Tuesday, May 01, 2007

CWL --- A Thin Line: Christian Love, Christian Hate

Christian Love and Marital Violence: Baptists and War--Danger and Opportunities, Wayne Wei-siang Hsieh, in Virginia's Civil War, Wallenberg and Wyatt-Brown, eds., Univesity of Virginia Press, 2005, pp. 87-100.

Of all Virginians who were church members, 42% were Baptists; Virginia Baptists represented a substantial segment of white popular opinion during the war. Reconciling Christian love with state sanctioned violence was a delimma that fostered both despair for the cause of Christ and hatred for Northerners. The Army of Northern Virginia's religious revivals during winter encampments helped Baptists set aside their despair but not their hatred.

Before, during and after the 1860 presidential election, Baptist clergy were extremely reluctant to to engage in open political activity. During this season, pastors offer jeremiads, the style and content of which harkened back to sermons preached in colonial New England. Special destinies were linked to special obligations. Unfulfilled obligations merited punishments. Punishments led to penitance; penitance led to awakenings. From Baptist pulpits, jeremiads supported the cause of Unionism during 1860 and early 1861. The political faith of the Virginia Founding Fathers was the cause of Unionism. Falling away from this political faith would bring about punishments.

Despite their avoidance of politics before Lincoln's April 17 call for troops, the pastors embraced the rebellion the President's line in the sand. "Evangelicalism and Confederate nationalism were intertwined in a complex braid of meaning and causality . . . ." states the author. He dismisses Charles Royster's contention that Southerners had a Bible-generated tendency toward the acceptance of violence. Royster sees violence being moved forward by the Biblical notion of atonement, "a sacramental mystery, the central act of which is bloodshed." What Royster proports, Virginia Baptists deny. They do not exalt military slaughter as a necessary religious sacrafice states Hsieh.

Baptist clergymen did not call "for destructive and patriotic warfare but for a cautious recognition that the ends of God and man" may be vastly different. Did Virginia Baptists see the war as a means for atoning for sin? No. Did the Virginia Baptists see the war as a "stimulant for sin and demoraliztion? Yes. The occassion of war was an occassion full of temptations.
Drunkeness, gambling, immoral sexual behavior, and swearing were soldier's vices. The influence of hearth and family for moral behavior was absent in soldiers' camps. Separation from the home community was a separation from the affections, sympathies and influences of the Christian family.

Baptist authors feared that Southerners at war would fail to keep half of the Golden Rule. Love your enemy, even though he was a Federal soldier. Christians would have to be careful while striking the enemy; it must be done in the spirit of the Master. If this spirit was lacking, then hope for the Master's help would be disappointed. Conversely, some pastors would embrace the bloodlust of the war. F. McCarthy, a civilian minister who joined the CSA army possibly as an enlisted man, wrote to a Baptist newspaper in Richmond, "if any Southern man lacks the anger
. . . to march to the battlefield and butcher the monsters that have invaded our soil . . . [he should sit and reflect uopon the] putrid qualities of the Northern heart and their base designs upon us and ours . . . [and] no chain will be strong enough to keep him from their throats."

Most ministers understood salvation would not be enhanced by destructive bloodletting, but would be advanced though revival in the camps. In the late fall of 1962, and during the winters of 1863-1864 and 1864-1865, revivals swept through the Army of Northern Virginia. Though spiritually revived, did the Rebel army begin to lose battles because it had lost divine favor?

Historians Drew Gilpin Faust, Harry Stout, and Richard Grasso show that the answer is No. Revival buttressed Confederate nationalism, even during days of defeat. The author believes that Virginia Baptist pastors never wavered in support of the Confederate cause and deeply mourned its destruction. After the war, he finds no pastor declaring that God had judged the South, the arm of the Lord was the Federal army, and that punishment occured when Southern property was destroyed and Southern slaves were freed.

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