Friday, June 13, 2014

Report on Bill Humble, "The Influence of the Civil War"

Humble, B. J. "The Influence of the Civil War." Restoration Quarterly 8 (Fourth Quarter 1965): 233-47.

In 1860, there were 1,241 congregations of Disciples in the North, and 829 in the South. Moreover, many of these congregations were in the Ohio Valley, and in border states like Kentucky and Missouri, where there was a good bit of internal division. These churches decided to stay completely out of politics because there within the same congregation sympathizers on both sides of the slavery question. In time, preachers were completely hands-off regarding the War and its sources. The Disciples were determined to maintain the unity of their fellowship, unlike most denominations which had, by that time, already divided into North and South.

Christian Pacifism

Almost all of the Disciple leaders of the era (with the evangelist Walter Scott as a notable exception) argued for strict non-participation, either as a matter of conviction or in the practical interests of unity. J.W. McGarvey was an outstanding advocate of pacifism. This position was strong in Middle Tennessee, influenced by and reflecting the words of David Lipscomb.

At the same time, there were participants among the Disciples: both Alexander Campbell Jr. and Barton Stone Jr. wore the Confederate gray. James A. Garfield was a Union colonel. And, in spite of the pacifists in the middle, brotherhood journals spanned the spectrum: from pro-Union abolitionists, to defenders of the Confederacy.

Franklin and Fanning: Sectional Symbols

Benjamin Franklin and Tolbert Fanning were mirror images of the other. Both were pacifists who mentioned their belief that the North (Franklin) and the South (Fanning) were in the right. And, they both believed as an expedient that, for the sake of unity, the only right course was for editors and preachers and churches to completely stay away from the war question.

On Record for the Union

During the first wartime meeting of the American Christian Missionary Society in 1861, there were no Southerners in attendance, and a pro-Union resolution was passed, encouraged by an out-of-session speech by James A. Garfield, wearing a blue uniform. In the pages of the Gospel Advocate, shortly before it discontinued publication, Tolbert Fanning reacted in shock and anger. Earlier, in 1859, Fanning had attended a meeting of the Society, announcing that congregations could and should conduct missionary activity, but also saying that he and others were one with those who supported the missionary society. It was when the society adopted the explicitly pro-Union statement that Fanning's language completely changed.

A Declaration of Loyalty

From the other side, there were abolitionists among the Disciples who felt strongly that the missionary society had not gone far enough, and that the organization should pledge an oath of loyalty to the Union. In 1863, the society formally made its pledge.

A Problem of Historiography

In 1866, Moses Lard confidently stated that the tensions of the Civil War had not broken the unity of the Disciples. Humble notes that a line of various restoration historians accepted and reported Lard's declaration:

1. W. E. Garrison, Religion Follows the Frontier
2. Garrison and DeGroot, The Disciples of Christ
3. Earl I. West, The Search for the Ancient Order, Vol. 1
4. James DeForest, Christians Only

Only David Edwin Harrell, in his 1962 Vanderbilt dissertation, "A Social History of the Disciples of Christ to 1866," challenged the assumption that the Disciples remained united through the Civil War.

"The assumption that the Disciples escaped a Civil War division requires drastic revision, perhaps a complete repudiation for the evidence proves that the Civil War did play an important role in the Disciples' schism" (245).

Humble observes that David Lipscomb, editor of the Gospel Advocate for decades starting in 1866, was even more bitter in his asides against the North than Fanning had been before the War. That is, the end of the war marked the beginning of wider division.

"The Civil War had so shattered the sense of brotherhood between northern and southern Christians that they could never again be called 'one people' in any meaningful sense.  . . . What had happened was that two threads of alienation--sectional bitterness and antagonistic understandings of the restoration principle--had become tangled together and had shattered the Christians' oneness" (246).

Humble says that if the Disciples had had a denominational structure, then the group would have divided into two distinct churches, much like other groups which did have a denominational structure. The Disciples told themselves that their unity had survived the war. In 1906, the United States Census Bureau said otherwise.

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