Here’s an excerpt from David Goldfield’s book America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation:
“Slavery had made the black man in America, in a few centuries,” Virginia jurist William C. Daniell explained in 1852, “what thousands of years had failed to accomplish for him at home, cultivating the aptitudes of the negro race for civilization and Christianity.”
As Daniell’s boast implied, it was incumbent upon White Americans, as part of their Christian duty, to rescue inferior races by offering instruction and the possibility of salvation. This was a key argument of white southerners for the institution of slavery, that it raised a downtrodden race from its primitive African origins to the possibility of salvation through Jesus Christ, inculcated discipline, and fashioned a family life unburdened by the need or concern for daily subsistence.”
I have always loved the 19th century. It is a Boomer-free zone.
In the 19th century, the Jewish Question was remarkably muted in the South and the dispute over racial equality in America was being contested between Eastern and Southern Christians. In the South, Christianity was always invoked to justify racialism, slavery and white supremacy. In parts of the East, the style of Christianity there often clashed with all of these things, most famously with the abolitionists who advocated disunion for a generation because the Constitution was a pact with the Devil.
While researching the origins of the Golden Circle, I learned this was also true of Cuba. In Cuba, the Catholic Church also justified racialism, slavery and white supremacy. This seems to have been true of all slave-based plantation societies with perhaps the exception of foreign born Baptist and Methodist missionaries operating in the British West Indies.
Here is another excerpt on the “incompatibility” of racialism and Christianity:
“It was not coincidental that the white southerners who took back their governments from black and white Republicans were called Redeemers, nor that the process through which it occurred was called Redemption. The term “redemption” was, of course, in widespread in America prior to the Civil War, especially among evangelicals. It referred to the process by which Jesus sacrificed His life to rescue sinful mankind from God’s wrath. The term implied a new birth as those who come to Christ are cleansed of their sins and saved “unto a new life eternal.”
Confederates talked of “redeeming” their states from Union control during the Civil War. After the war, the term usually implied a two-step process. Redemption would cleanse southern sins and therefore restore the Lord’s blessing on the South that He had withdrawn, as evidenced by defeat. It would remove “the yoke of Yankee and negro rule.” Redemption, therefore, would secure for white southerners the victory denied to them in the Civil War. The process toward Redemption was clear. As an Alabama editor declared in 1871, “The road to Redemption is under the white banner.” White southerners employed evangelical Protestantism to recreate an antebellum regime cleansed of sin. White religion in the South became the handmaiden of white supremacy.”
I’ve heard from both White Nationalists and Baby Boomer conservatives that Christianity and racialism are irreconcilable, but our own history shows us otherwise. The truth is that what the Baby Boomer generation made of Southern evangelicalism in a time in which a Jewish elite had come to dominate the mass media in the 20th century was very different from what previous generations of Southerners made of it before the War Between the States when the pro-slavery was argument was justified on the basis of Christianity and afterwards when a fervent evangelicalism fueled the Redemption movement that brought down Reconstruction.
The following excerpt comes from Colin Woodard’s book American Nations which is the source of the map of regional cultures we always use below:
“Scholars have long recognized that “the South” as a unified entity didn’t really come into existence until after the Civil War. It was the resistance to Yankee-led Reconstruction that brought this Dixie bloc together to ultimately include even Appalachian people who’d fought against the Confederacy during the war.”
Kentucky finally joined the Confederacy during Reconstruction.
“Their institutions and racial caste system under attack, Deep Southerners and Tidewaterites organized their resistance struggle around the one civic institution they still controlled: their churches. The evangelical churches that dominated the three southern nations proved excellent vehicles for those wishes to protect the region’s prewar social system. Unlike the dominant denominations in Yankeedom, Southern Baptists and other southern evangelicals were becoming what religious scholars have termed “Private Protestants” as opposed to the “Public Protestants” that dominated the northern nations, and whom we’ll get to in a moment. Private Protestants – Southern Baptists, Southern Methodists, and Southern Episcopalians among them – believed the world was inherently corrupt and sinful, particularly after the shock of the Civil War. Their emphasis wasn’t on the social gospel – an effort to transform the world in preparation for Christ’s coming – but rather on personal salvation, pulling individual souls into the lifeboat of right thinking before the Rapture swept the damned away. Private Protestants had no interest in changing society but rather emphasized the need to maintain order and obedience.
Slavery, aristocratic rule, and the grinding poverty of most ordinary people in the southern nations weren’t evils to be confronted but rather the reflection of a divinely sanctioned hierarchy to be maintained at all costs against the Yankee heretics. By opposing slavery, one Southern Methodist minister declared, the Yankee “was disloyal to the laws of God and man” – “a wild fanatic, an insane anarchist, a law breaker, [and] a wicked intermeddler in other men’s matters.” Since biblical passages tacitly endorsed slavery, abolitionists were proclaimed guilty of being “more humane than God.” The Episcopal bishop of Alabama, Richard Wilmer, proclaimed his church had been right to the support the Confederacy in order “to maintain the supremacy of the Word of God and the teachings of universal tradition.” It was no accident that hard-core resistors of the northern occupation called themselves Redeemers, and that the end of the Union occupation in 1877 was labeled “The Redemption.”
The southern clergy helped foster a new civil religion in the former Confederacy, a myth scholars have come to call the Lost Cause. Following its credo, whites in the Deep South, Tidewater, and, ultimately, Appalachia came to believe that God had allowed the Confederacy to be bathed in blood, its cities destroyed, and its enemies ruling over it in order to test and sanctify His favored people. Defeat of God’s chosen on the battlefield, Nashville Presbyterian preacher and wartime chaplain James H. McNeilly noted, “did not prove the heathen to be right in the cause, nor that the Israelites were upholding a bad cause.” Confederate soldiers may have “poured their blood like festal wine,” McNeilly added, but it was not in vain, as “questions of right and wrong are not settled before God by force of arms.” Instead, a Deep Southern theologian would argue, the righteous would “by steadfastness of principle” defeat the federal government, which he had determined to be akin to the “beast having seven heads and ten horns” in the Book of Revelation. The righteous cause was, conveniently enough, to promote the folkways of the Deep South to the greatest degree possible, upholding the classical Roman idea of the slaveholding republic, prescribing democracy for the elite and obedience for everyone else. …”
This is all seen from an outside Yankee perspective.
It is still valuable though. If you had lived in the South of the late 19th century before the age of “Judeo-Christianity,” evangelical Christianity would have looked completely different to you. It wouldn’t have struck you as the handmaiden of Zionism and there was no weird cult of racial guilt and interracial adoption that you see with modern evangelicals like David French.
As a historicist, I spend so much of my time immersed in studying history in order to gain perspective on our own times that I tend to be more aware of how and why cultures have changed over time. I’m confident our culture will continue to change too as the Boomers fade from the scene.
Note: As we have seen, Judeo-Christianity is a Boomer religion. It did not gain traction in the South until the mid-20th century.