Welcome to the American Christian Heritage Group blog where we give you glimpses of our country's early Christian foundations. We hope you enjoy these, learn more about our Christian heritage and undertake reading of the many cited sources and end notes. Please feel free to register and leave comments.

ABOUT ABRAHAM LINCOLN

October 24th, 2011

Abraham Lincoln

Historians have argued whether or not Abraham Lincoln, one of America’s best-known presidents, ever became a committed Christian. As a youth Lincoln mocked the scriptures. After the death of his favorite son, Willie, he groped for some hope which could give him solace. His wife Mary and he attended seances, but eventually renounced them as fraudulent. The cares and trials of the war drove Lincoln increasingly to his Bible.

As a youth, Lincoln mocked the scriptures. After the death of his favorite son, Willie, he groped for some hope that could give him solace. His wife Mary and he attended séances, but eventually renounced them as fraudulent. The cares and trials of the war drove Lincoln increasingly to his Bible. Increasingly he saw himself as an instrument of the Lord’s will, inscrutable though that might be.

His lifelong friend Joshua Speed remembered, “As I entered the room near night, [Lincoln] was sitting near a window reading his Bible. Approaching him, I said, ‘I am glad to see you profitably engaged.’ ‘Yes,’ said he, ‘I am profitably engaged.’ ‘Well,’ said I, ‘if you have recovered from your skepticism I am sorry to say that I have not!’ Looking me earnestly in the face, and placing his hand upon my shoulder, he said: ‘You are wrong Speed; take all of this book upon reason that you can, and the balance on faith and you will live and die a happier and better man.'”

He wrestled to understand why the North continued to lose although its cause, the abolition of slavery and preservation of the union, seemed the more justifiable side. In the end, in a note not written for public consumption, Lincoln concluded that …1

 “The will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be, wrong. God can not be for and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God’s purpose is something different from the purpose of either party—and yet the human instrumentalities, working just as they do, are of the best adaptation to effect His purpose. I am almost ready to say this is probably true—that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet. By his mere quiet power, on the minds of the now contestants, He could have either saved or destroyed the Union without a human contest. Yet the contest began. And having begun He could give the final victory to either side any day. Yet the contest proceeds.”

-Abraham Lincoln

Like a figure from Israel’s ancient history, Lincoln was arguing with God. But it was no longer a domesticated deity, an American God, but the ruler of the nations. The truth had begun to dawn to Lincoln that this God was not at the nation’s beck and call, but the nation at his. His thinking was beginning to diverge from the paths followed by Beecher, Dabney, and the overwhelming majority of his contemporaries.2

He issued a proclamation in the Northern States for a day of public humiliation, prayer, and fasting “to be observed by the people of the United States with religious solemnities. … It is peculiarly fit for us to recognize the hand of God in this terrible visitation, and in sorrowful remembrance of our own faults and crimes as a nation and as individuals to humble ourselves before Him, and to pray for His mercy…3

1 Dan Graves, MSL, President Lincoln’s Fast (Christianitytoday.com)

2 Mark A. Knoll, The Puzzling Faith of Abraham Lincoln (Christianitytoday.com)

 3 Dan Graves, MSL, President Lincoln’s Fast (Christianitytoday.com)

Bibliography:

  1. Current, Richard N. The Lincoln Nobody Knows. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1958.
  2. Gross, Ernie. This Day in Religion. New York, N.Y. : Neal-Schuman Publishers, 1990.
  3. Lincoln, Abraham. Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Edited by Roy P. Basler; Marion Dolores Pratt and Lloyd A. Dunlap, assistant editors. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1953 – 1955.

U.S. CHAPLAINS BRIEF HISTORY

September 14th, 2010

Ministers of the Gospel have always played an important role in history. Of particular interest is chaplains in the United States. Although the separation of church and state is widely debated and lawsuits have been initiated to block the Christian witness and presence, Chaplains still have an influence in the United States House of Representatives and Senate and our Armed Forces. Here is a brief look at some of that history.

