So What's This All About?

In case you didn't know, I'm in the multi-year-long process of posting a Christian devotional at the TAWG Blog. The TAWG Blog is, and always will be, mostly apolitical. For the most part, Bible-believing Christians will find little to disagree with there. But I also firmly believe that God's word can--and should--inform everything in life, and this should include politics and popular culture. How should we vote? How should we respond to hot topics such as abortion, capital punishment, taxes, and other issues? Which party, if either, is closer to the Biblical ideal? Tony Campolo and Ron Sider, Evangelicals whose political leanings are on the Left, have made the case in several of their writings that God wants his followers to vote politically on the Left more than on the Right. At times, some of them have gone so far as to equate voting on the Left with obedience to Christ, either subtly or not-so-subtly contending that the converse is true as well: If you vote Republican, you're sinning against the Savior.
I don't agree. I think that to the degree they actually resort to the Bible, they're misinterpreting it. With a whole bunch of caveats, I think politically conservative positions are a lot more compatible with the Scriptures than the Leftist positions.
Just to clarify, I would never accuse people who disagree with me--especially siblings in Christ--of what they accuse me of. I don't judge my own heart, much less anyone else's, and I don't equate political disagreement with theological fidelity to God. I have no reason to doubt their love for the Lord and "for the least of these," but I believe that they're sincerely wrong.
So there are two main purposes for this blog. One is to make a case for my political beliefs based on Scripture. The other is a bit more vague, basically to work out my political beliefs and figure out what's based on Scripture and what's based on my own biases. I certainly don't have all the answers. Some of this stuff I'm still figuring out. And I'm certainly open to correction. As long as you make your case civilly and based on Scripture, feel free to make a comment, and I promise I'll post it and consider your arguments thoughtfully and prayerfully. Who knows? Maybe we'll learn a little something from each other.
May God bless our common striving together towards both the "little t" truth and "Big T" Truth. Our watchword here is a line from C. S. Lewis's The Last Battle: "Further up and further in!"

P.S. -- Below on the left is "Topics I've Covered" which lists everything I've posted topically. It's come to my attention that some people would like to see everything just listed for them. If that's you, you can get it here. Thanks to my friend Stephen Young for the tip!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

One Nation Under God, Indivisible: Was the War Inevitable?

            When I say the word obsession, does that word have a good connotation or a bad one? It really depends on what you’re obsessed about, I guess.
            I haven’t dealt with really obsessive people in my life very often, but I’ve read about them sometimes. Let’s take Saul of Tarsus for example. He was (in his own words) “a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.” When we first see him mentioned in Scripture, he’s watching as his co-religionists stone the evangelist Stephen to death, and he’s holding their coats and applauding. Next we see him going from house to house, and then from town to town, seeking out more Christians to arrest and ultimately to execute. That’s a man obsessed.
            And when the Lord Jesus got a hold of him, did the Lord mitigate in any way the man’s zealousness? Not a bit! He just took that unrelenting drive and energy and channeled it in a new direction: Sharing the Good News of Jesus, especially among people who’d never been exposed to it. Saul of Tarsus became better known as Paul the Apostle.
            And today? Unfortunately, there aren’t that many Christ-obsessed Christians, at least not in the Western world. But there are some in this country, and even more abroad: Men and women who eat and drink and breathe Jesus. I wish I could count myself among them. I love him, but I wish I loved him more.
            My point is that we can look at people like Paul and other to see people who are obsessed. If a man is obsessed with X, and you walked up to him and asked him the time, he’d likely reply “It’s 10:30, and by the way, have you heard about X?” He finds a way to turn every conversation around to X. Everything in his universe only exists in relation to X, and everything orbits around it.
            Unfortunately, people can be fanatical regarding things a lot less noble than spreading the Good News and serving Christ. People can be fixated on their favorite sports team (which isn’t bad but doesn’t have much eternal significance), or on politics, or on cars. Or worse, they can become fixated on racial purity (like the Nazis) or on Communism or Islamic terror.
            I was thinking about that word when I was ruminating on today’s question: “Was the Civil War inevitable? Was there any way this bloodshed could’ve been avoided?” Was there anything Lincoln could've done to avoid the War? What does obsession have to do with the question?
            Because, my friend, the Southern secessionists were obsessed with keeping and expanding slavery. Why? I’m not the Holy Spirit, so I don’t know peoples’ hearts. But Lincoln had an interesting soliloquy on this question of motives:

For instance we will suppose the Rev. Dr. Ross has a slave named Sambo, and the question is "Is it the Will of God that Sambo shall remain a slave, or be set free?" The Almighty gives no audible answer to the question, and his revelation---the Bible---gives none---or, at most, none but such as admits of a squabble, as to its meaning. No one thinks of asking Sambo's opinion on it. So, at last, it comes to this, that Dr. Ross is to decide the question. And while he consider[s] it, he sits in the shade, with gloves on his hands, and subsists on the bread that Sambo is earning in the burning sun. If he decides that God wills Sambo to continue a slave, he thereby retains his own comfortable position; but if he decides that God wills Sambo to be free, he thereby has to walk out of the shade, throw off his gloves, and delve for his own bread. Will Dr. Ross be actuated by that perfect impartiality, which has ever been considered most favorable to correct decisions?

