion which the human race has been groping for….By Democracy, I mean government over all the people, by all the people and for the sake of all….This is not a democracy of the parties, but it is an ideal government, the reign of righteousness, the kingdom of justice, which all noble hearts long for, and labor to produce, the ideal whereunto mankind slowly draws near.” [24]

The early abolitionists who saw the issue framed in terms of their religious faith declared slavery a sin against God and man that demanded immediate action.” [25] For them the issue was a matter of faith and belief in which compromise of any kind including the gradual elimination of slavery or any other halfway measures were unacceptable. “William Lloyd Garrison and his fellow abolitionists believed the nation faced a clear choice between damnation and salvation,” [26] a cry that can be heard in much of today’s political debate regarding a number of social issues with religious components including abortion, gay rights and immigration. Harrison wrote that “Our program of immediate emancipation and assimilation, I maintained, was the only panacea, the only Christian solution, to an unbearable program.” [27] The abolitionists identified:

“their cause with the cause of freedom, and with the interests of large and relatively unorganized special groups such as laborers and immigrants, the abolitionists considered themselves to be, and convinced many others that they were, the sole remaining protectors of civil rights.” [28]

The arguments were frequently and eloquently rooted in profoundly religious terms common to evangelical Christianity and the Second Great Awakening. One of the leading historians of the era, Henry Wilson of Massachusetts, a Radical Republican and abolitionist who served as a United States Senator and Vice President in Ulysses Grant’s second administration provides a good example of this. He wrote in his post war history of the events leading to the war explaining basic understanding of the religiously minded abolitionists during the period:

“God’s Holy Word declares that man was doomed to eat his bread in the sweat of his face. History and tradition teach that the indolent, the crafty, and the strong, unmindful of human rights, have ever sought to evade this Divine decree by filching their bread from the constrained and unpaid toil of others…

American slavery reduced man, created in the Divine image, to property….It made him a beast of burden in the field of toil, an outcast in social life, a cipher in courts of law, and a pariah in the house of God. To claim for himself, or to use himself for his own benefit or benefit of wife and child, was deemed a crime. His master could dispose of his person at will, and of everything acquired by his enforced and unrequited toil.

This complete subversion of the natural rights of millions…constituted a system antagonistic to the doctrines of reason and the monitions of conscience, and developed and gratified the most intense spirit of personal pride, a love of class distinctions, and the lust of dominion. Hence a commanding power, ever sensitive, jealous, proscriptive, dominating, and aggressive, which was recognized and fitly characterized as the Slave Power…” [29]

The religious abolitionists took aim at the Southern churches and church leaders who they believed only buttressed slavery but “had become pawns of wealthy slaveholders and southern theologians apologists for oppression.” [30] As the abolitionist movement spread through Northern churches, especially those with ties to the evangelicalism of the Great Awakenings, and for “Evangelical northerners, the belief in individual spiritual and personal rights and personal religious activism made such involvement necessary.” [31]

For Baptists the issue created a deep polarization with northern Baptists mobilizing around abolitionist principles which came out of their association with English Baptists who had been at the forefront of the abolitionist movement in England where the Reverend William Knibb, who also led the fight to end slavery in Jamaica “became an impassioned defender of the human rights of blacks….his flamboyant speeches aroused the people against slavery.” [32] The Baptist Union in England sent a lengthy letter to the Baptist Triennial Convention in the United States on December 31st 1833 in which they condemned “the slave system…as a sin to be abandoned, and not an evil to be mitigated,” and in which they urged all American Baptists to do all in their power to “effect its speedy overthrow.” [33]

In 1835 two English Baptists, Francis Cox and James Hoby, who were active in that nation’s abolitionist movement with William Wilberforce came to the United States “to urge Baptists to abandon slavery. This visit and subsequent correspondence tended to polarize Baptists.” [34] In the north their visit encouraged faith based activism in abolitionist groups. In 1849 the American Baptist Anti-Slavery Convention was formed in New York and launched a polemic attack on the institution of slavery and called southern Baptists to repent in the strongest terms. They urged that the mission agencies be cleansed from “any taint of slavery…and condemned slavery in militant terms.” They called on Southern Baptists to “confess before heaven and earth the sinfulness of holding slaves; admit it to be not only a misfortune, but a crime…” and it warned that “if Baptists in the South ignored such warnings and persisted in the practice of slavery, “we cannot and dare not recognize you as consistent brethren in Christ.” [35] Such divisions we not limited to Baptists and as the decade moved on rose to crisis proportions in every evangelical denomination, provoking Kentucky Senator Henry Clay to wonder: “If our religious men cannot live together in peace, what can be expected of us politicians, very few of whom profess to be governed by the great principles of love?” [36]

The abolition movement aimed to not only stop the spread of slavery but to abolish it. The latter was something that many in the North who opposed slavery’s expansion were often either not in favor of, or indifferent to, became an issue for many after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. So long as slavery was regulated to the South most northerners showed little concern, and even though many profited by slavery, or otherwise reaped its benefits their involvement was indirect. While they may have worn clothes made of cotton harvested by slaves, while the profits of corporations that benefited from all aspects of the Southern slave economy paid the wages of northern workers and shareholders, few thought of the moral issues until they were forced to participate or saw the laws of their states overthrown by Congress.

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Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Popularization of Abolitionism in the North

It was only after this act that the abolitionist movement began to gain traction among people in the North. The movement was given a large boost by the huge popularity of Harriett Beecher Stowe’s 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin “a vivid, highly imaginative, best-selling, and altogether damning indictment of slavery” [37]

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Harriet Beecher Stowe

Stowe was a well-educated writer, the daughter of the President of Lane Seminary, Lyman Beecher and wife of Calvin Ellis Stowe, a professor at the seminary. She and her family were deeply involved in the abolitionist movement and supported the Underground Railroad, even taking fugitive slaves into her home. These activities and her association with escaped slaves made a profound impact on her. She received a letter from her sister who was distraught over the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law. He sister challenged Stowe to write: “How, Hattie, if I could use a pen as you can, I would write something that would make this whole nation feel what an accursed thing slavery is.” [38]

One communion Sunday she:

“sat at the communion table of Brunswick’s First Parish Church, a vision began playing before my eyes that left me in tears. I saw an old slave clad in rags, a gentle, Christian man like the slave I had read about in American Slavery as It Is. A cruel white man, a man with a hardened fist, was flogging the old slave. Now a cruel master ordered two other slaves two other slaves to finish the task. As they laid on the whips, the old black man prayed for God to forgive them.

After church I rushed home in a trance and wrote down what I had seen. Since Calvin was away, I read the sketch to my ten- and twelve-year-old sons. They wept too, and one cried, “Oh! Mamma, slavery is the most cursed thing in the world!” I named the old slave Uncle Tom and his evil tormenter Simon Legree. Having recorded the climax of my story, I then commenced at the beginning….” [39]

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The Auction, engraving from Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Many of Stowe’s characters were fiction versions of people that she actually knew or had heard about and the power of her writing made the work a major success in the United States and in Britain. The abolitionist movement gained steam and power through it and the play that issued from it. The publication of the book and its success “raised a counter indignation among Southerners because they thought Mrs. Stowe’s portrait untrue and because the North was so willing to believe it.” [40]

But despite the furor of many southerners the book gained in popularity and influenced a generation of northerners, creating a stereotype of Southern slaveholders and it caused people “to think more deeply and more personally about the implications of slavery for family, society and Christianity.” [41] The book drew many previously ambivalent to the writings of the abolitionists, and who did not normally read the accounts of escaped slaves. The vivid images in Stowe’s book “were irredeemably hostile: from now on the Southern stereotype was something akin to Simon Legree.” [42] But those images transformed the issue in the minds of many in the north as they “touched on all these chords of feeling, faith, and experience….The genius of Uncle Tom’s Cabin was that it made the personal universal, and it made the personal political as well. For millions of readers, blacks became people.” [43] One northern reader said “what truth could not accomplish, fiction did” [44] as it “put a face on slavery, and a soul on black people.” [45]

George Fitzhugh, a defended of benevolent paternalistic slavery noted Stowe’s book “was “right” concerning the “bitter treatment of slaves….Law, Religion, and Public Opinion should be invoked to punish and correct those abuses….” [46] However, such thoughts could not be spoken too openly for fear of other slaveholders who “could not calmly debate internal correction…while outside agitators advertised their supposed monstrosities.” [47] The inability to debate the issue internally made the southern visceral response to Uncle Tom’s Cabin look petty and impotent.