Samuel Provoost, Bishop, Episcopal Church USA and first elected Chaplain of Congress

On July 29, 1775, the Continental Congress established the military chaplaincy. Chaplains were paid $20 per month, and provided “forage for one horse.” Gen George Washington issued this order at Valley Forge on May 2, 1778: “The Commander-in-Chief directs that divine services be performed every Sunday at eleven o’clock in each bridge which has chaplains…While we are duly performing the duty of good soldiers, we are not to be inattentive to the highest duties of religion.” Worship for soldiers was voluntary and chaplains of all faiths cooperated with each other, being sympathetic to the beliefs of others.

The history of the military chaplaincy reaches back to the beginning days of the United States. When Colonial forces went to war, they took with them one of the local ministers. Usually he was one of the younger clergy and more physically able. “This was an age when religion played a much more important role in the lives of Americans. For the Colonist, the minister was a powerful figure of authority within the community, and usually the best educated. Not even a minor military operation was planned or carried out without making sure that a minister was available to counsel and motivate the colonial fighting men”. [1] By the start of the Revolutionary War, the Military Chaplaincy stood upon 150 years of service to the American fighting men and women.

During the Civil War, military chaplains were held in high regard and there was an increased emphasis on professionalism. Some interesting facts of the chaplain’s influence with Confederate Army soldiers and officers are found in these facts: 150,000 Confederate soldiers rededicated or were baptized during the war; Eighty percent of college students in the South after the war found their religious faith while in the Confederate Army; Thirteen former Confederate chaplains were consecrated as bishops by 1892; and Twelve former Confederate chaplains became presidents of major colleges. [2]

Civil War Chaplains

One the more interesting events of the Civil Way was the election of a Union female chaplain. Mrs. Ella E. Gibson Hobart was elected as the Chaplain of the 1st Wisconsin Regiment of Heavy Artillery. She served in this position for a number of months in 1864, until Secretary of War Stanton refused to recognize her status because of her sex. The Civil War also saw some other firsts: It was the advent of the first Jewish Chaplains, and the first Black and Indian Chaplains. Another milestone in the war was the service of Unaguskie, the son of a Cherokee Chief and a Christian, who was the Chaplain of the Cherokee Battalion raised in North Carolina by the Confederate Army. [3]

When the Senate first convened in New York City on April 6, 1789, one of its first orders of business was to appoint a committee to recommend a candidate for chaplain. On April 25, the Senate elected the Right Reverend Samuel Provoost, Episcopal Bishop of New York, as its first chaplain. Since that time, the Senate has been served by chaplains of various religious denominations, including Episcopalians (19), Methodists (17), Presbyterians (14), Baptists (6), Unitarians (2), Congregationalists (1), Lutherans (1), Roman Catholic (1), and Seventh-day Adventist (1). The Senate has also appointed guest chaplains representative of all the world’s major religious faiths. In addition to opening the Senate each day in prayer, the current Senate chaplain’s duties include spiritual care and counseling for senators, their families, and their staffs — a combined constituency of over 6,000 people — and discussion sessions, prayer meetings, and a weekly Senators’ Prayer Breakfast. [3]

The former Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-West Virgina) addressed the Senate on June 5th, 1980 on “1789-1989: Addresses on the History of the United States Senate” giving an interesting history that is worth reading. You may read his address here: http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/resources/pdf/Chaplain.pdf

The same history is true for the United States House of Representatives. The election of the Rev. William Linn as Chaplain of the House on May 1, 1789, continued the tradition established by the Continental Congresses of each day’s proceedings opening with a prayer by a chaplain. The early chaplains alternated duties with their Senate counterparts on a weekly basis. The two conducted Sunday services for the Washington community in the House Chamber every other week. Since the election of Rev. Linn in 1789, the House has been served by chaplains of various religious denominations, including Baptist (7), Christian (1), Congregationalist (2), Disciples of Christ (1), Episcopalian (4), Lutheran (1), Methodist (16), Presbyterian (15), Roman Catholic (1), Unitarian (2), and Universalist (1). In addition to opening proceedings with prayer, the Chaplain provides pastoral counseling to the House community, coordinates the scheduling of guest chaplains, and arranges memorial services for the House and its staff. In the past, Chaplains have performed marriage and funeral ceremonies for House members.[5]

