Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Baptists, slavery, and the Civil War

The American Civil War took place between 1861 and 1865. We are upon the 150th anniversary of the conflict and over the next five years those interested in that war and its consequences will find much to read and watch. Baptists, particularly, may be interested in "Baptists and the American Civil War: In Their Own Words", a site created by Baptist historian Bruce Gourley. A quick review of the material already on the site shows a concentration on the experience of Baptists in the American South.

Excerpts from one of the articles, "Yes, It Was About Slavery":
Baptists in the South during the Civil War-era were unequivocal: Secession, the Confederate States of America and the Civil War were primarily about slavery.

Foreshadowing the Civil War, white Baptists in the South withdrew fellowship from their northern counterparts on May 10, 1845, in order to better defend the South’s practice of black slavery. The denominational schism did not happen in a vacuum. Whereas prior to the 1820s, many Baptists North and South were anti-slavery, by the mid-1840s Baptist sentiment in the South – at least as expressed in denominational leadership – was of the consensus that the enslavement of blacks was ordained of God and must be defended.

.... Renowned Baptist preacher and denominational leader Richard Furman, while president of the South Carolina State Convention of Baptists in 1823, wrote on behalf of South Carolina Baptists to the governor of South Carolina about slavery. His letter, a response to an attempted slave uprising the previous year, is considered a watershed event in the beginning of a movement toward consolidation of white Baptists in the South to the pro-slavery position.
“… because certain writers on politics, morals and religion, and some of them highly respectable, have advanced positions, and inculcated sentiments, very unfriendly to the principle and practice of holding slaves;.…These sentiments, the Convention, on whose behalf I address your Excellency, cannot think just, or well founded; for the right of holding slaves is clearly established in the Holy Scriptures, both by precept and example.” (read the entire document)
.... On January 27, 1861, before a standing room only audience Ebenezer W. Warren, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Macon, Georgia, delivered a sermon entitled “Scriptural Vindication of Slavery,” here partially quoted:
“Slavery forms a vital element of the Divine Revelation to man. It’s institution, regulation, and perpetuity, constitute a part of many of the books of the Bible …. The public mind needs enlightening from the sacred teachings of inspiration on this subject …. We of the South have been passive, hoping the storm would subside …. Our passiveness has been our sin. We have not come to the vindication of God and of truth, as duty demanded …. it is necessary for ministers of the gospel … to teach slavery from the pulpit, as it was taught by the holy men of old, who spake as moved by the holy Spirit …. Both Christianity and Slavery are from heaven; both are blessings to humanity; both are to be perpetuated to the end of time …. Because Slavery is right; and because the condition of the slaves affords them all those privileges which would prove substantial blessings to them; and, too, because their Maker has decreed their bondage, and has given them, as a race, capacities and aspirations suited alone to this condition of life ….”
.... Decades later, many white southerners, including Baptists, would deny that slavery was the cause of the war. This denial remains widespread today among many white southerners of the twenty-first century. Yet the record is clear. Slavery was the primary cause of the American Civil War. [more]
Seventh Day Baptists had no churches in the deep South until some time after the Civil War [the farthest south churches were in what became West Virginia] and the denomination was not riven by the issue of slavery. Like most northern Baptists, Seventh Day Baptists were largely abolitionists. Information about Seventh Day Baptists, slavery, and the war can be found here, here, and here.

Baptists and the American Civil War: In Their Own Words, Yes, It Was About Slavery … | Baptists and the American Civil War: In Their Own Words


  1. Didn't Lost Creek suffer some because some members were slaveholders? I remember reading about it, but don't recall details without looking in the "big green book" . . .

  2. A member of the Lost Creek church [in western Virginia - a slave state] inherited two slaves, an elderly woman and a boy who was considered simple, if my memory serves. I believe both slaves were also members of the church. The fact that the Lost Creek church had as a member, a slaveholder, caused others in the denomination to denounce them, but calm was restored when the circumstances became clear to all.


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