In August, I wrote an article encouraging Christians to love their neighbors more than Confederate monuments. That post was met with a considerable amount of opposition and even anger. Most of the opposition surrounded one sentence, “The Confederacy was fighting to protect the institution of slavery.” Many people wrote to me claiming the Civil War had little or nothing to do with slavery. I want you to see why that position is wrong and why I believe it matters that we tell the truth about slavery and the Civil War.
Was the Civil War About Slavery?
In the most recent debate, I heard a lot of people fighting for the protection of Confederate monuments because they believe in preserving our nation’s history and not “white-washing” the past. Ironically, those monuments were actually erected in order to white-wash the past. They were erected to make the lost Confederate rebellion seem noble and glorious.
But from a Christian perspective, the Confederate rebellion was anything but noble or glorious. Most of the States that seceded from the Union were very specific about why they were forming their own country. For 100 years, since the time of this country’s formation, there was a storm brewing over the issue of slavery. In 1860, right before the States seceded, there were nearly 4,000,000 slaves in the United States (source).
Southern states believed their very existence depended on the continuation of slavery and many in the North believed slavery to be a moral abomination. Even many of those Southerners who did not own slaves believed they needed to protect the institution of slavery and the social structure of white supremacy.
You don’t have to take my word for it. Please read their very own words. If you don’t think the Civil War was about slavery, spend some time educating yourself. Go straight to the source. Read the declarations of the seceding states.
The State of Texas
As a Texan, I paid special attention to the declaration of my state. They declared in no uncertain terms they had left the Union to protect the institution of slavery. But they also went on to say the doctrine of racial equality was a “debasing doctrine” and it was “at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of Divine Law.”
Did you read that? There were plenty of people saying, “All people are equal, regardless of race and color.” But the government of Texas declared that doctrine was in violation of the plainest revelations of Divine Law! That statement should offend every Christian, every American, and especially every Texan!
They went on to declare:
We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.
Many of the other state declarations have similar language. Please, I beg you, go read them for yourself.
Judging by Today’s Standards
I hear people say, “We can’t judge the actions of people 150 years ago by today’s standards.” I would say I’m judging American slavery not by today’s standards, but by the standard of Scripture. Most of these men not only claimed to be Christians but used Scripture to defend their cruelty and their perception of white supremacy.
They kept their neighbors in chains. They beat them and raped them. It wasn’t as though it had never occurred to any of them that this behavior might be wrong. There were thousands advocating not only for abolition but also for racial equality. We act as if racial equality is a modern concept. It’s not. It’s a biblical concept.
If you haven’t done so, you should read Fredrick Douglass’ autobiography, in which he describes his life in slavery. I beg you to listen to his words:
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 fills the pulpit on Sunday, and claims to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus. . . .The slave auctioneer’s bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master. Revivals of religion and revivals in the slave-trade go hand in hand together. The slave prison and the church stand near each other. The clanking of fetters and the rattling of chains in the prison, and the pious psalm and solemn prayer in the church, may be heard at the same time. The dealers in the bodies of men erect their stand in the presence of the pulpit, and they mutually help each other. The dealer gives his blood-stained gold to support the pulpit, and the pulpit, in return, covers his infernal business with the garb of Christianity. Here we have religion and robbery the allies of each other—devils dressed in angels’ robes, and hell presenting the semblance of paradise.
Why It Still Matters to Me
All of this matters to me because it wasn’t that long ago. Not only is 150 years not a long time, but even more recent are the Jim Crow laws and the accompanying cruelty and injustice that continued in our country for decades.
We have to stop pretending this is ancient history. It’s not ancient history. It’s recent history. In 1941, we had popular and well-known preachers rebuking Christians for working towards racial equality. Saying horrible things like this:
In one of my own meetings a young negro preacher was engaged by the church as a janitor. He made it a point to stand out in the vestibule of the church-building to shake hands with the white people. When I insisted that it be discontinued some of the white brethren were offended. Such as this proves that the white brethren are ruining the negroes and defeating the very work that they should be sent to do, that is, preach the gospel to the negroes, their own people (source).
We are still feeling the lasting effects of slavery and segregation today. We can see it in our culture and most sadly of all, we can see it in our congregations.
The cruelties of slavery continued for so long because people were blinded by greed and pride. We have to stop being blind to the truth. When Christians today celebrate the Confederacy, it is either because they do not know what the Confederacy stood for or because they agree. Either way, there is a serious problem.
The only way for American Christians to move forward is to recognize – and stop downplaying and celebrating – the sins of the past.
I love you and God loves you,
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