StudyBoss » Christianity and the American Revolutionary War

Christianity and the American Revolutionary War

Harry Stout points out in the lead article, How Preachers Incited Revolution, “it was Protestant clergy who propelled colonists toward independence and who theologically justified war with Britain” (n. pag). According to Cassandra Niemczyk in her article in this issue of Christian History “(the Protestant Clergy) were known as “the Black Regiment” (n. pag). Furthermore, as the article Holy Passion for Liberty shows, “Americans were quick to discern the hand of God in the tumultuous events of the times” (n. pag).

Mark Galli, the editor of this issue says “many devout believers were opposed to the war, and not necessarily on pacifist grounds. Most colonial legislatures exempted pacifists, such as Quakers and Mennonites, from military duty although they were still fined to underwrite the expenses of the war” (n. pag). Stout goes on to say ” Pacifist opposition to the war was concentrated in Pennsylvania. Quakers, Mennonites, and Amish refused to fight, and for their refusal were suppressed and humiliated like the royalists” (n. pag).

Often the pacifists served in hospitals, tending to both British and American wounded. From these readings one can discern that Eighteenth-century America was a deeply religious culture. Sermons taught not only the way to personal salvation in Christ but also the way to temporal and national prosperity for God’s chosen people. Timothy D. Hall a professor at Central Michigan University in The American Revolution and the Religious Public Sphere gives us this overview: “Religion played other important roles in mobilizing support for Revolution regardless of whether it was evangelical or not.

Colonists often encountered Revolutionary themes for the first time when local ministers announced the latest news from the pulpit or when parishioners exchanged information after Sunday meetings. Ministers occupied an important place in the colonial communications network throughout the eighteenth century, especially in towns where few people had access to newspapers and official information was dispensed from the pulpit or lectern. Sunday afternoons provided a convenient time for men who had already gathered for worship to form militia units and drill, and many ministers used their sermons to motivate the minutemen.

Israel Litchfield, a young Massachusetts minuteman, recorded that his local minister keyed Biblical texts and sermon themes to the great events of 1775. In Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley the Lutheran minister John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg concluded a Sunday sermon of 1775 by throwing back his ministerial robe to reveal a military uniform, rolling the drum for Patriot recruits, and leading them out for drill. Few ministers matched Muhlenberg’s flair for drama, but many throughout the colonies used their pulpits to mobilize resistance. The article by Peter M.

Calhoun containing the Christian History TimelineChristianity and the American Revolution gives us an overview of important dates for both Christianity and the Revolution. Some of these are: Christianity: 1740’s Great Awakening inspired by George Whitefield’s preaching spreads through colonies: 1747: Jonathan Edwards’s The Visible Union of God’s People envisions Americans bound together by shared conversion experience: 1750: Jonathan Mayhew’s Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance announces Christian duty to resist tyranny.

Revolution: 1740-1748: King George’s WarFrench and British maneuver to dominate North America: 1760 George III becomes king of England: 1756-1763: Seven Years’ WarBritish expel French from North America: 1764: Sugar ActBritain tightens enforcement of the acts of trade, eeking more revenues from colonies: 1765: Stamp ActAmericans complain of taxation without representation 1773: Boston Tea Party protests Tea Act of 1773.

The article entitled America a New Haven states that “clergy in the Revolutionary era reminded people not only what they were fighting against, namely tyranny and idolatry, but also what they were fighting for: a new heaven and a new earth” (n. pag). Some argue that the American Revolution was motivated by Christian idealsthe love of political and religious liberty, and the passion to create a society built on Biblical values. Derek H.

Davis in his article Jesus vs the Watchmaker suggests that “many scholars say the Revolution was merely the product of Enlightenment deistsrationalists who believed God, like a watchmaker, set the universe running and let people manage it by reason. They wanted to found a just and free society on rational, scientific principles. It certainly appears that during the war and in the aftermath of the war, (that is in the years 1777-1789), freedom and liberty were both political and religious terms. As one article points out “they helped not only preserve fundamental human rights but also sustain loyalty to Christ and to sola Scriptur” (n. g).

So closely intertwined were the political and religious connotations, it was virtually impossible for colonists to separate them Church attendance declined during the war, and although God is mentioned four times in the Declaration of Independence, God does not make an appearance in the Constitution. It appears to me that the founding fathers were religious men, and they believed religion necessary for the survival of the country, but were they Christians because sometimes it appeared that they mocked orthodox Christianity or, at best, remained cool towards it!

The year 1783 saw the signing of the Treaty of Paris when the British recognized American independence. Post-war Christianity appeared to be divided into the denominations that were devastated and those that grew and prospered. I particularly liked the editor’s interview with Mark Noll, professor of history at Wheaton College (Illinois) who is the author of many books, including A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada and Christians in the American Revolution. The following is a summary of this interview.

The Anglican Church, which became the Protestant Episcopal Church, was devastated. On the eve of the Revolution, along with the Congregationalists and Presbyterians, it was one of the three most important denominations in America. “It was the established church in New York City and several southern colonies. Because of its association with England, the new Episcopal Church struggled and survived only as a small, relatively insignificant denomination” (n. pag). The Congregationalists of New England suffered.

In 1775 they were the largest denomination in North America, and given their support for the war, Congregationalists, because of their Puritan roots, were more comfortable with social harmony and unity, and even insisted upon some degree of religious conformity. This did not suit them well in the new hurly-burly individualism of American life after the Revolution. “Two groups did spectacularly. First, the Baptists: They had existed in relatively small, out-of-the-way groups in the colonial period. After the war, particularly in the mid-South, the South, and on the frontier of the Middle Colonies, the fiercely independent Baptists exploded.

Second, the Methodists, who grew even faster: Methodists were a movement within Anglicanism before the war and had only a handful of members when the war started. Afterwards, the Methodist combination of firm leadership and pioneering attention to ordinary life led to spectacular growth. By 1830 they were the largest denomination in the U. S. A. It certainly appears to me that there is an element of hypocrisy as Americans fought for freedom from being enslaved by the ‘tyranny of the British” they failed to acknowledge that they were enslaving their fellow human beings, the African Americans.

One article quotes an obscure Boston Baptist Minister, John Allen who in a 1772 Oration on the Beauties of Liberty said that “But for mankind to be distressed and kept in slavery by Christians, by those who love the gospel of Christ, for such to buy their brethren and bind them to be slaves to them and their heirs for life. This quotation encapsulates my feelings on the issue of slavery! I also believe it was John Wesley who was not convinced that independence, let alone armed rebellion, was justified Biblically.

Preaching military issues from the pulpit really brings the fact to light that church and state were really one. The two were so closely intertwined even in the Eighteenth century that even with the Declaration of Independence there appears to me to be a confusion of loyalties, church or state! In both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, the church was left in turmoil, its members divided while the state, having availed itself of the church for its own purposes rose supreme.

Cite This Work

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing style below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.