But others too had an effect on the debate, even escaped former slaves like Frederick Douglass. Douglass became a prominent abolitionist leader was very critical of the role of churches, especially Southern churches in the maintenance of slavery as an institution. His polemic against them in his autobiography reads like the preaching of an Old Testament prophet such as Amos, or Jeremiah railing against the corrupt religious institutions of their day:

“Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity. I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels. Never was there a clearer case of “stealing the livery of the court of heaven to serve the devil in.” I am filled with unutterable loathing when I contemplate the religious pomp and show, together with the horrible inconsistencies, which every where surround me. We have men-stealers for ministers, women-whippers for missionaries, and cradle-plunderers for church members. The man who wields the blood-clotted cowskin during the week fill the pulpit on Sunday, and claims to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus. The man who robs me of my earnings at the end of each week meets me as a class-leader on Sunday morning, to show me the way of life, and the path of salvation. He who sells my sister, for purposes of prostitution, stands forth as the pious advocate of purity. He who proclaims it a religious duty to read the Bible denies me the right of learning to read the name of the God who made me. He who is the religious advocate of marriage robs whole millions of its sacred influence, and leaves them to the ravages of wholesale pollution. The warm defender of the sacredness of the family relation is the same that scatters whole families, — sundering husbands and wives, parents and children, sisters and brothers, — leaving the hut vacant and the heart desolate. We see the thief preaching against theft, and the adulterer against adultery. We have men sold to build churches, women sold to support the gospel, and babes sold to purchase Bibles for the poor heathen! All for the glory of God and the good of souls.”[48]

Poet Walt Whitman was radicalized by the passage of the act and in his poem Blood Money he “used the common evangelical technique of applying biblical parables to contemporary events, echoing in literary form William H. Seward’s “higher law” speech.” [49]

Of olden time, when it came to pass

That the Beautiful God, Jesus, should finish his work on earth,

Then went Judas, and sold the Divine youth,

And took pay for his body.

Cursed was the deed, even before the sweat of the clutching hand grew dry…

 

Since those ancient days; many a pouch enwrapping mean-

Its fee, like that paid for the Son of Mary.

Again goes one, saying,

What will ye give me, and I will deliver this man unto you?

And they make the covenant and pay the pieces of silver…

 

The meanest spit in thy face—they smite thee with their

Bruised, bloody, and pinioned is thy body,

More sorrowful than death is thy soul.

Witness of Anguish—Brother of Slaves,

Not with thy price closed the price of thine image;

And still Iscariot plies his trade. [50]

The leaders of the Abolitionist movement who had fought hard against acts the Fugitive Slave Act and the Dred Scott decision were now beginning to be joined by a Northern population that was becoming less tolerant of slavery and the status quo. For abolitionists “who had lost their youthful spiritual fervor, the crusade became a substitute for religion. And in the calls for immediate emancipation, one could hear echoes of perfectionism and millennialism.” [51]

But there was resistance of Northern theological circles to abolitionism. Charles B. Hodge, the President of Princeton Theological Seminary “supported slavery on biblical grounds, often dismissing abolitionists as liberal progressives who did not take the Bible seriously.” [52]

With the formation of the Republican Party in 1854, a party founded on opposition to the expansion of slavery in the territories found a formidable political voice and became part of a broad coalition of varied interests groups whose aspirations had been blocked by pro-slavery Democrats. These groups included “agrarians demanding free-homestead legislation, Western merchants desiring river and harbor improvements at federal expense, Pennsylvania iron masters and New England textile merchants in quest of higher tariffs.” The abolitionists also made headway in gaining the support of immigrants, “especially among the liberal, vocal, fiercely anti-slavery Germans who had recently fled the Revolution of 1848.” [53] One of those German immigrants, Carl Schurz observed that “the slavery question” was “not a mere occasional quarrel between two sections of the country, divided by a geographic line” but “a great struggle between two antagonistic systems of social organization.” [54]

Southern Religious Support of Slavery

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In light of the threat posed to slavery by the emerging abolitionist movement forced slaveholders to shift their defense of slavery from it being simply a necessary evil. Slavery became “in both secular and religious discourse, the central component of the mission God had designed for the South.” [55] 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.” [56]

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 culture than the abolitionist cause did in the North, 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.” [57]The Southern ideology which enshrined slavery as a key component of all areas of life was a belief system, it was a system of values, it was a worldview, 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.” [58]

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.” [59] The religiously based counter argument to the abolitionists was led by the former Governor of South Carolina, John Henry Hammond. 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.” [60] 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.” [61]

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.” [62] The basic understanding was that slavery existed because “God had providential purposes for slavery.” [63]

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.” [64] But simply citing scripture to justify the reality of a system that they repeated the benefit is just part of the story for the 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.” [65] 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 that Southern slaveholders, especially evangelicals took umbrage, for in their understanding good men could own slaves. Their defense was rooted in their theology and 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.” [66] 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…” [67]

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.” [68] But some Southern blacks accepted the basic tenets do 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.” [69]

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.” [70]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.” [71]

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.” [72] 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” [73] out of the hands of literalists.

However the real schisms between the Northern and Southern branches of the major denominations began to emerge in the mid to late 1830s with the actual breakups coming in the 1840s. The first to split were the Methodists when in “1844 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.” [74] Not all Methodists in the South agreed with this split and Methodist abolitionists in the South “broke away from mainline Methodism to form the Free Methodist Church.” [75]

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” [76] 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.” [77]

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.” [78] 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.” [79] 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.” [80]

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.” [81] 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.” [82] 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.” [83]

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.” [84] The split in the Presbyterian Church had been obvious for years despite their outward unity, some of the 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.” [85]

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.” [86]

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.” [87] 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.” [88] 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.” [89]

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.” [90]

The Religious Divide Becomes Political

The breakups of the major Protestant denominations boded ill for the country, in fact the true believers in their cause be it the abolition of slavery or the maintenance and expansion of it were among the most strident politically. “For people of faith these internecine schisms were very troubling. If citizens could not get along in the fellowship of Christ, what did the future hold for the nation?” [91] Both of the major political parties of the 1840s, the Democrats and the Whigs found themselves ever more led by religion as the “fissures among evangelicals, the conflicts between Protestants and Catholics, the slavery debates, and the settlement of the West placed religion at the forefront of American politics.” [92] Of course it was slavery that became the overriding issue as decade moved forward and the divisions among the faithful became deeper.

A Cincinnati minister who preached against secession “citing Absalom, Jeroboam, and Judas” as examples, argued that the “Cause of the United States” and the Cause of Jehovah” were identical…and insisted that “a just defensive war” against southern secessionists is “one of the prominent ways by which the Lord will introduce the millennial day.” [93] In the South many ministers became active in politics and men who at one time had been considered moderates began to speak “in the language of cultural warfare.” Mississippi Episcopal Bishop William Mercer Green denounced the “restless, insubordinate, and overbearing spirit of Puritanism” that was destroying the nation.” [94]

Some political leaders who had worked to craft compromises like South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun were concerned and observed that the evangelical denominations which were splitting had “contributed greatly to strengthen the bond of the Union.” If all bonds were loosed, he worried, “nothing will be left to hold the Union together except force.” [95] Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln, both who would be considered moderates on the issue of slavery in the late 1840s and early 1850s came to sharply different philosophical and theological understandings of the unfolding dissolution of the country. Davis as early as 1848 was defending slavery as “a common law right to property in the services of man; its origin is in Divine decree – the curse on the graceless sons of Noah.” But Lincoln condemned the expansion of the institution did so in decidedly theological terms, noting that “Slavery is founded in the selfishness of man’s nature…opposition to it is in his love of justice…. Repeal all past human history, you cannot repeal human nature. It will still be the abundance of man’s heart, that slavery extension is wrong.” [96]

