At Fort Sumter, 150 years ago today, the Civil War began. The next four years were the bloodiest in our nation’s history. It’s not exactly a proud moment for our country. It is however a really important one.
A friend pointed out a really interesting article: Four Ways We’re Still Fighting the Civil War. There are still arguments about federalism vs. states rights and presidential power. What struck me so profoundly was how the merging of faith and politics is such an old fight.
The war erupted not long after the “Second Great Awakening” sparked a national religious revival. Reform movements spread across the country. Thousands of Americans repented of their sins at frontier campfire meetings and readied themselves for the Second Coming.
They got war instead. Their moral certitude helped make it happen, says David Goldfield, author of “America Aflame,” a new book that examines evangelical Christianity’s impact on the war.
Goldfield says evangelical Christianity “poisoned the political process” because the American system of government depends on compromise and moderation, and evangelical religion abhors both because “how do you compromise with sin.”
“By transforming political issues into moral causes, you raise the stakes of the conflict and you tend to demonize your opponents,” Goldfield says.
Contemporary political rhetoric is filled with similar rhetoric. Opponents aren’t just wrong — they’re sinners, Goldfield says.
There’s a lot of food for thought there. It’s no secret I’m a Christian girl. I do see some things in moral terms. I suppose most people do. But all the people who call themselves Christians can’t even agree on how to run our own religious institutions (church splits, much?), and we’re just one of the groups to take into account when governing this Republic.
I don’t claim to have this all figured out. I’m just a little sad because today, 150 years later, it doesn’t seem like anyone does.