[Marxism] Fwd: H-Net Review [H-Slavery]: Rothera on Holm, 'A Kingdom Divided: Evangelicals, Loyalty, and Sectionalism in the Civil War Era'

Andrew Stewart hasc.warrior.stew at gmail.com
Thu Jan 30 22:08:09 MST 2020

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Begin forwarded message:

> From: H-Net Staff via H-REVIEW <h-review at lists.h-net.org>
> Date: January 30, 2020 at 12:48:16 PM EST
> To: h-review at lists.h-net.org
> Cc: H-Net Staff <revhelp at mail.h-net.org>
> Subject: H-Net Review [H-Slavery]:  Rothera on Holm, 'A Kingdom Divided: Evangelicals, Loyalty, and Sectionalism in the Civil War Era'
> Reply-To: h-review at lists.h-net.org
> April E. Holm.  A Kingdom Divided: Evangelicals, Loyalty, and 
> Sectionalism in the Civil War Era.  Conflicting Worlds: New 
> Dimensions of the American Civil War Series. Baton Rouge  Louisiana 
> State University Press, 2017.  288 pp.  $47.50 (cloth), ISBN 
> 978-0-8071-6771-7.
> Reviewed by Evan C. Rothera (University of Arkansas - Fort Smith)
> Published on H-Slavery (January, 2020)
> Commissioned by Andrew J. Kettler
> Most people today, April E. Holm contends, do not blame churches for 
> the coming of the US Civil War. However, plenty of people did at the 
> time. According to Holm, Robert L. Stanton's _The Church and the 
> Rebellion_ (1864), for instance, claimed that future historians would 
> take notice of the "'agency of the Church' and the 'zeal of the 
> ministers of religion' in promoting secession." Holm cautions readers 
> against brushing such accusations aside as marginal or irrelevant. _A 
> Kingdom Divided_ employs religion "as a critical lens through which 
> to analyze sectionalism, war, and reunion. More than simply gazing at 
> the church's role in causing secession, it examines how religion, 
> politics, and morality interacted in a time of political crisis to 
> create lasting institutional and cultural divisions in American 
> Christianity" (p. 1). Holm begins with the Second Great Awakening, 
> ends in the Gilded Age, and focuses on three denominations: Baptists, 
> Methodists, and Presbyterians.[1] These groups experienced tremendous 
> growth during the early nineteenth century, but by the 1850s, the 
> issue of slavery divided each denomination into sectional branches. 
> As the northern and southern branches of each denomination became 
> increasingly politicized, people living on the border between North 
> and South, the region that interests Holm, employed a strategy of 
> neutrality to navigate through the difficulties of sectional 
> division.[2] 
> Holm defines the border as "the area in which, when faced with 
> divisive political conflicts, evangelicals struggled with the 
> question of whether they were northern or southern" (p. 7). 
> Geographically, it encompassed Delaware, Maryland, western Virginia, 
> Kentucky, Missouri, and portions of every neighboring state. _A 
> Kingdom Divided_ charts the expansion of the three religions during 
> the Second Great Awakening, noting that all three shared the same 
> imperative to evangelize. As one might expect, the western members of 
> each of the denominations wanted their own religious institutions. 
> They established newspapers, seminaries, and publishing houses and 
> accumulated a considerable amount of property. This did not pose a 
> major problem until the three churches split into sectional branches. 
> Evangelical denominations were national organizations and, therefore, 
> brought people from across the nation into contact with each other. 
> Consequently, regional differences of belief about slavery, 
> abolition, and the nature of sin could not be ignored. Churches, like 
> other US institutions, soon felt the divisive power of the slavery 
> question. Slavery did not cause the Presbyterian fracture into Old 
> School and New School branches in 1837, and Holm does not find either 
> branch explicitly proslavery or antislavery, but most antislavery 
> Presbyterians ended up in the New School. The Methodists and Baptists 
> split into northern and southern branches in 1844-45, largely due to 
> slavery and questions about clergymen owning slaves. The Methodist 
> Plan of Separation, designed to ease the transition, led instead to 
> acrimonious property disputes that heightened tensions on the border. 
> Making a choice about whether to affiliate with the northern or the 
> southern branch proved comparatively easy for people who lived in 
> northern or southern states, but for westerners, it was often nearly 
> impossible and fraught with difficulty. Holm describes how these 
> sectional divisions created an ecclesiastical border. 
> Problematically, for border evangelicals, division did not mean the 
> end of the disputes, as both the northern and southern branches of 
> each denomination laid claim to the border region. Border 
> congregations evaluated ministers by their position on the slavery 
> question. Disputes over property became legion. Holm includes several 
> fascinating accounts of churches that proved more than willing to use 
> the courts to resolve their disputes. Critically, to turn to the 
> courts, evangelicals had to make their peace with violating the 
> separation of church and state and committing the sin of schism. 
> Courts, interestingly enough, often proved hesitant about wading into 
> denominational squabbles. Some congregations left questions about 
> affiliation and slavery unresolved. They embraced a doctrine of 
> spirituality, which emphasized "political neutrality in the pulpit 