God’s Chosen People and the Confederate Union of Church and State

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Perhaps more than anything the denominational splits helped prepare the Southern people as well as clergy for secession and war. They set precedent by which Southerners left establish national organizations. When secession came, “the majority of young Protestant preachers were already primed by their respective church traditions to regard the possibilities of political separation from the United States without undue anxiety.” [97]

One of the most powerful ideological tools since the days of the ancients has been the linkage of religion to the state. While religion has always been a driving force in American life since they days of the Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, especially in the belief about the destiny of the nation as God’s “Chosen People” it was in the South where the old Puritan beliefs took firm root in culture, society, politics and the ideology which justified slavery and became indelibly linked to Southern nationalism. “Confederate independence, explained a Methodist tract quoting Puritan John Winthrop, was intended to enable the South, “like a city set on a hill’ [to] fulfill her God given mission to exalt in civilization and Christianity the nations of the earth.” [98]

Religion and the churches “supplied the overarching framework for southern nationalism. As Confederates cast themselves as God’s chosen people” [99] and the defense of slavery was a major part of this mission of the chosen people. A group of 154 clergymen “The Clergy of the South” “warned the world’s Christians that the North was perpetuating a plot of “interference with the plans of Divine Providence.” [100] A Tennessee pastor bluntly stated in 1861 that “In all contests between nations God espouses the cause of the Righteous and makes it his own….The institution of slavery according to the Bible is right. Therefore in the contest between the North and the South, He will espouse the cause of the South and make it his own.” [101]

The effect of such discourse on leaders as well as individuals was to unify the struggle as something that linked the nation to God, and God’s purposes to the nation identifying both as being the instruments of God’s will and Divine Providence:

“Sacred and secular history, like religion and politics, had become all but indistinguishable… The analogy between the Confederacy and the chosen Hebrew nation was invoked so often as to be transformed into a figure of everyday speech. Like the United States before it, the Confederacy became a redeemer nation, the new Israel.” [102]

This theology also motivated men like the convinced hard line Calvinist-Presbyterian, General Stonewall Jackson on the battlefield. Jackson’s brutal, Old Testament understanding of the war caused him to murmur: “No quarter to the violators of our homes and firesides,” and when someone deplored the necessity of destroying so many brave men, he exclaimed: “No, shoot them all, I do not wish them to be brave.” [103]

In effect: “Slavery became in secular and religious discourse, the central component of the mission God had designed for the South….The Confederates were fighting a just war not only because they were, in the traditional framework of just war theory, defending themselves against invasion, they were struggling to carry out God’s designs for a heathen race.” [104]

From “the beginning of the war southern churches of all sorts with few exceptions promoted the cause militant” [105] and supported war efforts, the early military victories of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and the victories of Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley   were celebrated as “providential validations of the cause that could not fail…” Texas Methodist minister William Seat wrote: “Never surely since the Wars of God’s ancient people has there been such a remarkable and uniform success against tremendous odds. The explanation is found in the fact that the Lord goes forth to fight against the coercion by foes of his particular people. Thus it has been and thus it will be to the end of the War.” [106]

This brought about a intertwining of church and state authority, a veritable understanding of theocracy as “The need for the southern people to acknowledge God’s authority was bound up with a legitimation of the authority of clerical and civil rulers. Christian humility became identified with social and political deference to both God and Jefferson Davis.” [107]

Jefferson Davis and other leaders helped bolster this belief:

“In his repeated calls for God’s aid and in his declaration of national days of fasting, humiliation, and prayer on nine occasions throughout the war, Jefferson Davis similarly acknowledged the need for a larger scope of legitimization. Nationhood had to be tied to higher ends. The South, it seemed, could not just be politically independent; it wanted to believe it was divinely chosen.” [108]

Davis’s actions likewise bolster his support and the support for the war among the clergy. A clergyman urged his congregation that the people of the South needed to relearn “the virtue of reverence- and the lesson of respecting, obeying, and honoring authority, for authority’s sake.” [109]

Confederate clergymen not only were spokesmen and supporters of slavery, secession and independence, but many also shed their clerical robes and put on Confederate Gray as soldiers, officers and even generals fighting for the Confederacy. Bishop Leonidas Polk, the Episcopal Bishop of Louisiana, who had been a classmate of Jefferson Davis at West Point was commissioned as a Major General and appointed to command the troops in the Mississippi Valley. Polk did not resign his ecclesiastical office, and “Northerners expressed horror at such sacrilege, but Southerners were delighted with this transfer from the Army of the Lord.” [110] Lee’s chief of Artillery Brigadier General Nelson Pendleton was also an academy graduate and an Episcopal Priest. By its donations of “everything from pew cushions to brass bells, Southern churches gave direct material aid to the cause. Among all the institutions in Southern life, perhaps the church most faithfully served the Confederate Army and nation.” [111] Southern ministers “not only proclaimed the glory of their role in creating the war but also but also went off to battle with the military in an attempt to add to their glory.” [112]

Sadly, the denominational rifts persisted until well into the twentieth century. The Presbyterians and Methodists both eventually reunited but the Baptists did not, and eventually “regional isolation, war bitterness, and differing emphasis in theology created chasms by the end of the century which leaders of an earlier generation could not have contemplated.” [113] The Southern Baptist Convention is now the largest Protestant denomination in the United States and many of its preachers are active in often divisive conservative social and political causes. The denomination that it split from, the American Baptist Convention, though much smaller remains a diverse collection of conservative and progressive local churches. Some of these are still in the forefront of the modern civil rights movement, including voting rights, women’s rights and LGBT issues, all of which find some degree of opposition in the Southern Baptist Convention.

But the religious dimensions were far bigger than denominational disagreements about slavery; religion became one of the bedrocks of Confederate nationalism. The Great Seal of the Confederacy had as its motto the Latin words Deo Vindice which can be translated “With God as our Champion” or “Under God [Our] Vindicator.” The issue was bigger than independence itself, it was intensely theological and secession “became an act of purification, a separation from the pollutions of decaying northern society, that “monstrous mass of moral disease,” as the Mobile Evening News so vividly described it.” [114]

The arguments found their way into the textbooks used in schools throughout the Confederacy. “The First Reader, For Southern Schools assured its young pupils that “God wills that some men should be slaves, and some masters.” For older children, Mrs. Miranda Moore’s best-selling Geographic Reader included a detailed proslavery history of the United States that explained how northerners had gone “mad” on the subject of abolitionism.” [115] The seeds of future ideological battles were being planted in the hearts of white southern children by radically religious ideologues, just as they are today in the Madrassas of the Middle East.

While the various theological and ideological debates played out and fueled the fires of passion that brought about the war, and provided great motivation, especially to Confederates during the war, that their cause was righteous, other very real world decisions and events in terms of politics, law and lawlessness further inflamed passions.

The Deepening Divide: The Dred Scott Decision

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As the 1850s wore on the divisions over slavery became deeper and voices of moderation retreated. The trigger for the for the worsening of the division was the political battle regarding the expansion of slavery, even the status of free blacks in the north who were previously slaves, over whom their owners asserted their ownership. Southerners considered the network to help fugitive slaves escape to non-slave states, called the Underground Railroad “an affront to the slaveholders pride” and “anyone who helped a man or woman escape bondage was simply a thief” who had robbed them of their property and livelihood, as an “adult field hand could cost as much as $2000, the equivalent of a substantial house.” [116]

In 1856 the Supreme Court, dominated by southern Democrats ruled in favor of southern views in the Dred Scott decision one pillar of which gave slavery the right to expand by denying to Congress the power to prohibit slavery in Federal territories. The decision was momentous but it was a failure, but it was a disaster for the American people. It solved nothing and further divided the nation:

“In the South, for instance, it encouraged southern rights advocates to believe that their utmost demands were legitimatized by constitutional sanction and, therefore, to stiffen their insistence upon their “rights.” In the North, on the other hand, it strengthened a conviction that an aggressive slavocracy was conspiring to impose slavery upon the nation, and that any effort to reach an accommodation with such aggressors was futile. While strengthening the extremists, it cut the ground from under the moderates.” [117]

The decision in the case is frightening when one looks upon its tenor and implications. The majority opinion which was written by Chief Justice Roger Taney was chilling, not only in its views of race, but the fact that blacks were perpetually property without the rights of citizens. Taney wrote:

“Can a negro, whose ancestors were imported into this country, sold as slaves, become a member of the political community formed and brought into existence by the Constitution of the United States, and as such become entitled to all the rights, and privileges, and immunities, guaranteed by that instrument to the citizen?…It is absolutely certain that the African race were not included under the name of citizens of a state…and that they were not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word “citizens” in the Constitution, and therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States. On the contrary, they were at that time considered as a subordinate and inferior class of beings, who had been subjugated by the dominant race, and, whether emancipated or not, yet remain subject to their authority, and had no rights or privileges but those who held the power and the Government might choose to grant them” [118]

The effect of the ruling on individuals and the states was far reaching. “No territorial government in any federally administered territory had the authority to alter the status of a white citizen’s property, much less to take that property out of a citizen’s hands, without due process of law or as punishment for some crime.” [119] Free slaves were no longer safe, even in Free States from the possibility of being returned to slavery, because they were property.

