Baptists & the civil war on display at library
    January 10 2012 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

    NASHVILLE, Tenn. – To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the American Civil War, the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives is presenting a display on Baptists and the war.

    The display cases, located on the fourth floor of the Southern Baptist Convention building in Nashville, Tenn., illustrate what caused the war – particularly the issue of slavery – how Baptists reacted and served as chaplains and how Baptists responded after the war.

    Bill Sumners, director of the library and archives, told Baptist Press that when he began looking through collections for items pertaining to the Civil War, he found more than he anticipated.

    As a starting point, Sumners wanted to reflect how the issue of slavery divided Baptists in America.

    “We have one case that has some of the documents and some of the other dialogue that was going on in Baptist circles about slavery and the events that happened in the 1840s when the Southern Baptist Convention was organized,” Sumners said.

    Documents, publications and other writings illustrate the divide between those who supported slavery and those who did not.

    “We have records that show how in many places in the South slaves and slaveowners worshipped in the same church,” he said. “You had churches where well over half of the congregation was black and maybe only 30 percent of the congregation was white.

    “So you had the slavery issue that separated Baptists, but you had Baptists in the South who worshipped in the same building – maybe not in the same pew – as their slaves,” Sumners said. “We wanted to set the stage for what was going on in Baptist life because there was some debate going on in Baptist circles about the moral rightness or wrongness of slavery.”
    01-10-12civilwar.jpg

    The 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War is shown from a Baptist perspective in a display by the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives at the Southern Baptist Convention building in Nashville, Tenn.


    The next two display cases tell about what went on during the war from a Baptist perspective.

    “We have a list of missionaries that the Home Mission Board appointed, and there are various chaplains who were appointed to the Confederate Army,” Sumners said, adding that Baptist statesman I.T. Tichenor was among them.

    Also, many books have been written about the role of religion in the war, and some of those are on display. Sermons preached by chaplains, some handwritten and some typed, are included.

    The final case in the display illustrates the effects of the war, Sumners said. Baptists and many Southerners in general struggled with questions such as, “What did we do wrong?” “Were we not faithful enough?” “Were we not good enough?” “Were we not the right kind of people?” and “How do we make sense of this devastation?” Sumners said.

    Photographs of burned churches as well as examples of how Baptists wrote about the war are on display. Items belonging to J. William Jones, a chaplain in Robert E. Lee’s army and author of “Christ in the Camp: The True Story of the Great Revival During the War Between the States,” are included.

    The Civil War display, which was featured on the front page of The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville, will remain indefinitely, Sumners said. Anyone who is interested is welcome to visit the building to see the display, he said.

    Around Christmas, a group of about 20 people, “both black and white folks,” toured the SBC building and were particularly intrigued by the display, Sumners said.

    “It is a topic a lot of people have family stories about or have a connection with or just enjoy the study of Civil War history,” he said.

    (EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press.)
    1/10/2012 2:23:33 PM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 1 comments
    Filed under: Civil War anniversary, Civil War chaplain, J. William Jones




Comments
Dr. James Willingham
In the summer of 1971 I wrote a prospectus for a doctoral dissertation in black history at Columbia Univ. That proposal was based upon six years of research in church history, including and especially Baptist history. During that period, I had stumbled over the fact that blacks were members of the churches on the same basis as whites, namely, conversion. I also discovered that God had produced some great Christian believers among those downtrodden and often mistreated people. But their response in faith was a wonderful thing to behold. Proof of their creativity (one of the effects of saving faith and a right apprehension of biblical teachings) can readily be seen in the Negro spirituals which impressed the nobility of Europe during the latter part of the 19th century with the Fisk singers that performed for the crowns and other venues of Europe. These same spirituals would inspire Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the church that he led in Germany (I forget its title). I found that the black folks really took their membership seriously, very seriously, so seriously, in fact, that when they were sold from one part of the country to the other, they moved their membership. One might observe that one reason for their finding value in that membership was in the fact that they were to some degree treated as equals, being referred to as brothers as in black brother so and so, or black sister so and so. Some blacks became such impressive believers, that, in one instance, a white church purchased the freedom of a black and called him as their pastor. He served for about 10 years, if memory serves correctly after 40 years. Interestingly enough, Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church (in Apex), from which the first missionary to China came (Matthew T. Yates) excluded a white member, when that member protested the treating of blacks as equals in the church.

There is more, much more, but the issue has yet to be addressed by Southern Baptists as it will, when we come to appreciate the work of God that went on in our own churches, a work that secured freedom of religion, the establishing of the greatest nation on earth, and more, much more.
1/11/2012 12:20:45 AM

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