American Church History – North vs. South
April 2, 1861, Baptists Church, Madison, WI. Filled to overflowing. One large section of congregation all in blue – soldiers. Service began with choir singing Star-Spangled Banner. Pastor’s son, newly enlisted – preached in uniform. Someone slipped preacher false report that Rebels attacked a fort in Florida but failed. Announced to crowd, crowd responded with thee cheers. At end of service, soldiers marched out to the sound of drums.
May 26, 1861 Presbyterian Church, Rome, Georgia. Large section grey uniforms- soldiers – seats reserved for soldiers. Opening hymns about parting from loved ones. Pastor preached farewell sermon to troops. Typical subject of sermons – “the evidences of God’s favor to the South as manifested during he revolution to he present.”
Volunteer general Robert McAllister, in letter to home, we must “put down this wicked rebellion and teach the Southerners with force what they would not learn in time of peace, that governments are not so easily broken up, and that god requires obedience to law and order.” The U.S would teach “rebellious spirits in all nations that government and their power come from God.”
Congregational minister Horace Bushnell saw in war God’s work to bring in millennium. When war began, he wrote “I thank God that I have been allowed to see this day.”
A citizen of Urbana, Ill, in letter to brother “For a few years I have thought the signs of the times indicate the approach of the great millennial day…but one obstacle stared me in the face. How the dark blot of human bondage was to be wiped off this Christian nation. Now the mystery is solved.” (referring to the assumed northern victory in war)
The vast majority of northern soldiers during the first years of the war devoted little thought to questions of which side God favored in the conflict…For them, the rightness of their cause was an article of faith, not to be questioned. God’s purposes were their purposes, and they were sure He would support them (Steven Woodworth)
Popular rhyme often quoted by soldiers:
For right is right, as God is God
And right will surely win;
To doubt would be disloyalty-
To falter would be sin
Northern soldiers, as war went on, began to tire of sermons against South. They knew southern preachers had large hand in stirring up rebellion, are northern preachers not doing the same? George Turner, 3rd Rhode Island, June 1862, “the worship services were conducted by some abolitionists who came from the state of Massachusetts and there was so much talk about the confounded nig….. that I came out disgusted.” Edward Watson, 9th Michigan Calvary, “Tomorrow will be Sunday…the program for the day will be inspection of arms and equipment at nine…After inspection, divine service when our fat chaplain will deal out politics to us.”
United Presbyterian Church of North America , June, 1861 sent petition to Lincoln, calling upon him to proclaim a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer. “we do not think all the sin which has involved us, as a nation, in this terrible calamity has been committed by the South. Far from it.”
As war went on, more ministers called on all sides to repent, though the north still believed they were fighting for God’s cause.
30,000 copies printed of Benjamin Palmer’s (First Presbyterian Church of New Orleans) sermons exclaiming divine order of slavery and need for south to secede from north.
Georgia politician Thomas Cobb “This revolution has been accomplished mainly by the Churches”
“Instead of sending forth the voice of prayer or song of thanksgiving,” the church building “were filled with shouts of excited men as they were harangued by some friend to revolution.” (Texas soldier)
Only a minority of Christians did not support secession. Methodist bishop James Andrew, owned slaves, wrote in January, 1841 the state of the country grieves me…because I fear it will seriously affect the spirituality and holiness of the church. may God help us.” “Confederate flags are flying everywhere, may God have mercy on us and save us from war and bloodshed.”
“The parties in this conflict …are atheists, communists, red republicans…on one side, and friends of order and regulated freedom on the other. In one word, the world is the battleground – Christianity and atheism the combatants; the progress of humanity at stake” (James Thornwell)
Methodist bishop George Bishop “Confederacy last hope of Freedom and the last home of a pure Gospel.”
Episcopal bishop Stephen Elliot – denounces North as evil. South needed new government, purified of northern humanistic influence, run by an aristocracy. Ordered Episcopal clergy to remove prayer for President of United States from liturgy and replace with prayer for governor of Georgia.
Episcopal bishop Leonidas Polk – The Southern cause “the preservation of the purity of religious truth…the cause of Heaven…” We will not allow 8 million of us be subject to bondage. Methodist minister accused Northern Christians of holding Constitution: as sacred as the law of God deposited in the ark of the covenant.”
Dr. George R.C Todd, brother-in-law to Abraham Lincoln, a southerner, stated in a lecture that the war was between “the children of the devil and the children of the Lord”
Many ministers joined to fight. By spring of 1862, Methodist bishop Andrew complained of “too extensive influence of the war spirit among our preachers” leaving pulpits empty back home.
Warnings like the following from the Rome (Georgia) Courier were seldom heeded; “Pride has been the sin of our people from the first. Assuming that our cause is just…that the purity of religion depend on our success, that the interests of humanity depend on the culture of cotton…as would perforce command blessing of God upon us, and thus he would be committed to prosper us.”