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Chief Justice Roger Taney, Author of the Dred Scott Decision

But the decision had been influenced by President-Elect James Buchanan’s secret intervention in the Supreme Court deliberations two weeks before his inauguration. Buchanan hoped by working with the Justices that he save the Union from breaking apart by appeasing slave owners and catering to their agenda. “The president-elect wanted to know not only when, but if the Court would save the new administration and the Union from the issue of slavery in the territories. Would the judges thankfully declare the explosive subject out of bounds, for everyone who exerted federal power? The shattering question need never bother President Buchanan.” [120] In his inaugural address he attempted to camouflage his intervention and “declared that the Court’s decision, whatever it turned out to be, would settle the slavery issue forever.” [121]

But Buchanan was mistaken, the case made the situation even more volatile as it impaired “the power of Congress- a power which had remained intact to this time- to occupy the middle ground.” [122] Taney’s decision held that Congress “never had the right to limit slavery’s expansion, and that the Missouri Compromise had been null and void on the day of its formulation.” [123]

The Court’s decision “that a free negro was not a citizen and the decision that Congress could not exclude slavery from the territories were intensely repugnant to many people in the free states” [124] and it ignited a firestorm in the north where Republicans now led by Abraham Lincoln decried the decision and southerners basked in their judicial victory. Northerners quite rightly feared that an activist court would rule to deny their states the right to forbid slavery. As early as 1854 Lincoln posed the idea that the Declaration of Independence was “the standard maxim of free society …constantly spreading and deepening its influence,” ultimately applicable “to peoples of all colors everywhere.” [125]

But after the Dred Scott decision Lincoln warned that the Declaration was being cheapened and diluted. Lincoln noted:

“Our Declaration of Independence was held sacred by all, and thought to include all” Lincoln declared, “but now, to aid in making the bondage of the Negro universal and eternal, it is assaulted, and sneered at, and construed, and hawked at, and torn, till, its framers could ride from their graves, they could not recognize it at all.” [126]

Not only that, Lincoln asked the logical question regarding Taney’s judicial activism. How long would it be, asked Abraham Lincoln, before the Court took the next logical step and ruled explicitly that:

“the Constitution of the United States does not permit a state to exclude slavery from its limits?” How far off was the day when “we shall lie down pleasantly thinking that the people of Missouri are on the verge of making their State free; and shall awake to the reality, instead, that the Supreme Court has made Illinois a slave State?” [127]

Lincoln discussed the ramification of the ruling for blacks, both slave and free:

“to aid in making the bondage of the Negro universal and eternal….All the powers of the earth seem rapidly combining against him. Mammon is after him; ambition follows, and philosophy follows, and the theology of the day is fast joining the cry. They have him in his prison house;…One after another they have closed the heavy doors upon him…and they stand musing as to what invention, in all the dominions of mind and matter, can be produced the impossibility of his escape more complete than it is.” [128]

Lincoln was not wrong in his assessment of the potential effects of the Dred Scott decision on Free States. “In 1852 a New York judge upheld the freedom of eight slaves who had left their Virginia owner while in New York City on their way to Texas.” [129] The Dred Scott decision brought that case, Lemon v. The People back to the fore and “Virginia decided to take the case to the highest New York court (which upheld the law in 1860) and would have undoubtedly appealed it to Taney’s Supreme Court had not secession intervened.” [130]

In response to the decision the advocates of the expansion of slavery not only insisted on its westward expansion in Federal territories but “in their must exotic fantasy, proslavery expansionists would land several dozen or several hundred American freedom fighters on Central or South American shores.” [131] Their targets would include Panama, Nicaragua, and Cuba as well. In 1855 one of these adventurers was William Walker who “sailed with about sixty followers (“the immortals”) to participate in a civil war in Nicaragua. Within little more than a year, he made himself President, and Franklin Pierce recognized his government.” [132] In 1857 Jefferson Davis further provoked northern ire when he insisted that “African Slavery as it exists in the United States is a moral, a social, and a political blessing.” [133]

Southern leaders poured political, human and economic capital into the struggle for the imposition of slavery on the Kansas Territory following the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. For the South a pro-slavery victory in Kansas meant “two new U.S. Senators for the South. If a free labor Kansas triumphed, however, the North would gain four senators: Kansas’s immediately and Missouri’s soon.” [134]

To be continued tomorrow….

Notes

[1] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.68

[2] Goldfield, David America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation Bloomsbury Press, New York, London New Delhi and Sidney 2011 p.71

[3] ______________Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 retrieved from the Avalon Project, Yale School of Law http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/fugitive.asp 11 December 2014

[4] Ibid. Fugitive Slave Act of 1850

[5] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.71

[6] McPherson, James. The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1988 p.80

[7] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.80

[8] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.72

[9] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.94

[10] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.71

[11] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.64

[12] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.71

[13] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.93

[14] McGrath, Alister Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution A History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2007 p.324

[15] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume One p.289

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

[17] Huntington, Samuel P. Who Are We? America’s Great Debate The Free Press, Simon and Schuster Europe, London 2004 p.77

[18] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.93

[19] Ibid. Egnal Clash of Extremes:pp.125-126

[20] Ibid. Egnal Clash of Extremes p.125

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

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

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

[24] Wills, Garry Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, New York 1992

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

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

[27] Oates, Stephen B. Editor The Approaching Fury: Voices of the Storm, 1820-1861 University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London 1997 p.36

[28] Stampp, Kenneth M. editor The Causes of the Civil War 3rd Revised Edition A Touchstone Book published by Simon and Schuster, New York and London 1991 p.23

[29] Ibid. Stampp The Causes of the Civil War p.29

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

[31] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.35

[32] McBeth, H. Leon The Baptist Heritage Broadman Press, Nashville TN 1987 p.301

[33] Ibid. McBeth The Baptist Heritage p.301

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

[35] Ibid. McBeth The Baptist Heritage pp.384-385

[36] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.35

[37] Ibid. Catton Two Roads to Sumter p.94

[38] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.75

[39] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.120

[40] Ibid. Catton Two Roads to Sumter p.94

[41] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.83

[42] Ibid. Catton Two Roads to Sumter p.94

[43] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.79

[44] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.79

[45] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.83

[46] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume One p.48

[47] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume One p.49

[48] Douglass, Frederick. Life and Times of Frederick Douglass: His Early Life as a Slave, His Escape From Bondage, and His Complete History. New York: Collier Books, 1892. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/primary-resources/lincolns-inconsistencies/ December 9th 2014

[49] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.72

[50] Whitman, Walt Blood Money March 22nd 1850 retrieved from the Walt Whitman Archive http://www.whitmanarchive.org/published/periodical/poems/per.00089 11 December 2014

[51] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.13

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

[53] Catton, William and Bruce, Two Roads to Sumter: Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis and the March to Civil War McGraw Hill Book Company New York 1963, Phoenix Press edition London p.123

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

[55] 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

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

[57] Daly, John Patrick When Slavery Was Called Freedom: Evangelicalism, Proslavery, and the Causes of the Civil War The University Press of Kentucky, Lexington KY 2002 p.69

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[91] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.35