            Neo-Confederates answer the question of today’s posting in the firm negative. To them, the Civil War (or “War of Northern Aggression” as they like to call it) was very easily avoidable. They point out—and they’re absolutely correct—that slavery has been abolished everywhere else peaceably. The United Kingdom in particular—the leading nation of the time and the leading nation to renounce slavery—got rid of this abomination without spilling one drop of blood in war over it.
            I don’t know what made our country so different from England in this regard. Certainly in Britain there were huge economic interests which were basing their livelihoods upon it, which is one of the main reasons William Wilberforce faced so many obstacles against his crusade. Maybe they weren’t quite so entrenched or powerful or dependent on the slave trade as in America? We certainly had a bigger agricultural base than they did. 
            I confess I’m not an expert in this area. However, one plausible theory I've heard is that slavery became so much more profitable in the early 19th century, at least partially due to inventions like the cotton gin. One way you can see this indicated is by the price of slaves, which kept going up and up and up:

            However, there’s one thing I’m as sure about as the fact that I’m sitting in front of this computer this very moment: There’s no way that the South would’ve given up its slaves peaceably anytime in the foreseeable future. Under the presidential administration of Andrew Jackson the federal government actually retired its national debt. There was actual talk of ending the institution of slavery in America by recompensing all the slave holders, thus putting this nasty business behind us. The South. . . balked. To them, if you got rid of slavery, you got rid of their way of life.
            If you don't believe me, here's a great summary of just how intransigent the South was in considering any type of compromise that would lead to them staying in the Union under any circumstances. 
            How’s about near the end of the war? Let me quote from Vindicating Lincoln:

            Late in the Civil War, as the South found itself in dire straits and victory seemed increasingly elusive, the prospect of arming slaves and enlisting them to fight for the Confederacy was raised as a last-ditch measure. Eventually, in March 1865, out of sheer desperation and panic, the Confederate Congress passed a bill authorizing the arming of black slaves and training them to fight; it turned out to be too little, too late, as Confederate forces would surrender to the Union a mere month later. But even in their darkest hour, Confederates clung with zeal to their professed belief in the inferiority of blacks.
            Hearing that the Confederate Congress was considering enlisting slaves, one Alabama newspaper lamented,

"We are forced by necessity of condition to take a step which is revolting to every sentiment of pride, and to every principle that governed our [Confederate] institutions before the war, [yet] it is better for us to use the negroes for our defense than the Yankees should use them against us."

            Some Southerners would not relent on the question of arming slaves—and the equality it implied, if not required—even in the face of defeat. The Charleston Mary editorialized that if slaves were armed, “the poor man [would be] reduced to the level of the nigger. His wife and daughter are to be hustled on the street by black wenches, their equals. Swaggering buck niggers are to ogle and elbow them.” Inside the Confederate Congress, the president pro tem of the Confederate Senate, Robert Hunter, expressed skepticism about enlisting slaves in the army, asking “What did we go to war for, if not to protect our property?” George Howell Cobb acknowledged that “if slaves will make good soldiers [then] our whole theory of slavery is wrong. The day you make soldiers out of them is the beginning of the end of [our Confederacy].” When the most celebrated of all Southern generals, Robert E. Lee supported the idea of training and enlisting slaves, coupled with the proposal of freeing them after they had served, South Carolina’s Mercury erupted in anger, “We want no Confederate Government without our institutions [i.e. slavery].” The newspaper chided Lee as “author of this scheme of nigger soldiers and emancipation” and as a “disbeliever in slavery,” and it questioned whether Lee was “a good Southerner; that is, whether he [was] satisfied with the justice and beneficence of negro slavery.”

            Are you starting to see the problem here? Slavery was considered—either correctly or incorrectly—to be the sine qua non of Antebellum Southern culture and society. And they were so obsessed with the rightness of slavery that the very thought that someone somewhere somehow might have a less-than-laudatory word for their institution filled them with rage (e.g. the case of Charles Sumner). They demanded Fugitive Slave Laws so that if a slave escaped into non-slave territory, the owner could force local officials to be his slave catchers. They praised the Dred Scott decision, in which the Supreme Court ruled that an owner had every right to take his slave into non-slave territory, thus rendering that state’s laws against slavery to be meaningless. They routinely destroyed printing presses which had produced abolitionist literature and terrorized anyone who dared speak out against their practice. And when they lost an election and saw a President elected whom they (rightly) saw as morally opposed to slavery, they revolted and declared secession a month before he took office.
            Several months before he even got the Republican nomination, while there was talk of secession if he (or another anti-slavery nominee) got elected, Lincoln summarized the Southern position perfectly:

But you will not abide the election of a Republican president! In that supposed event, you say, you will destroy the Union; and then, you say, the great crime of having destroyed it will be upon us! That is cool. A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, "Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!"

To be sure, what the robber demanded of me - my money - was my own; and I had a clear right to keep it; but it was no more my own than my vote is my own; and the threat of death to me, to extort my money, and the threat of destruction to the Union, to extort my vote, can scarcely be distinguished in principle.

            Let’s be clear on this. I’ll expand on this in a later posting, but we need to understand something here. The words of his first inaugural merely repeated what he’d said multiple times before: “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.”
            But they were so paranoid that this wouldn’t do. Lincoln had made it clear that he disapproved of slavery, and he strongly opposed the expansion of slavery into the territories, and that was enough for them to take up arms against--and fire upon--their fellow Americans.
            So please, dear reader, please present your best evidence that the South would’ve given up its slaves peaceably. And if they were so obsessed with their institution of slavery—not just keeping it but expanding it, and squelching any criticism of it—then how could we have avoided this bloodshed? Or maybe it would’ve been better for the anti-slavery forces to just give up and let slavery become the law of the land everywhere? It seems to me that those are the only two alternatives. If you disagree, then make your case, and I’ll print it in the comments section.

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