Arminian Today

A Jesus-Centered Arminian Blog

The Unfortunate Results of the American Civil War

I love history books.  I enjoy reading of many different time periods and biographies.  I am currently reading several different history books all at once.  One is on an escape from a POW camp during the Vietnam War.  The second is on World War II from the eastern front between the Germans and the Soviets.  The third is a book on the Civil War and reconstruction.  Having grown up in South Carolina, I have always heard much about the Civil War (or the second war of independence here in the South).  We Southerners have been told since 1865 that we were wrong, the North was right, and the South suffered for her transgressions of slavery.  To this day, many believe that the entire Civil War was fought over the issue of slavery alone.  Popular media casts the North as the valiant warriors who have come to set the African slaves free. Abraham Lincoln is portrayed as the great emancipator of the slaves and the issue of slavery takes the cake when it comes to the Civil War.

There is no doubt that slavery was an issue with regard to the South.  I would also agree that the institution of slavery is best gone.  I do think that the North’s presentation of slavery is at times a bit harsh.  In comparison to the way slaves in Cuba and Brazil were treated, the South was hardly as evil.  There was wicked abuse of slaves but there was also wicked abuse of freed slaves in the North.  The Bible itself does not even ban slavery but sets guidelines for it.  And further, if you reject slavery outright then you must reject the entire epistle of Philemon.  While slavery was not based on race in the Bible, slavery was there.  Jews were even slaves of Jews.  The most common term Paul the Apostle uses for himself is “a slave of Christ Jesus” (see Romans 1:1; Galatians 1:10).  Most English translations avoid translating the Greek term as “slave” because of the practice of racial slavery in the South.  Only the Holman Standard Version translates the Greek term properly though the ESV puts the correct term as a footnote.

In every major nation where slavery existed such as in Great Britain, the practice ended peacefully.  William Wilberforce, for example, used the Bible to preach against the practice of slavery.  He preached correctly against racism.  Had the American abolitionist movement in the United States preached against racism, they would have done more good.  Racism existed in both the North and the South both before the Civil War and long after.  The Civil War ended slavery but it only created more hatred of Africans by the whites.  It did not end the harsh reality of racism which has still done more harm than slavery has ever done.  The liberal churches in the North preached against slavery.  The conservative churches in the South preached that slavery was allowed by Scripture (Ephesians 6:5-9) though the South failed to correct the harsh treatment by masters over their slaves.  The North rejected the Bible’s teaching on slavery altogether.  The South embraced it only in part.  Both compromised the Word of God and both were judged for it.  The great Presbyterian theologian of the era, R.L. Dabney, now often accused of being a racist for his support of the Confederacy until his death, believed that God was judging both the North for her sins and the South for her sins.  Dabney wrote that the South was being judged by God for not following completely through on what He has said in His Word regarding master’s treatment of their slaves.  Dabney believed that slaves should be treated with respect, with honor, and should be allowed to be given their freedom if possible just as in the Bible.

The unfortunate results of the Civil War in the United States are still with us today.  Living in the South, I know first hand the results.  I live just a few miles from where General Sherman and his troops camped out during their campaign through the South.  Sherman looted, his men raped women, and they indulged on every form of sin you can imagine for men running wild through the South.  The city of Savannah, Georgia was saved only when the mayor “wisely” brought out prostitutes for Sherman’s men.  Many other cities such as Atlanta and Columbia were burned and destroyed.  Many of the homes had no men in them at all.  Only women and children remained but Sherman (and Lincoln behind him) believed that the South needed to pay for her crimes against the Union.  Especially South Carolina.