[92] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.36

[93] Ibid. Rable God’s Almost Chosen Peoples pp.39-40

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

[95] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.35

[96] Ibid. Catton Two Roads to Sumter p.61

[97] Brinsfield, John W. et. al. Editor, Faith in the Fight: Civil War Chaplains Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg PA 2003 p.67

[98] Faust, Drew Gilpin The Creation of Confederate Nationalism: Ideology and Identity in the Civil War South Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge and London p.27

[99] Ibid. Gallagher The Confederate War pp.66-67

[100] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom p.145

[101] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom p.138

[102] Ibid. Faust The Creation of Confederate Nationalism p.29

[103] Fuller, J.F.C. Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship, Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN 1957

[104] Ibid. Faust, The Creation of Confederate Nationalism: Ideology and Identity in the Civil War South p.60

[105] Ibid. Thomas The Confederate Nation 1861-1865 pp.245-246

[106] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom pp.145 and 147

[107] Ibid. Faust The Creation of Confederate Nationalism p.26

[108] Ibid. Faust The Creation of Confederate Nationalism p.33

[109] Ibid. Faust The Creation of Confederate Nationalism p.32

[110] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume One: Fort Sumter to Perryville Random House, New York 1963 1958 p.87

[111] Ibid. Thomas The Confederate Nation p.246

[112] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom p.142

[113] Ibid. McBeth The Baptist Heritage pp.392-393

[114] Ibid. Faust The Creation of Confederate Nationalism p.30

[115] Ibid. Faust The Creation of Confederate Nationalism p.62

[116] Goodheart, Adam. Moses’ Last Exodus in The New York Times: Disunion, 106 Articles from the New York Times Opinionator: Modern Historians Revist and Reconsider the Civil War from Lincoln’s Election to the Emancipation Proclamation Edited by Ted Widmer, Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers, New York 2013 p.15

[117] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.291

[118] Guelzo Allen C. Fateful Lightening: A New History of the Civil War Era and Reconstruction Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2012 p.91

[119] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening pp.91-92

[120] Freehling, William. The Road to Disunion Volume II: Secessionists Triumphant 1854-1861 Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2007 p.115

[121] Ibid. Freehling, The Road to Disunion Volume II: Secessionists Triumphant 1854-1861 p.109

[122] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.291

[123] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.210

[124] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.279

[125] Ibid. Catton Two Roads to Sumter p.139

[126] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.93

[127] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.211

[128] Ibid. Catton Two Roads to Sumter p.139

[129] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.181

[130] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.181

[131] Ibid. Freehling, The Road to Disunion Volume II: Secessionists Triumphant 1854-1861 p.145

[132] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.193

[133] Ibid. Catton Two Roads to Sumter p.142

[134] Ibid. Freehling, The Road to Disunion Volume II: Secessionists Triumphant 1854-1861 p.124

 

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Church, Faith, Tolerance and Reconcilliation

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“Sometimes I think it is my mission to bring faith to the faithless, and doubt to the faithful.” Paul Tillich

My friends, I write this because of something that happened to me a couple of days ago. It was an incident that upset me greatly because it ended up in the fracturing of a relationship by a friend who evidently could not tolerate where I was in my life as a priest and Christian. I discovered again the reality of what Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

“Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God, either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God, too. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and in the end there will be nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words… never really speaking to others.”

My experience of the Church is profoundly influenced by my life in the nether world of the military culture. My world view is shaped by a blending of various Christian traditions, mutual support and collaboration among believers of often radically different points of view. Because of the love, care and mentoring of people from a blend of different traditions I came to know God and survived a tumultuous childhood with many moves.

As a historian I have been blessed to study church history from the early Church Fathers to the present. As I look to church history I find inspiration in many parts of the Christian tradition. In fact rather being threatened by them I have become appreciative of their distinctiveness. I think that there is a beauty in liturgy and stability in the councils and creeds of the Church. At the same time the prophetic voice of evangelical preaching shapes me, especially the message of freedom and tolerance embodied in the lives and sacrifice of men like John Leland, the American Baptist who helped pioneer the concept of Freedom of Religion established in the Constitution of the United States, of William Wilberforce who labored to end slavery in England and, Martin Luther King Jr. who led the Civil Rights movement.

Likewise that prophetic message of the faith is demonstrated in the ministry, writing and martyrdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his contemporaries Martin Niemoller and Jesuit priest Father Rupert Meyer. All three resisted and preached against the evils of Nazism. In a more contemporary setting I am inspired by Bishop Desmond Tutu who helped topple apartheid in South Africa.

Women like Teresa of Avila and St Catherine show me that women have a legitimate place of ministry and leadership in the Church. I am convinced through my study of Church history, theology and a deep belief in the power of the Holy Spirit that women can and should serve as Priests and Bishops in the church.

My theology has shaped by the writings of Hans Kung, Yves Congar, Jurgen Moltmann, Andrew Greeley, and Henry Nouwen. I’ve been challenged by St Francis of Assissi, John Wesley and Martin Luther. I am especially inspired by Pope John XXIII whose vision brought about the Second Vatican Council and I am inspired by Pope Francis.

I pray that Christians can live in peace with one another and those who do not share our faith. I pray that we can find ways to overcome the often very legitimate hurts, grievances and divisions of our 2000 year history. At the same time I pray that we can repent from our own wrongs and work to heal the many wounds created by Christians who abused power, privilege and even those who oppressed others, waged war and killed in the name of Jesus.

I do not believe that neither triumphalism nor authoritarianism has a place in in a healthy understanding of the church and how we live. I am suspicious of any clergy who seek power in a church or political setting. I profoundly reject any argument that requires the subjection of one Church with its tradition to any other Church. In fact I think that the arrogance and intolerance of Christians to others is a large part of why people are leaving the church in droves and that the fastest growing “religious group” is the “nones” or those with no religious preference. Andrew Greeley said something that we should take to heart:

“People came into the Church in the Roman Empire because the Church was so good — Catholics were so good to one another, and they were so good to pagans, too. High-pressure evangelization strikes me as an attempt to deprive people of their freedom of choice.”

I grew up in and have lived my life in a very open and ecumenical environment. I have lost any trace denominational parochialism and competition that I might have had if I had become a pastor of a civilian parish instead of a chaplain. It is interesting that the pastor that first ordained me in the evangelical tradition and the bishop that ordained me as a priest both did so with the intent that I serve as a chaplain. Whether it was the recognition of a gifting for the work or the fact that they didn’t want me messing up their civilian operations by asking hard questions I will never know.

I believe that my environment and the men and women who have helped shape my life have been a stronger influence in the way I think about ecumenical relations and ministry than my actual theology or ecclesiology. Whether they were Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Evangelicals or even those considered by many to be outside the faith including Jews, Moslems, Buddhists, Mormons and even complete non-believers all have contributed to my life and faith.

I have grown weary of refighting theological debates that have divided the church for a thousand years. Since what we know of theology including our Scriptures and Creeds are based on faith and not science I see no reason to continue to battle.

That doesn’t mean that I think we should put our brains in neutral but rather we must wrestle with how to integrate our faith with science, philosophy and reason, otherwise we will become irrelevant. In that sense I identify with Saint Anslem of Canterbury who wrote about a faith seeking understanding and Erasmus of Rotterdam who very well understood the importance of both faith and reason. In that sense I am very much at home with the Anglian triad of Scripture, Reason and Tradition when it comes to approaching faith.

I struggle with faith and belief. After Iraq I spent two years as a practical agnostic. As Andrew Greeley wrote: “Most priests, if they have any sense or any imagination, wonder if they truly believe all the things they preach. Like Jean-Claude they both believe and not believe at the same time.” Andrew Greeley “The Bishop and the Beggar Girl of St Germain”

I am an Old Catholic and believe that inter-communion does not require from either communion the acceptance of all doctrinal opinion, sacramental devotion, or liturgical practice characteristic of the other, but implies that each believes the other to hold all the essentials of the Christian faith. I like to think that I embody what the early Anglicans referred to as the via media and that somehow my life and ministry has been about building bridges at the intersections of faith with a wide diversity of people.