> over expressions of support for the secular government" (p. 81). 
> Border evangelicals also considered slavery a political issue and 
> argued that clergy should not express opinions about the subject. At 
> a time when sectional political debate dominated civil society, 
> border evangelicals attempted to maintain neutrality. Their problem 
> became maintaining unity in the face of a deepening rift over 
> slavery, a task made even more challenging by the events of the 
> Decade of Crisis. 
> The real problem of neutrality became readily apparent during 
> wartime. Military authorities "enacted measures designed to ensure 
> the emotional loyalty of the people, not just the political loyalty 
> of the state" (p. 102). In other words, border clergy maintained that 
> preaching could be neutral, Union authorities said it could not, and 
> the results were usually unpleasant. Evangelicals came to represent a 
> loyal opposition within the northern branches of each of the three 
> denominations and army officials came to see disloyal ministers as 
> more threatening than disloyal citizens. Provost marshals wanted 
> active, not passive, loyalty and they did not hesitate to compel 
> displays of allegiance. However, attempts to police loyalty often 
> backfired and arresting clergy generated considerable animosity. 
> Debates over loyalty, union, and neutrality continued into religious 
> reconstruction, which began in the final year of the war and lasted 
> through the end of the decade. "Attempts to redistribute church 
> property and ensure the loyalty of ministers in occupied areas," Holm 
> asserts, "not only impeded sectional reunion, they also did much to 
> alienate border moderates" (p. 125). By the end of the 1860s, border 
> moderates no longer identified with the northern churches and 
> established their independence. Although the war ended slavery and 
> destroyed the Confederacy, it did not mean that many evangelicals 
> cared any less about these issues. 
> Border evangelicals in each of the three denominations moved away 
> from the northern branch of their respective denominations and 
> drifted ever closer to the southern churches of their denomination. 
> Southern branches had to justify their continued independence and an 
> alliance with the border churches offered benefits. Northern 
> evangelicals attempted to initiate reunion--and never gave up hope of 
> reunion--but their overtures produced few results. Decades after 
> abolition, slavery continued to dominate the discussion and divide 
> each of the three denominations. In polemical histories, "southerners 
> downplayed their defense of slavery before the war while northerners 
> exaggerated their antebellum opposition to slavery" (p. 176). Holm 
> argues that postwar interactions between evangelicals "provide an 
> arresting counterpoint to the narrative of postwar reconciliation" 
> (p. 192). In contrast to other areas of society, which experienced a 
> growing blue-gray fraternalism, the three denominations remained 
> divided. 
> _A Kingdom Divided_ is a well-written and thought-provoking book. 
> Holm notes that while the book is principally concerned with 
> ministers and lay leaders, she nevertheless examined "material from 
> all ranks of church organizations" (p. 10). At times, her analysis 
> can seem like a conversation among elites, and one wonders whether 
> Holm might have brought in more voices from church members and 
> contemporary observers. In addition, the author notes that white 
> southern evangelicals complained about northern missionaries 
> "stealing" black southern evangelicals. These white southerners even 
> anticipated freedpeople joining their churches. Obviously, this did 
> not happen, and Holm might have woven more African American voices 
> into her story of border evangelicals. Nevertheless, this volume is 
> well worth reading and will interest all students of religion and 
> politics in the nineteenth-century US. 
> Notes 
> [1]. For other incisive accounts of evangelicals, see Richard 
> Carwardine, _Evangelicals and Politics in Antebellum America_ 
> (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1997); and Christine Leigh 
> Heyrman, _Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt_ (New 
> York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997). 
> [2]. Holm's book contributes to a rich historiography on religion and 
> the US Civil War. For other examples, see Mitchell Snay, _Gospel of 
> Disunion: Religion and Separatism in the Antebellum_ _South_ (New 
> York: Oxford University Press, 1993); Mark Noll, _The Civil War as a 
> Theological Crisis_ (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina 
> Press, 2006); Harry S. Stout, _Upon the Altar of the Nation: A Moral 
> History of the American Civil_ War (New York: Viking, 2006); George 
> C. Rable, _God's Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the 
> American Civil War_ (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina 
> Press, 2010); and Timothy Wesley, _The Politics of Faith during the 
> Civil War_ (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2013). 
> Citation: Evan C. Rothera. Review of Holm, April E., _A Kingdom 
> Divided: Evangelicals, Loyalty, and Sectionalism in the Civil War 
> Era_. H-Slavery, H-Net Reviews. January, 2020.
> URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=54597
> This work is licensed under a Creative Commons 
> Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States 
> License.

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