Yes, this post may be a game changer–where I dare to speak of religion, politics, and money–Growing up it was drilled into me to never talk about these topics in public and open conversation. But why? Was this always an American position, or when did this begin?
From the history of my 15th-century ancestors primarily from England, France, Scotland and Wales, I learned that when people upheld their beliefs in conversation or practice, they were persecuted, imprisoned, condemned to death and mutilated, banished, or forced to flee their lands and families.
Persecution of Huguenots by Catholics
The slaughter of Huguenots (French Protestants) by Catholics at Sen, Burgundy in 1562 occurred at the beginning of more than thirty years of religious strife between French Protestants and Catholics. These wars produced many atrocities. The worst was the notorious St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in Paris, August 24, 1572. Thousands of Huguenots were butchered by Roman Catholic mobs. Although an accommodation between the two sides was sealed in 1598 by the Edict of Nantes, religious privileges of Huguenots eroded during the seventeenth century and were extinguished in 1685 by the revocation of the Edict. As many as 400,000 French Protestants emigrated to various parts of the world, including the British North American colonies.
“Souled Out” – European Persecution
America has long been a land where people have reserved the right to say, “I disagree.” Many early settlers left England in the first place because they disagreed with English practice. Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson were two brave puritan souls who reminded everyone at their own great peril of that most sacred right.The dominance of the concept, denounced by Roger Williams as “enforced uniformity of religion,” meant majority religious groups who controlled political power punished dissenters in their midst. It was this religious conviction and persecution that drove Protestants and Catholics alike from Europe to the British North American. Nonconformists were shown no mercy and many were executed as heretics.
In some areas, Catholics persecuted Protestants, Protestants persecuted Catholics, and in still others, Catholics and Protestants, persecuted wayward coreligionists. Although England renounced religious persecution in 1689, it persisted on the European continent. Religious persecution, as observers in every century have commented, was often bloody and implacable and is remembered and resented for generations.
Religion and the American Civil War
Three of our nation’s leading Protestant denominations—Presbyterians, Methodists, and Baptists—were all divided over slavery or related issues. These church divisions fractured political parties and ultimately helped to divide the nation.
Christians who opposed the war on religious grounds were often persecuted. The Brethren eventually were allowed to be exempted from military service if they paid $500, but most suffered for their stance. For example, John Kline, moderator of the Brethren Annual Meeting, became distrusted because he provided medical aid to soldiers from both armies. Once he was jailed for two weeks, without cause, and in June 1864 he was ambushed and murdered.
Many preachers, especially in the North, felt that through the war the final glorious reign of God would begin. Both sides thought the war would be over in three months. Instead, it lasted four years, until 364,511 Union and approximately 260,000 Confederate soldiers lay dead from bullets and disease. More Americans died in the Civil War than died in all other American wars combined.
Many of the British North American colonies that eventually formed the United States of America were settled in the seventeenth century by men and women, who, in the face of European persecution, who stood up for and refused to compromise their passionately held religious convictions.
The New England colonies, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland were conceived and established “as plantations of religion.” Some settlers who arrived in these areas came for secular motives–“to catch fish” as one New Englander put it–but the great majority left Europe to worship God in the way they believed to be correct. They enthusiastically supported the efforts of their leaders to create “a city on a hill” or a “holy experiment,” whose success would prove that God’s plan for his churches could be successfully realized in the American wilderness. Even colonies like Virginia, which were planned as commercial ventures, were led by entrepreneurs who considered themselves “militant Protestants” and who worked diligently to promote the prosperity of the church. Many of my ancestors, in fact, were Quaker, Baptist, and Methodist ministers.
May 25 – September 17,1787: The Philadelphia Convention
The Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries and “Political Correctness”
- 2/3’s of respondents reported that religion was somewhat to very important in their lives
- 3 out of 5 respondents said they prayed outside of religious services from several times a day to at least once a week
- 55 percent of respondents reported their religion as either Protestant (37 percent) or Catholic (18 percent)
- Just under one-third of respondents reported themselves as born-again Christians
- Just under 2/3’s said this country today is: “off on the wrong track”
- 80 percent said they would vote for either Clinton (42 percent) or Trump (38 percent)
- 83 percent when asked the voting question a little differently, “whether they had a good idea of who they would vote for;” said: “I have no idea”
Off on the wrong track 63%
Not sure 9%
12% Somewhat unfavorable
45% Very unfavorable
3% Don’t know
10% Somewhat unfavorable
51% Very unfavorable
4% Don’t know
I have a good idea of who I’ll vote for 83%
I’m still making up my mind 9%
Not sure 3%
Donald Trump (Republican) 38%
Gary Johnson (Libertarian) 6%
Jill Stein (Green) 1%
Not sure 8%
Probably won’t vote 2%
- How important is religion in your life?
Very important 37%
Somewhat important 29%
Not too important 16%
Not at all important 17%
144. Aside from weddings and funerals, how often do you attend religious services?
More than once a week 10%
Once a week 15%
Once or twice a month 10%
A few times a year 14%
Don’t know 2%
145. Would you describe yourself as a “born-again” or evangelical Christian, or not?
146. People practice their religion in different ways. Outside of attending religious services, how often do you pray?
Several times a day 29%
Once a day 16%
A few times a week 13%
Once a week 3%
A few times a month 6%
Don’t know 2%
147. What is your present religion, if any?
Roman Catholic 18%
Eastern or Greek Orthodox 1%
Nothing in particular 21%
Something else 5%
Abraham Lincoln’s Perspective
Whether choosing to talk politics, whose side you’re on, who you voted for and why, or comparing the laws of man to God’s laws, Abraham Lincoln probably said it best when he said, “My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”
Christianity and the Civil War
History.com’s This Day In History: September 17, 1787
Library of Congress: Religion and the Founding of the American Republic
Pew Research Fact Tank: Key Findings About Faith and Politics in the 2016 Presidential Campaign
The Economist/YouGov Poll: October 2016
The Journal of Southern Religion: The Politics of Faith During the Civil War
USHistory.org: Dissent in Massachusetts Bay