When I have tried to embrace traditionalism or choose to fight theological battles I have ended up tired, bitter and at enmity with other Christians. In a sense when I tried those paths I found that they didn’t work for me. I discovered that I was not being true to who God had created and guided my life, education and experience. I feel like T. E. Lawrence who wrote:

“The rare man who attains wisdom is, by the very clearness of his sight, a better guide in solving practical problems than those, more commonly the leaders of men, whose eyes are misted and minds warped by ambition for success….”

My favorite theological debates have been with other chaplains over pints of good beer in German Gasthausen or Irish pubs. Those were good times, we argued but we also laughed and always left as friends and brothers. I believe since we are human that none of us will ever fully comprehend all of God or his or her truth. I believe that the Holy Spirit, God’s gracious gift to her people will guide us into all Truth. For me my faith has become more about relationships and reconciliation than in being right.

As far as those who disagree with me that is their right, or your right if you disagree. I don’t expect agreement and I am okay with differences and even if I disagree with an individual or how another religious denominations polity, theology, beliefs or practices those are their rights. In fact I am sure that those that believe things that I don’t are at least as sincere as me and that those beliefs are important to them. I just ask that people don’t try to use them to force their faith or belief on others, be it in churches or by attempting to use the power of government to coerce others into their belief systems.

To my friend who broke contact with me when I refused to debate his argument that I should submit myself to his Church and tradition, the door is open for reconciliation.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Revisiting the Political Captivity of the Church

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Note: This is an expansion of a topic that I wrote about in the beginnings of Padre Steve’s World.  At that time I had far fewer readers and the post itself was not nearly as fleshed out.  I do expect that some will be really angry with what I write here.  However, I write with no malice, nor condemnation of any particular belief or cause.  The issue for me is how we do things and treat people.  This matters as much as the content of what we say.  On a side note after a dismal road trip the Tides are back in town tonight to play the Lehigh ValleyIron Pigs.  The only saving grace to the Tides “June Swoon” is that their competitor the Durham Bulls who have done even worse. So the Tides remain in first palce in the IL South.

Since I am a “passionate moderate” I figure I should go ahead and continue to dig my grave with my conservative brethren who view anyone to the left of them as a wild eyed raving liberal and quite possibly a Socialist.  Likewise there might be some on the Left with whom I might also dig my grave.  As a passionate moderate I might be classed as a liberal conservative or conservative liberal.  Thus I and people like me stand in the uncomfortable middle of a deeply polarized society.  To the extreme right I might be a raving liberal, and the far left a intolerant conservative but the I choose to live in the tension between the two, although I think that being classed as a raving liberal is far more likely in today’s environment.  Conservatives are now out of power for the first time in a good number of years and mad as hell determined to regain what they lost.  Liberals on the other hand now have power and as any political party would do are advancing their agenda; the Democrat Party won the last couple of elections by a pretty convincing margin.  When Republicans won they also claimed a “mandate” for change.  It is the nature of our body politic.  The fact is that winners get to implement their agenda especially when they have big majorities in the legislative branch as well have the Presidency.

As a passionate moderate who is also a Priest and Christian my goal in life is to get along, find common ground among disparate groups and care for God’s people.  I do this by acknowledging and maintaining the tensions that are inherent in a pluralistic society and not simply going along what whatever is popular or expedient. This takes a lot of effort and does not exclude being prophetic.  However that prophetic role comes in relationship with others where there is mutual respect, civility and care for each other even when we do not agree. It does not come from being angry, acting disrespectfully or making comments that you hope that the government or country fails so you can get back in power.  The prophetic role does not come from the outside looking in railing at your opponents.  That only increases your isolation, eventually to the point that you are no longer a player in the debate, simply an annoying pest with absolutely no say in anything.  It takes more courage to be open and dialogue with people respectfully than it does to rail against them from the outside.  Anyone can be a critic and anyone can be a wrecking ball.  That’s easy.  There is little personal risk in doing so, because you don’t have to open you self up to the possibility that there may be some merit in your opponent’s view and once you have a relationship with someone it is hard to demonize or dehumanize them.  Unfortunately that is what is happening across the religious and political divide in our society.

Despite the rancor on the extremes I think that there are more people out there like me than not. My belief is that voices like ours are drowned out by drumbeat of competing demagogues on the far right and the far left.  Since I am a priest my focus will be on the dangers that I see in the current climate and the captivity that churches have unwittingly placed themselves in making political alliances.  These alliances, particularly of conservative Christians have become so incestuous and so intertwined that they are seen as one and as such these churches and Christian leaders have become the religious voice of political movements fighting a cultural war.  In doing so they have compromised themselves so that only their followers give any credence to what they are saying.  They are so to speak “preaching to the choir” and not reaching out to or even caring about their opponents. In fact opponents are often demonized and declared to be evil.  Many in effect have become like the Taliban and if you do not agree with them on their social-religious agenda you are a heretic regardless of how orthodox you are in your actual theology.  Theology and belief is no longer the test, the test is if you agree with a social-political-religious agenda which often is at odds with the Christian faith has taught.  This is like the Taliban because the goal is to gain control of the government and use the government to impose a social-religious theocracy where the church uses the “police power of the government” to achieve its goals rather that the redemptive message that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting men’s sins against them.” What many churches and Christian leaders have done is to for practical purposes discard any real attempts to engage people with the message of the Gospel in favor of using political power to force non-believers into compliance.  This in stark opposition to the early Church which was martyred for their faith in Christ versus their opposition to government policy or social ills, of which there were plenty that they could have protested.

Early in his “Reforming” days the young Martin Luther wrote a book entitled “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church.” It was a severe critique of abuses in the Roman Catholic Church of his era.  I think churches today have become captive to various political parties, social and economic theories, movements and ideas.  These are not necessarily Christian even though any churches have “baptized” them so to speak.  Capitalism for instance is has many benefits, however unbridled capitalism which is not moderated with true concern for the least, the lost and the lonely, is nothing more that economic social Darwinism.  It is the survival of the fittest with little concern or regard for real people.  People in this kind of world are not people, but consumers and economic units.  In the United States we can see this in practical terms where historically US corporations which at one time employed millions of Americans and produced actual good that were in turn exported to the world have outsourced so many jobs and industries to other nations. This was done in order to increase corporate profits by paying foreign workers almost nothing and not having to abide by US environmental laws or tax codes.  This may bring cheaper goods in the marketplace but it has endangered our economic and even strategic military security. Economic power is one of the key elements of national security.  In the military we call this the DIME:  Diplomatic, Intelligence, Military and Economic power and unless your economy can keep up you will fail.  Just ask the Soviet Union.  It is interesting to see many Christian leaders and churches talk of capitalism as if came down from heaven even using the Bible to try to bolster their argument.  This is just one of many areas where the church is not longer a prophetic voice, but a willing captive mouthpiece for political and economic institutions which at their heart could care less about the Christian faith and wouldn’t mind it going away.

On the left many churches have embraced social reform, the civil rights movement, women’s liberation as well as left leaning and even socialistic economic models and a demonstrated preference for the Democratic Party.   On the right conservative churches beginning in the 1970s in reaction to the social revolutions of the 1960s moved almost lock, stock and barrel to the Republican Party led by men such as Jerry Falwell who founded the Moral Majority in 1979, Pat Robertson who founded the Christian Coalition and Dr D. James Kennedy who founded the now defunct “Center for Reclaiming America for Christ.”  Ronald Reagan was the primary reason for this move as he enunciated a philosophy of limited government, military preparedness, an outspoken advocate of the role of America’s Judeo-Christian heritage and the sanctity of life in at least in what he said. Conservative politicians and religious leaders solidified that relationship in the 1990s during the presidency of Bill Clinton, whose sexual proclivities did nothing to help his cause with Christians despite him signing the Defense of Marriage Act.  The 1994 “Republican Revolution” and “Contract for America” helped solidify Christian conservatives as a central component of the Republican Party and by that point there was a clear alliance between Christian conservatives and the Republican Party.  It was also during this time that politically conservative talk radio became a force in American politics and many on the Christian Right gravitated to broadcasters such as Rush Limbaugh and later Sean Hannity.

