Letter from the annals of self justification

The Civil War naval blockade of the South cut that part of the Church off from its missions in Africa and China. In an 1862 pastoral letter from bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate states to the laity and clergy of those states the bishops this effect of the blockade, and turned to what message God might be sending about where their evangelistic mission ought to be.

God is perchance intending, through these inscrutable measures, to shut us up to that great work which he has placed at our very doors, and which is, next to her own expansion, the Church’s greatest work in these confederate States. The religious instruction of the negroes has been thrust upon us in such a wonderful manner that we must be blind not to perceive that not only our spiritual but our national life is wrapped up in their welfare. With them we stand or fall, and God will not permit us to be separated in interest or in fortune.

The time has come when the Church should press more urgently than she has hitherto done upon her laity the solemn fact that the slaves of the South are not merely so much property, but are a sacred trust committed to us as a people, to be prepared for the work which God may have for them to do in the future. While under this tutelage, he freely gives to us their labor, but expects us to give back to them that religious and moral instruction which is to elevate them in the scale of being. And while inculcating this truth, the Church must offer more fully her ministrations for their benefit and improvement. Her laity must set the example of readiness to fulfill their duty towards these people, and her clergy must strip themselves of pride and fastidiousness and indolence, and rush with the zeal of martyrs to this labor of love.

The teachings of the Church are those which best suit a people passing from ignorance to civilization, because while it represses all fanaticism, it fastens upon the memory the great facts of our religion, and through its objective worship attracts and enchains them. So far from relaxing, in their case, the forms of the Church, good will be permanently done to them just in proportion as we teach them through their senses and their affections. If subjected to the teachings of a bald spiritualism, they will find food for their senses and their child-like fancies in superstitious observances of their own, leading too often to crime and licentiousness.

It is likewise the duty of the Church to press upon the masters of the country their obligations as Christian men, so to arrange this institution as not to necessitate the violation of those sacred relations which God has created, and which man cannot, consistently with Christian duty, annul. The systems of labor which prevail in Europe, and which are in many respects more severe than ours, are so arranged as to prevent all necessity for the separation of parents and children and of husbands and wives; and a very little care on our part would rid the system upon which we are to plant our national life of these unchristian features. It belongs especially to the Episcopal Church to urge a proper teaching upon this subject, for in her fold and in her congregation are found a very large proportion of the slaveholders of the country. We rejoice to be enabled to say that the public sentiment is rapidly becoming sound upon this subject, and that the Legislatures of several of the confederate States have already taken steps towards this consummation. Hitherto have we been hindered by the pressure of abolitionism. Now that we have thrown off from us that hateful and infidel pestilence, we should prove to the world that we are faithful to our trust, and the Church should lead the hosts of the Lord in this work of justice and of mercy.

Eloquent, perverse, perceptive, self-deceiving, pastoral, racist, challenging (to a point) to the en-slaver, condescending to the enslaved. All in one. In 1912 Joseph Blount Cheshire, Bishop of North Carolina, wrote that the letter is “one of the noblest utterances ever put forth by the Church of Christ in modern times.” (Chapter II)

Read more of the pastoral letter here (pp. 253-7).

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