The results of the Civil War that are unfortunate are:

  • A destructive end to slavery rather than peaceful resulting in the deaths of over 650,000 people.
  • Millions of dollars in destruction mainly to the South.
  • The deep resentment from Southerners toward the North, the Union, and former slaves resulting in the Jim Crow era laws of segregation.
  • The liberal move of the Northern churches both before the Civil War and after only led to a demise of the gospel.  The North remains the most liberal area of the United States and the South remains the most conservative.  This was a gospel issue before the Civil War and after as well.
  • The failure to preach against racism in both the North and South led to segregation in both areas long into the 20th century and remains intact in many ways today.
  • The failure to preach against racism and looking to the federal government for answers resulted in the horror of reconstruction in the South with whites forced to give their land to blacks and resulted in groups such as the KKK rising to power.  To this day, we have racist groups such as the KKK, the NAACP, and others who fail to preach the true problem of racism as a sin against God.
  • The failure to see that sin was rampant in the North as well as the South.  Both the USA and the CSA were guilty before God.  Neither was in the right.  Neither settled the issues of slavery correctly though the South tried by ending the sale of slaves from other nations in their Constitution.
  • The Civil War resulted in a transformation in the United States that began in 1861 and especially when the War ended in 1865 with the massive increase in Federal Government and its powers.  Before 1861, the American government was controlled by the people for the people.  After the Civil War, the Government became the moral judge and begin to impose her will on the people of the Union especially in the South.  The massive expansion of government that we see today in 2013  can be directly linked to 1861.
  • The segregation of the churches continues in many ways to this day.  The failure to address the issue of racism in regard to slavery was ignored by the North and South and to this day, white churches and black churches remain separated in many ways.  Sadly, many black churches even preach “black liberation theology” or a social gospel instead of preaching the true gospel as a result of the Civil War.
  • The Civil War produced the equally discriminations of forced minority hirings.  Companies continue to receive government money who employ racial minorities which leads to companies hiring people for their color and not their qualifications.  This reverse discrimination does not help but only creates more racism.

My post is not to say that the South was right.  I don’t believe this to be true.  Even Dabney saw the North’s victory as a sign from God that the South was being harshly punished by God.  He didn’t believe the North was right or innocent but rather that the hand of God was against the South more.  He saw the sovereignty of God involved with the Civil War.  The South’s racial slavery was wrong.  The practice of slavery was not.  If we argue that slavery itself is wrong, we must argue against the Bible and this places the liberals in an upper hand for they can point to slavery and ask whether we are for or against it.  I had a black pastor point-blank tell me that he rejected the epistles because of Paul’s endorsement of slavery.  I don’t see Paul endorsing slavery but he sets guidelines for it.  The South should have abided by those guidelines and I believe the practice of slavery would have ended peacefully and not violently with 650,000 dead and countless battles to be fought by blacks for years to come.

The Church of Jesus Christ is the greatest place on earth to demonstrate the end of racism.  Can you imagine what the early church looked like with both slaves and masters serving Christ together?  This is the case with the epistle of Philemon in which the slave Onesimus had run away from his master and had become a disciple of Jesus along the way.  Paul wrote Philemon to tell him this and to return his runaway slave.  Paul tells Philemon these powerful words in verses 15-16 (NKJV):

15 For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever, 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave—a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

What if Southern masters had loved their slaves like this?  What if both masters and slaves had been regenerated by the Spirit of God?  This was Dabney’s view.  The South was wrong to preach slavery as biblical while basing it on color.  The Bible does not condemn slavery but it does condemn racism and the Southern church did not preach enough on this subject.  The Civil War did not end this unbiblical practice of racism and no war ever will.  It takes the gospel to break the chains of racism.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

06/18/2013 at 1:14 PM

6 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. There is only one question a Christian needs to ask in regards to slavery to understand completely the morality of it, regardless of any allowances in the scriptures for the practice: “Would I want to be one?” If the Christian answers “no” (as I suppose all honest ones would), then the Christian cannot support nor participate in the practice. Christians in the South should have in near unanimity opposed slavery as it was practiced there. To not do so was not merely an oversight, but a travesty. That supposedly godly people, and even preachers of the gospel took up arms against other brothers and sisters to defend their rights to their peculiar institution is an offense to the name of Christ.