I am not going to cast dispersion on the motives of liberal and conservative churches as they made these political alliances.  Far be it, the activity of churches has been an important part of American life and has contributed to many advances in our society including the civil rights movement, which could not have succeeded without the efforts of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and many other clergymen and women, from across the denominational and racial spectrum.  Other examples of where churches spoke to societal wrongs included slavery and child labor.  Now this was not a unified front as many churches especially regarding slavery and civil rights opposed these measures.  This included the major denominations that split into northern and southern factions over the issue of slavery prior to the Civil War.  The Southern Baptist Church is a product of this split.  Other churches such as the Methodists and Presbyterians eventually came back together, the Presbyterian Church USA doing so in 1982, 117 years after the Civil War…better late than never I guess.  This will not happen with the Southern and American Baptist Convention’s as they are now theologically poles apart.

There has been a trend over the last 20 years or so by many clergy and laity in both liberal and conservative churches to be uncritical in their relationships with political parties. In my view this has emasculated the witness of the church.  I have experienced this on both the left and the right. When I was a kid my dad, a career Navy Chief Petty Officer was serving in Vietnam. New to the area we went to a church of the denomination that my parents had grown up in and in which I had been baptized.  This was a mainline Protestant church, the name I will not mention because it is irrelevant to the discussion.  The minister constantly preached against the war and the military probably assuming that he had no military families in the congregation.  At that church I had a Sunday School teacher tell me that my dad was a “baby killer” when I told her that my dad was serving in Vietnam.  If it had not been for the Roman Catholic chaplain at the little Navy base in town who showed my family the love of God when that happened, caring for our Protestant family without trying to make us Catholic I would have probably never reconciled with the church.  I trace my vocation as a priest and chaplain to that man. Since I have spent more of my life in conservative churches in the days since I have seen a growing and ever more strident move to the political right in conservative churches.  I think this has less to do with the actual churches but the influence of conservative talk radio which has catered to conservatives, especially social conservative Christians.  Conservative Christians are a key part of this demographic and it is not unusual to hear ministers as well as lay people simply parroting what these broadcasters are saying. I often hear my fellow Christians on the right talk more vociferously about free markets capitalism, the war on terror and justifying the other conservative causes which are general less than central to the faith in public forums like Facebook.  Some of what is written is scary.  People who pray for the government to fail, pray for the President to be killed, call anyone who disagrees with them pretty horrible names.  I saw an active duty Army Chaplain call the President  Obama “that reject.” The words of a lot of these folks are much more like Sean Hannity than the Apostle Paul.  When I have challenged conservative Christian friends on what I think are inconsistencies I have in some cases been attacked and pretty nastily if I might add.

I see this in stark contrast to the witness of the early church.  Pliny’s letter to the Emperor Trajan sums up how Christians responded to real, not imagined persecution for their Christian faith, not social-political cause.

“They stated that the sum of their guilt or error amounted to this, that they used to gather on a stated day before dawn and sing to Christ as if he were a god, and that they took an oath not to involve themselves in villainy, but rather to commit no theft, no fraud, no adultery; not to break faith, nor to deny money placed with them in trust. Once these things were done, it was their custom to part and return later to eat a meal together, innocently, although they stopped this after my edict, in which I, following your mandate, forbade all secret societies.”

Pliny was perplexed because although he thought their religion to be “fanatical superstitions” he could find no other fault in their lives; they even obeyed his order to stop meeting together.  My view is that Christians some on the left but especially on the right lost any prophetic voice not only in society, in their respective political party alliances.  They have become special interest groups who compete with other special interest groups, which politicians of both parties treat as their loyal servants.  This is what I mean by captivity.  I think that the church has to be able to speak her mind and be a witness of the redemption and reconciliation message of the Gospel and hold politicians, political parties and other power structures accountable for their treatment of the least, the lost and the lonely; caring for those that to those who seek to maintain political and economic control, merely numbers.  The church has to maintain her independence or lose submit to slavery.  There are many examples we can look to in this just a couple of relatively modern examples being William Wilberforce and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  We can find many others throughout Church history. These men were not apolitical, but they and their ministries were both prophetic and redemptive.  They maintained peaceful dialogue with their opponents and helped bring about justice.  Billy Graham never gave in to the temptation to endorse any political party.  Instead he had a voice and relationship with every US President during his active ministry, be they Republican or Democrat.

It is incumbent on Christians and other people of faith seek to embody this witness in our divided and dangerous world.  Christians especially cannot allow themselves to be ghettoized in any political party where they are just another interest group. Nor can they allow their public witness to be absorbed and consumed by the promotion of political agendas or causes, even if those causes are worthy of support.  It is a matter of keeping priorities causes can never take precedence over the message of God’s love and reconciliation in Christ.  Unfortunately this is too often the case.  My view is that if you build relationships with people, loving them, caring for them and treating them with the same respect that you would want for yourself; even with those that you have major differences, then you will have a place at the table and your voice will be heard.  If we on the other hand cauterize ourselves from relationships and dialogue we will be relegated, and rightly so to the margins of the social and political process of our nation.  In effect we will ensure that people will stop listening to us not only on the social and political issues, but more importantly in our proclamation of the faith that comes to us from the Apostles.  Unfortunately I believe that at least for the moment we have been marginalized and it is because we have compromised ourselves allowing extremists to be the public face of the Christian church in public debates on social, morale and political issues.  I hope someday we will rebuild our credibility as people who actually care about the life of our fellow citizens and our country and not just those who agree with us.  God have mercy on us all.

Peace, Steve+

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The Danger of Right Wing and Left Wing Extremism

“Let everyone regulate his conduct… by the golden rule of doing to others as in similar circumstances we would have them do to us, and the path of duty will be clear before him.”  William Wilberforce

The past two weeks have been a watershed in modern American History.  For the first time in memory we have had a series of ideological, political and religious murders committed by men who believed that their actions were justifiable homicide.  The first was the murder of a physician who had a fair amount of his practice devoted to abortions including late term abortions.  George Teller was killed by Scott Roeder a militant anti-government member of the Freemen and a fringe player in anti-abortion groups who was influenced by the militant anti-abortion group The Army of God which believes in justifiable homicide.  The murder was in Tiller’s church.  The clinic which Tiller operated is being shut down by his family.  Roeder believes it a victory but many in the pro-life movement are concerned that it will lead to crackdown on mainstream pro-lifers, and also that the closing of the Tiller clinic could lead to similar attacks by those emboldened by Roeder’s action.

The second killing was that of Army Pvt. William Long outside of a recruiting station in Little Rock.  The confessed murderer used an assault rifle to kill Pvt. Long and wound another soldier serving as home town recruiters prior to reporting to their unit following their initial entry training.  The suspects, an American convert to Islam named Abdul Hakim Mujahid Muhammad told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he didn’t consider the killing a murder because U.S. military action in the Middle East made the killing justified.  “I don’t think it was murder, because murder is when a person kills another person without justified reason.”  Mujahid Muhammad warned soldiers and their families in the US that they were also targets: “The battlefield is not just in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Muhammad says.  “A battlefield is anywhere we see you at.  And those people in the Army and those families of the people in the Army and the military and personnel all over the country, if you don’t want to die or get shot for this so called war on terrorism, war on Islam, then get out of the Army.  Get out of the Army and don’t walk, run.” This attack followed other attacks on recruiting stations including the bombing of the Armed Forces Recruiting station in Times Square last year.

The most recent attack occurred today as an 88 year old White Supremacist and Holocaust denier James Von Brunn walked into the Holocaust Memorial Museum killing a guard.  Von Brunn’s sites as well as other Neo-Nazi websites such as Stormfront prominently spew Von Brunn’s hatred toward minorities in the United States.   His book, “Kill The Best Gentiles,” embraces Adolf Hitler’s view that Jews concocted World War I as part of a scheme to stab Germany in the back — a myth the Nazis used to justify the Holocaust. He is called an “independent investigator by some and has issued statements on the citizenship controversy pushed by some on the far Right about President Obama’s eligibility to serve as President  and comments about the religion of then CENTCOM commander General Tommy Franks.

