THE AMERICAN CHRISTIAN MISSIONARY SOCIETY
DURING THE CIVIL WAR
May 1, 1986 Issue
By Jimmy Cutter
Last month's article dealt with the Restoration Movement's attitude toward the Civil War. The majority of preachers and editors were against participation in the War. Despite sectional loyalties, Benjamin Franklin and Tolbert Fanning, the most popular preachers in the North and South respectively, were very much against Christians fighting in the War. Their pleas, however, fell on deaf ears.
In the first wartime meeting of the American Christian Missionary Society at Cincinnati on October 22-24,1861,the South was not represented. Feeling an obligation to the southern Christians the Board of Managers reported, "We are yet undivided ...dear as is our nation to the loyal hearts here assembled, the disciple of Christ is our brother, in whatever land domiciled."
Despite this, the critical test of the Society's spirit came when Dr. John P. Robison introduced the resolution stating they were "deeply sympathetic" with the "present efforts to sustain the Government of the United States. We feel it our duty as Christians, to ask our brethren everywhere to do all in their power to sustain the proper and constitutional authorities of the Union." After considerable discussion a recess was called for a mass meeting, after which a short speech was delivered by James A. Garfield wearing a Union officer's uniform. The resolution was accepted with only one negative vote. Franklin later wrote that many of the delegates would have opposed the recess if they had known its purpose; not because they opposed the resolution, but because they opposed "introducing it into our missionary meeting." Franklin said Alexander Campbell and W. K. Pendleton sat in silence through the "political meeting" because they looked on it "as a farce."
Fanning informed his readers that the Society had "passed strong resolutions, approving most heartily of the wholesale murder of the people" in the South. The Society was encouraging "professed servants to cut the throats of their southern brethren." Fanning wondered how such men could ever again associate with the southern Christians "for whose blood they are now thirsting. Without thorough repentance, and abundant works demonstrating it, we cannot see how we can ever regard preachers who enforce political opinions by the sword, in any other light than monsters of intention, if not in very deed." Although Fanning had been opposing the Society for nearly a decade and had led most southern Christians to accept his views, he could call them "one people" in 1859. Now the same leaders were" monsters" who could not be "fraternized as brethren."
On the other hand, many northern Christians felt that the refusal of the Society to adopt a pro-Union resolution without recessing for a mass meeting hinted at disloyalty to the Union. Abolitionists led by John Boggs, Pardee and Ovid Butler, had organized a rival anti-slavery Christian Missionary Society. They demanded that the older American Christian Missionary Society adopt a forthright resolution denouncing slavery and supporting the North as a payment for their disbanding their rival Society.
When the Society met again in 1863, R. Faurot offered a strong resolution stating that God ordained powers and they were to be subject to them, and that "an armed rebellion exists, subversive of these divine injunctions." Since reports had "gone abroad" that the Society was partially disloyal to the Union, they stated "we unqualifiedly declare allegiance to the said government." It was further resolved they tenderly sympathized with "our brave and noble soldiers in the field, who are defending us from the attempts of armed traitors to overthrow the Government." The vote on the resolution had "few dissenters."
There were northern Christians who warned that Christians should stay out of the war controversy. Franklin said while "mistaken brethren" may "pass resolutions till doomsday," such actions would hinder the work rather than further it. Later when he denounced all missionary societies as unscriptural he pointed to the 1863 loyalty resolution as an important factor in changing his position.
The loyalty resolution also brought stern protests from J. W. McGarvey and Moses E. Lard. McGarvey said most Christians accepted the Societies as expedients but the test of a society was its usefulness. Whenever it presumed to speak on matters of faith or occasioned strife in the church it should be abandoned. "By the above standards I have judged the American Christian Missionary Society, and have decided for myself, that it should now cease to exist."
Moses E. Lard's criticisms were similar to Franklin's. He believed that a society should do "absolutely nothing" except spread the gospel. Lard called the 1863 loyalty resolution "a mournful and humiliating" example of an unwarranted assumption of power. Lard was willing to give the Society a chance to correct this mistake but if it ever again adopted a political resolution it should die.
However, the Society did adopt another political resolution. When the war ended the 1865 Society meeting moved to thank God for the emancipation of four million slaves, the return of peace, and the opportunity for missionary work in their own border. Therefore it was resolved that they gratefully "accept the leadings of Providence, and will endeavor to meet the exigency, that the poor may have the gospel preached to them." An earlier draft of the resolution was much sharper.
Along with this resolution the Board's "Annual Report" called for a renewing of fellowship with the southern Christians. Despite the deep flow of human blood that included a murdered President they said "we can well afford to extend men the right hand of fellowship to each other, without regard to dividing lines."
Whether or not the southern Christians would accept the extended "right hand of fellowship" will be noticed in next month's article.
Other OPA Article Links:
THE CIVIL WAR AND PACIFISM (Part One)
WE CAN NEVER DIVIDE? (Part Three)
Jimmy Cutter 1986 OPA Main Page Home