[1] The Military Chaplain, Vol LXXII, Number 5
[2] The National Civil War Museum, The Arthur S. DeMoss Learning Center, Liberty University, Lynchburg, VA; http://chaplainmuseum.org/religion.html
[3] Lighthouse Ministries,Civil War Chaplains; http://www.ourchurch.com/view/?pageID=156779
[4] United States Senate, Senate Chaplains: http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/briefing/Senate_Chaplain.htm
[5] History of the Chaplaincy, United States House of Representatives: http://chaplain.house.gov/chaplaincy/history.html

Photo: http://www.old-picture.com/civil-war/Chaplains-Civil-War.htm

HIRAM RHODES REVELS

February 28th, 2010

Reverend Hiram Rhodes Revels

In this blog we are going to consider Hiram Rhodes Revels, born in 1827 and died in 1901. Although he was not among our country’s founders and his time represents a much later period in our country, he is the fruit of a continuing Christian influence in our nation. Although his name is not familiar to most, he was a man of high honor, fighting for his people and this nation.

Revels was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and was a free man of African-American and American Indian descent. In his pursuit to gain an education, he left North Carolina and first attended the Union County Quaker Seminary in Liberty, Indiana, and from 1856–57, Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. He also studied at a black seminary in Ohio. Revels was ordained a minister. As a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Revels preached in Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Tennessee, Missouri, Kansas, and Maryland in the 1850s. “At times, I met with a great deal of opposition,” he later recalled. “I was imprisoned in Missouri in 1854 for preaching the gospel to Negroes, though I was never subjected to violence.” In 1845 he became a minister in Baltimore, Maryland and set up a private school.

With the outbreak of the Civil War, Revels helped raise two African-American Union regiments from Maryland. He then moved to Missouri where continued recruiting of African-Americans for the Union Army. He was then selected to be Union Army Chaplain for a regiment of African-Americans from Mississippi. He, at one point, was the provost marshall at Vicksburg, where he took part in one the bloodiest and most prolonged sieges along the Mississippi River.

After the war and in 1865, Revels returned to his ministry and was assigned briefly to AME churches in Leavenworth, Kansas, and New Orleans, Louisiana. In 1866, he was given a permanent pastorship in Natchez, Mississippi, where he settled with his wife and five daughters, continued his ministerial work, and founded schools for black children.

During Reconstruction, Revels was elected alderman in Natchez in 1868, and he was elected to represent Adams County in the Mississippi State Senate in 1869. As John R. Lynch reports, “so far as known he [Revels] had never voted, had never attended a political meeting, and of course, had never made a political speech. But he was a colored man, and presumed to be a Republican, and believed to be a man of ability and considerably above the average in point of intelligence.” [Lynch 1913] In January 1870, Revels presented a remarkable opening prayer in the state legislature. As Lynch says, “That prayer—one of the most impressive and eloquent prayers that had ever been delivered in the [Mississippi] Senate Chamber—made Revels a United States Senator. He made a profound impression upon all who heard him. It impressed those who heard it that Revels was not only a man of great natural ability but that he was also a man of superior attainments.”

Mississippi, being readmitted to the Union, had an open Senate seat that was last held by Jefferson Davis who had resigned to become President of the Confederate States of America. At the time, the state legislature elected US senators. Revels was elected by a vote of 81 to 15 in the Mississippi State Senate to finish the term of one of the state’s two seats in the US Senate left vacant since the Civil War. The seat had once been held by Albert G. Brown, who withdrew from the US Senate in 1861.

