Religion and the American Civil War

By Randall M. Miller; Harry S. Stout et al. | Go to book overview

7
"Yankee Faith" and Southern Redemption White Southern Baptist Ministers, 1850-1890

PAUL HARVEY

The southern ministry before the Civil War largely reaffirmed the view that "pure religion" involved defining and enforcing the proper behavior of individuals in their God-given social duties, not questioning the roles themselves. Ministers called people to their duties, exhorted the unconverted to repent, and condemned slaveowners who failed to evangelize their property. They also offered elaborate justifications of the rights of white Americans to own as property people of African descent. The axiom that politics had no place in the pulpit muffled the larger voice of southern divines. They shied away from participation in political controversies over the tariff or state constitutional controversies. Their main contribution to public issues was to develop and endlessly reiterate versions of the prostavery argument. They were leaders in the "sanctification of slavery," as Mitchell Snay has explained. The defense of chattel slavery in a liberal democracy, they came to realize, necessitated an insistence in the Divine approval of "our way of life." That slaveowners often made up the most respectable, stable, and financially generous members of southern Baptist congregations hardly encouraged brave souls who might engage in any searching questioning. Black ministers seized on the prophetic possibilities rejected by the established white clerics, but they often did so "on the sly," as ex-slave Anderson Edwards remembered of his days as a slave preacher in Texas. 1

After the war, during days of fundamental struggle to define the future of their society, white southern Baptist ministers provided their parishioners with

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