All three of these men evidently believe in justifiable homicide and are willing to kill for their ideological or religious beliefs.  What makes this sudden spike in assassination for ideological reasons significant is that the nation is polarized by the extreme Right and extreme Left which both see the world and their causes no matter what they are in black and white terms.  There is no intent by any extreme group to dialogue or find compromise with their opponents, even if such compromise would gain them at least part of what they want.  Instead, the rhetoric of the extremes has continued to increase and find airtime on supposedly “mainstream” media outlets both liberal and conservative.  This provides some manner of legitimacy to the extremist groups even as their more boisterous political and media supporters ratchet up the rhetoric.  This makes for an incredibly volatile situation which is fraught with danger for all as more and more people see violence, including justifiable homicide as a legitimate option to push their agenda.  In our country we cannot forget that John Brown, though right in his desire to end slavery engaged in tactics which helped push the country to civil war, a war that while freeing African-Americans from the yoke of slavery imposed a yoke nearly as heavy on them, know as Jim Crow laws that lasted until the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, Dr. Martin Luther King and the Voting Rights Act of 1964.  Even still racism is still a reality for many blacks and other minorities.  Brown’s desire to end slavery may have been righteous but he destroyed the political center which could have ended it peacefully in time just as William Wilberforce and his allies in Parliament had done in England.

The perilous situation that exists now is that which erodes the center on which all depend on to hold.  Neither Left Wing or Right Wing extremists give a damn about the majority who are somewhere in between.  As a passionate moderate I see this as a dangerous trend.  In Germany of the late 1920s and early 1930s both the Communists and Nazis polarized the nation.  The more moderate Social Democrats, Catholic Center Party and other smaller middle of the road parties were marginalized as time went on.  Eventually the Nazis won that power struggle with dire consequences which extended far beyond Germany.  As the rhetoric rises and those who justify violence be it against people, institutions or property are emboldened to act it will further fracture the middle.  It is imperative that the Center to hold, as Edmund Burke said: “All it needs for evil to prosper is for people of goodwill to do nothing.”

These actions could well be harbingers of things to come.  What is even more concerning as they take place at a time of worldwide economic crisis when we have hundreds of thousands of troops deployed to war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Additionally, North Korea rattling sabers and several critical nations, some with nuclear weapons on the brink of collapse, failure or civil war.  I pray that men and women of goodwill and courage arise in the center and passionately advocate not for a particular party or cause, but the good of all.  People of faith need to pray not for a particular political resolution favorable to them, but for God’s peace and healing in our country.

Peace, Steve+

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Filed under History, Loose thoughts and musings, Political Commentary

Randall Terry and the Death of the Pro-Life Movement

Randall Terry continued his reckless campaign of self-promotion today following the murder of Dr. George Tiller in Kansas City.  While continuing to refer to Tiller as a mass-murderer Terry spoke of the tactics that he believed were necessary for the anti-abortion movement to succeed.  At the National Press Club Terry is quoted by the Washington Post as saying:

Terry said abortion opponents “have to be confrontational” and “have to use highly-charged rhetoric” to advance their movement.

“The pro-life movement right now is at a crossroads,” Terry said at a midday news conference at the National Press Club. “We have become steadily politically irrelevant, our leadership is graying, retiring and dying, and many of the new leaders do not have the fortitude and clarity of thought to not flinch in an hour of crisis like this. So the words that I’m going to say today are specifically geared towards shoring up the pro-life movement.”

Terry has become a liability to the Pro-Life movement.  His actions and statements convey sentiments that are harming the movement as a whole.  He has driven those in the middle of the country who are pivotal to the success of legislative efforts away from mainstream and non-violent pro-life groups because all people see is Terry.  These groups have had some measure of success in their lawful and peaceful efforts to enact laws to limit abortion at the state level.

Terry’s comments today show that he is either totally ignorant of the effects of his rhetoric or is desperate to keep himself in the limelight.  I do not believe the Mr. Terry is ignorant of anything. He is a shrewd political operator who has kept himself in the limelight for over 20 years.  From his actions over the past few months in which he has protested Catholic Bishops in Washington DC and Baltimore being arrested for “leafleting” at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Washington DC.  Following this Terry went to Rome interviewed Archbishop Burke and then came back to the US to misuse the footage of Archbishop Burke against his fellow bishops, something for which Burke had to apologize to them. (Catholic News Agency Column at:  http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/column.php?n=717 )  His actions showed a callous disregard of his own Church and make me wonder if Terry believes himself superior to the Bishops of the Catholic Church.  I am wondering why he has not been silenced or censured by them for these actions.

Terry’s actions at Notre Dame to attempt to disrupt the graduation speech of President Obama only made Obama look more reasonable to many people than Terry.  Since Terry has been the “face” of the pro-life movement his every action, positive or negative affects the movement as a whole.  His protests at Notre Dame, where he and others attempted to shout down the President showed a reckless disrespect for the office of the President.  There was a time that Christians held the office of the President in respect even if they disagreed with the policies of the man in office.  This too, an interruption of the graduation of college students showed a lack of civility that has been his trademark.

Likewise fellow travelers in the anti-abortion movement including past and current leaders of Operation Rescue, the group that Terry founded and then left in 1991 years ago.  They and Terry have had a running battle of words which moved into to courts in 2008 when Terry sued them over the rights to the name Operation Rescue.  I will not weigh in on the merits of either side, except to note that this seems to be the battle over a name that brings with it real and potential monetary donors.

I do believe that Terry is wrong in stating that the pro-life movement must “be confrontational” and “have to use highly-charged rhetoric” to advance their movement. It is clear to me that the most successful tactics of the pro-life movement have been genuine efforts to provide alternative services to women undergoing unplanned pregnancies.  The best of these include actual care for the woman after delivery.  The other is the use of the legislative process.  While slow this is the legal way to change things in the United States.  As an example the actions of William Wilberforce to eliminate slavery in England used the parliamentary process.  It took time but slavery was eliminated without the trauma of the Civil War.

It is my belief that the type of protests favored by Terry to include the confrontation and highly charged rhetoric has contributed to the violence that occurred this week.  As such he is contributing to the marginalization and “political irrelevancy” of the pro-life movement.  In light of his actions I hope that Catholic Bishops will silence him for the good of the movement as a whole.  Fellow pro-life activists should distance themselves from him and find alternatives to the strategy of confrontation which do not compromise their beliefs but find a way to be redemptive and forgiving to those that practice abortions.

Unfortunately I think that what happened on Sunday was a watershed.  The Rubicon has been crossed.  As I said in my post yesterday, it will be the end of the pro-life movement because Terry and people like him will keep pushing until the entire movement is declared a domestic terrorist organization.  It is incumbent upon leaders of the pro-life movement to try to correct course now, if they do not it will be too late.  Daniel Kupelian or World Net Daily, with whom I seldom find any agreement states the danger quite well and pro-life leaders should take this and quickly change the tactics of their organizations.

“pretty soon some group may decide it can’t take it anymore. Its members might become so enraged that they conclude it’s time to start the next armed revolution. Seeing their nation being raped and envisioning no solution other than violence, they delude themselves that they’re the modern counterparts of America’s revolutionary founders. Making explosives and conspiring in secret – all the while quoting Jefferson to each other about “watering the tree of liberty” from time to time with “the blood of patriots and tyrants” – they murder some federal judges or blow up a government office building in an attempt to fight back. In reality, all they succeed in doing is murdering and maiming a bunch of their fellow Americans (or, as McVeigh did in Oklahoma City, massacring a room full of toddlers in daycare – which he later coldly termed “collateral damage”).

And what would follow? A massive official crackdown on “domestic terrorists” and a severe assault on freedom in America.

Amazing what hatred can accomplish, isn’t it? Exactly the opposite of what was supposedly intended. The “dark side of the force” is very clever.

As the blood-drenched, vengeance-driven French Revolution proved, when “patriots” are full of hate, they’re no better than the corrupt government they’re rebelling against – and maybe worse. Therefore, whether their uprising succeeds or fails, either way they usher in a new “reign of terror.” (See World Net Daily: http://www.worldnetdaily.com/index.php?fa=PAGE.view&pageId=99787 )

Peace, Steve+

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Filed under Loose thoughts and musings, philosophy, Political Commentary, pro-life anti-abortion, Religion