The election of Revels was met with opposition from Southern conservative Democrats who cited the Dred Scott Decision which was considered by many to have been a central cause of the American Civil War. They argued that no black man was a citizen before the 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868. Because election to the Senate required nine years’ prior citizenship, opponents of Revels claimed he could not be seated, having been a citizen by law for only two years. Supporters of Revels countered by stating that the Dred Scott decision applied only to those blacks who were of pure African blood. Revels was of mixed black and white ancestry, and therefore exempt, they said, and had been a citizen all his life. This argument prevailed, and on February 25, 1870, Revels, by a vote of 48 to 8, became the first black man to be seated in the United States Senate. Revels was praised in the newspapers for his oratorical abilities. His conduct in the Senate, along with that of the other African Americans who had been seated in the House of Representatives, also prompted a white contemporary, James G. Blaine, to say, “The colored men who took their seats in both Senate and House were as a rule studious, earnest, ambitious men, whose public conduct would be honorable to any race.”

After finishing her term in the United States Senate, Revels was named President of Alcorn College, the first college for African-Americans in Mississippi. Revels remained active in his ministry. For a time, he served as editor of the Southwestern Christian Advocate and taught theology at Shaw College (now Rust College), founded in 1866 in Holly Springs, Mississippi, where Revels and his family made their home. Hiram Revels died on January 16, 1901, while attending a church conference in Aberdeen, Mississippi.

It was by prayer that Revels was elevated to the United States Senate. It was by faith that he fought for justice for his people and mercy in reconciliation with the former Confederate states. His life was an expression of self-sacrifice and dedication to the spiritual and educational advancement of African-Americans.

Compiled from these sources:
1. U.S. Senate: Art & History Home; Photo Exhibit at www.senate.gov
2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hiram_Rhodes_Revels
3. On This Day, Dr. Paul E. Barkey, self-published 2009

GREAT FAITH IN AMERICAN CIVIL WAR

January 12th, 2010

The American Civil War led the United States to its final formation as a nation. [1] The amazing aspect of the Civil war is how much the leaders and troops of the North and South called upon God. Interestingly,  Abraham Lincoln was the first President to use the phrase, “This nation under God.”  Also,  major revivals broke out during the Civil War where hundreds of thousands experienced a conversion to Christ. [2]

There is no question that America’s Christian Heritage influenced those of the Civil War era. It was that faith and belief that carried these brave ancestors through the most difficult period of our formation as a nation. And, it was their faith that realized a new beginning founded on belief in Christ, forgiveness and restoration.

A glimpse of that faith may be seen in General Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson’s letters. On July 31st, 1862, he wrote to the Reverend Doctor Francis McFarland:

My dear Doctor,

I am very grateful to you for your prayers to God for the success of the operations which God has entrusted to me. Please continue to pray for me and for the success of the troops entrusted to me. It cheers my heart to think that many of God’s people are praying to our ever kind Heavenly Father for the success of the Army to which I belong. Without God’s blessing I look for no success, and for every success my prayer is, that all the glory may be given unto Him to whom it is properly due. If people would but give all the glory to God, and regard his creatures as but unworthy instruments, my heart would rejoice. Alas too frequently the praise is bestowed upon the creature. Whilst we must not forget the superior importance of spiritual victories, yet I trust that you under God’s direction do what you can in securing the prayers of His people for the success of our arms, especially for the success of those which are entrusted to me, an unworthy servant, but who desires to glorify his name even in my present military calling. My trust is in God for success. Praying for a continuation of your usefulness,

I remain your much attached friend.

T.J. Jackson [3]

“Without God’s blessing I look for no success,” Jackson stated. It surely reflects the faith of those great leaders that contributed to the United States of America being a great Christian nation.

Sources:
[1] April 1865, The Month That Saved America; Jay Wink; HarperCollins, 2001
[2] ChristianHistory.net, Memorializing the Civil War, 2004
[3] Copyright © 2002 by the Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia; http://valley.lib.virginia.edu/papers/A9511

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