April 1, 1986 Issue
by Jimmy Cutter

NOTE: This first article seeks to set out the church's attitude toward participation in the Civil War. The second article will deal with the American Christian Missionary Society during the Civil War. The final article will synthesize the first two articles and test the assumption that the Civil War was not divisive.

The Civil War was a grueling test as to whether the United States would remain united. Likewise, the war was a test of whether the church in the United States could remain united. Methodist and Baptist denominations had divided over the slavery question a decade and a half before the war. The Presbyterians, the Protestant Episcopals, the Free Will Baptists, the Christian Connection, and practically every other Protestant denomination in America followed suit by dividing down the Mason-Dixon line and displaying tremendous hatred toward one another.

The three important histories which represent the major parties in which the Restoration Movement has fragmented Garrison and DeGroot's The Disciples of Christ: A History, Murch's Christians Only and West's The Search for the Ancient Order agree in assuming that the church was not divided by the Civil War. In the following articles we will attempt to show how ever, that the Civil War shattered the brotherhood between northern and southern Christians in such a way that they could never again be called "one people" in a meaningful sense. Let us begin by noticing the war and Christian pacifism.

Nearly all the early leaders of the Restoration Movement were pacifists. This helped make up for geographic weaknesses in the church. When the Civil War began the majority of preachers and editors admonished against participation. They included Alexander Campbell, Benjamin Franklin, J.W. McGarvey, Moses E. Lard, Robert Milligan, Tolbert Fanning, David Lipscomb and many, many others. Many of these men were pacifists while others preached non-participation so that the unity of the church might be preserved.

David Oliphant, a Canadian preacher, called on his fellow preachers in America to remember that they were peacemakers and that they should not "rush into carnal warfare." J.W. McGarvey said that he would rather die ten thousand times than to come home victorious with the blood of his brethren on his hands. McGarvey wondered what the disciples of Christ would have done if six had lived on one side of the Mason-Dixon line and six had lived on the other. "Would they, like the host of sectarian preachers on both sides, be urging on their brethren to war," he asked. The elders and preachers of several Tennessee churches wrote a letter to Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States, and to Governor Andrew Johnson, who later became President of the United States, asking that Christians be recognized as conscientious objectors.

On the other hand, there were many Christians on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line who did fight in the war. Both Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone had sons fight for the Confederates. Also, there were some preachers and editors that supported the war effort of their side. In the North, Issac Errett applied to the Governor of Michigan for a commission but was refused. When the war began James A. Garfield, earlier a pacifist, became a Colonel in the Union Army. He successfully recruited Christians to join his regiment. John Boggs edited the Christian Luminary, the only abolitionist journal in the brotherhood, and strongly supported the Union. The Christian Record was also pro-Union and was created to combat the pacifism of Benjamin Franklin's American Christian Review.

In the South, the Christian Union, published by Lewis A. Civill, urged non-participation, but a week after the South fired on Fort Sumter, Civill told northern Christians that they should stay home and mind their own business. But he warned, if they forget their Christian obligations and "invade our homes with arms in their hands, we do not know but what, for the protection of our wives and children, the devil might not tempt us to fight a little." The Christian Intelligences, published by John G. Parrish was an aggressive supporter of the Confederacy. He told his readers in 1864 when time was running out, "If our cause be holy and just, then in serving our country we are serving our God."

Two of the most popular and influential preachers at the time of the war were Benjamin Franklin and Tolbert Fanning. Franklin was perhaps the most popular preacher in the North, while Fanning was in the South. They both strongly believed that their side was right, but at the same time believed the Christian could not participate in the battle. They had both aired their pacifist views when it was unpopular for them to do so during the Mexican War. In 1847 Franklin said that "all war" was at variance against the teachings of Christ and no Christian can participate in what is called a "civil war" righteously. Fanning was more extreme. In 1846 he said Christians were to pay taxes, obey magistrates, pray for those in authority, but nothing more. For Fanning, war and capital punishment were "too unholy for Christian hands."

Franklin was unhesitantly for the North and loved it "next to the government of God." Fanning was a true son of the South. He felt death was better than the "subjugation and the rule of the sword" of the North. If people were ever justifiable in resisting invaders, he believed that the Confederate States were, but added he spoke that as a citizen of the world and not a member of the family of God. He also felt that if Lincoln ever had any sense that he had lost it and that God had turned his advisors and soldiers into blinded demons.

Despite these strong sectional loyalties, both Franklin and Fanning were very much against Christians fighting in the war. Franklin said he would not fight against and kill the brethren he worked for twenty years to bring into the church. Fanning pleaded with Christians in the South not to fight in the "unnatural, ungodly, cruel, barbarious, unnecessary, meaningless, fruitless, and disgraceful" Civil War.

Franklin counseled Christians not to introduce sectional strife into the papers and missionary meetings. He said that they should have no Democrat or Republican churches. Fanning likewise advised that brethren should not violate the purpose of Christ and support political faction.

If the urgings of Franklin and Fanning had been observed the church might not have divided. However, "passions of war can lead even good men to act rashly" and the appeals of these men went unheeded.

Other OPA Article Links:

CIVIL WAR (Part Two)


Civil War

   Jimmy Cutter    1986     OPA Main Page      Home

Hit Counter