    06/18/2013 at 4:39 PM

    • I would argue that they saw their battle not over slavery but over whether the Federal Government should intervene. They saw the war of the States as a battle for freedom to choose to follow their own paths. But that is for another debate.

      I think a fair question would be, “Should Christians who owned slaves to be disciplined by the Church?” If we say yes then on what basis? Paul never rebuked Philemon for owning slaves. The clear answer for Paul was to call both masters and slaves to obedience to Christ which transforms cultures. If Southern slave owners had been disciplined for not obeying Scripture with how to treat slaves, the Civil War would never had occurred as slavery would have died out by itself.

      • That is a good question. I wonder is there even one account recorded in the history of the South in which a slaveowner was called before the church to answer for mistreating his slaves, breaking up slave families on the auction block, fornicating with slaves, or otherwise being oppressive and inhumane? That Paul treaded lightly in a society in which slavery was entrenched, the church was a minuscule minority, and that the power of the state was absolutely dedicated to keeping the peace through the maintenance its established jurisprudence does not translate into an imprimatur for the practice in a society with democratic institutions, freedom of speech and religion, and a sizable majority holding to the authority of Christ and the scriptures.


        06/18/2013 at 5:00 PM

      • That was the problem, neither the North or South held the authority of the Bible otherwise things would have been much different. Slavery itself was not a sin. The mistreatment of slaves or the rank racism of both the North and the South were the sins. Had the Church fully preached against the sin of racism and the mistreatment of slaves, perhaps the Civil War would not have been needed and 650,000 people would not have died. Perhaps we would have seen an end to slavery the way it ended in Great Britain or other nations where racism was preached against.

        The American abolitionist movement saw slavery itself as the sin. They ignored the North’s racism. This led to the same racist views after the Civil War ended. The abolitionist movement ended slavey (which is good and needed) but it did not end racism and only made it worse.

        My issue here is not to argue for the virtues of the South. I see her needing the judgment of God. Yet I also believe the Civil War did not address the sin of racism and in some ways the Church still has not. She looks to the Federal Government just as the abolitionist did to end slavery. This has not been helpful and has only produced more sin. Further, liberals often attack Christians when we oppose sins such as homosexuality by saying, “Well yes but the Bible supported slavery as well.” Many times Christians then back down and admit that the Bible did support slavery but we try to reason that it was a different time and culture and so rather than embracing the full authority of the Bible, we side step the issue and back down. We lose the fight when we do this.

      • I would argue that slavery without a backdoor out is wrong scripturally. Even in the Roman Empire a slave could, with good fortune and attentiveness, eventually buy his way out. That racism fueled the way slavery was practiced in the South adds fuel to the fire, but even if it was not based on race, the institution as practiced in the South would have still been at odds with scripture.

        The church should have been pointing that out loud and clear, but southern Christians did not accept black people as humans on equal terms with themselves, and so did not afford them true status as brothers in Christ. You are correct in pointing out a similar flaw in the North (and particularly so in the case of Lincoln), but ultimately the problem was not racism, but the willingness of supposedly Christian people to treat others in ways they would not want to be treated themselves. What really fries my bacon in thinking about this is that those supposed Christians did so, ostensibly, for filthy lucre’s sake.


        06/18/2013 at 5:38 PM

      • I agree. The practice of slavery in the South was clearly racist. This is what the Southern churches should have preached against the most. They should have disciplined slave owners who mistreated slaves. They should have allowed slaves to purchase their freedom (which some did by the way).

        I was thinking today which would have been worse in the South, to be owned by a cruel slave owner who lacked morals or a Christian slave owner. Had the Church in the South listened to men such as R.L. Dabney, they would have treated their slaves fairly, given them the gospel, and provided for them so that they loved their service to them. How different would that slavery have looked as opposed to the harsh views we think of today.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: