The Colonies’ Secession was Smart, the South’s Was Dumb

Maybe it is poor form at the national holiday to bring it up, but has anyone noticed the resemblance between 1776 and 1861? Sure, you can say that the Civil War involved more than preserving the union. Many Americans think the fight between North and South was to abolish slavery and preserve the union. But 1776 saw a similar dynamic – a group of slaveholders asserting their independence from a sovereign nation. So what am I missing?

One important difference could be intelligence. I remember being struck by the stupidity of southerners about twenty years ago during Independence Day festivities. (Mind you, I’m bi-regional so I can get away with speaking about my people this way.) I was surfing cable television on a Sunday evening – back when we had cable (and stupid enough to pay for television) and when Sabbatarian convictions were not where they should have been – and I came across the Independence Day worship service where Charles Stanley’s congregation in Atlanta was waxing patriotic by singing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Not only did this manifest a dumb reading of history since this particular hymn was written for a war fought almost a century after the Revolutionary War. It was also stupid because these residents of greater Atlanta were singing a song that the North had concocted to whoop up support for – among other military matters – General Sherman’s raid on central Georgia. To borrow Fosdick’s line, what incredible folly!

Now I see, thanks to one of our southern correspondents, that southern Protestants are still very patriotic and still lacking intelligence about which hymns go with which American wars. Greg Garrison of the Birmingham News writes the following:

Every summer on the Sunday closest to the Fourth of July, a vast array of churches breaks out the red, white and blue bunting and patriotic songs like “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” with salutes to the military and civil servants.

He goes on to report on the activities of various local congregations.

More Than Conquerors Faith Church will have its “Freedom Celebration” on Sunday at 10 a.m. with patriotic music and a procession of flags.

Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church will have its “Can America Still Trust in God?” worship service with patriotic music at 10:30 a.m. Lunch follows on the church picnic grounds.

St. Alban’s Episcopal Church will have patriotic music by Bobby Horton, Bill Bugg and others starting at 5 p.m., followed by a reading of the Declaration of Independence at 6:15 p.m. Sunday. . . .

It’s the most dramatic Fourth of July celebration ever for the church, said the Rev. Barry Vaughn, the rector.

“It will be the most patriotic thing we’ve done and people seem to be pretty excited about it,” Vaughn said. . . .

Briarwood Presbyterian Church will have its “Christianity in America” service on Sunday at 6 p.m., with patriotic music and a salute to the armed forces.

It will feature a musical tribute to America by the Alabama Philharmonic Orchestra, and arrangement of armed forces songs.

“It’s a tribute to those who served,” said the Rev. Clay Campbell, minister of music and worship pastor at Briarwood Presbyterian Church. “They enjoy putting on their uniforms and coming and being recognized.”

Campbell said that in the past, some have raised concerns that patriotic worship services are idolatrous and constitute worshipping the state.

“We’re not worshipping America,” he said. “We’re giving thanks to God for the blessing he’s placed on America.”

That may not be the way that some see it if Dinesh D’Souza is going to be your guest preacher tomorrow.

Dinesh D’Souza, author of “What’s So Great About Christianity,” will speak in the “Celebrate America” patriotic service at Valleydale Church on Sunday at 9:30 a.m.

D’Souza, a native of India who came to America at age 16 and became well-known as a political commentator and author of best-selling books on social issues, will talk about his love for his adopted country.

“Patriotism is entirely appropriate on this day,” D’Souza said in a phone interview. “The Christian foundation of America is that the root ideas of America are based on Christian influence and assumptions. You hear people talk about did Thomas Jefferson go to church regularly or did Ben Franklin believe in the Trinity. I don’t care if Jefferson believed in miracles. He sat down and asked where do rights come from. He could think of only one source, the Creator. That’s in the Declaration of Independence.”

Of course, there is an easy way for southerners to be smart about all this – it is the spirituality of the church option of psalm singing. Especially when Sunday coincides with July 4th, Psalm 146 is fitting:

1 Praise the LORD.
Praise the LORD, O my soul.

2 I will praise the LORD all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.

3 Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortal men, who cannot save.

4 When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
on that very day their plans come to nothing.

5 Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the LORD his God,

6 the Maker of heaven and earth,
the sea, and everything in them—
the LORD, who remains faithful forever.

7 He upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets prisoners free,

8 the LORD gives sight to the blind,
the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down,
the LORD loves the righteous.

9 The LORD watches over the alien
and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

10 The LORD reigns forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the LORD.


12 thoughts on “The Colonies’ Secession was Smart, the South’s Was Dumb

  1. Bi-regional? I question your Southern proclivities sir.

    As a son of Dixie myself though, I appreciate your call for repentance and reformation in worship. May that call be heard by everyone in all regions of this great land!

    I agree with your comments about the so called Battle Hymn of the Republic (a most despicable song in my estimation). I am told, though I cannot verify it having never met the lady, that the song’s author, one Ms. Julia Ward Howe, was a Unitarian. If true, singing such a tune as an act of worship seems as blasphemous as belting out the words to My Sweet Lord by George Harrison in a church service.

    May God grant us repentance and discernment.


  2. Jerry,

    Julia Ward Howe certainly was Unitarian by 1861, when she wrote the BH. There is a large depository of her letters and diaries at one of the northern Universities; sorry, I forget where, but I read much of it. They have some facsimiles of her letters and writings.

    Great post DG, as always.


  3. Vern, so the South’s rebellion was a revolution, same difference.

    Kevin, believe it or not, no one printed up bumper stickers saying this is a revolution. The word carries connotations that lots of Federalists disliked, such as when the little kerfuffle broke out in Paris. Seems that revolution made some more comfortable with War for Independence. In which case, the South declared its independence in 1861.


  4. Daryl, the south explicitly denied they were engaging in revolution. And Benjamin, you should check everything Dilorenzo says against the historical record before accepting his word on anything.


  5. This feels a little mean spirited, but it irritates me every time so I’ll say it anyway. The name of the country America revolted against (well, that a minority of Americans revolted against) is the United Kingdom of Great Britain. England ceased to be a country in 1707.


  6. I surely agree with the comparison, but do not know how you conclude that the attempt by the South to assert their sovereign liberty was “dumb.” If it is by results, then are we to judge the rightness of an action only by it’s outcome, in hindsight?

    I have seen the same awful nationalism (not patriotism) across the South in churches. I see it in my state of California amongst the so-called “right wing, conservative” churches and the mega-churches. I think this explains what you are seeing as Southern—it is not Southern, it is simply that the South is the “Bible Belt” and there are number of conservative churches.

    The problem is not being dumb–it is the lack of sound, orthodox doctrine concerning how the Bible couches liberty and war. Until 100 years ago, it was customary that the Southern Baptist Convention send a letter to Washington D.C. each year pleading for peace and the avoidance of war. You won’t hear that in these “right-wing, conservative” churches. They preach warmongering and torture, and the “ends justify the means, particularly the bringing about of the return of the Lord as taught in dispensational eschatology.”


  7. “Battle Hymn”, if you can mentally separate out the “Yeah America!” stuff, is chillingly apocalyptic. Real Last Day, final judgment stuff. If you can’t, eh, not so good. Maximally pessimal.

    Teh Wikipedia (YMMV) tells me Dinesh D’Souza’s a Roman Catholic.


  8. Regardless of what it was or was not called, the American colonies left/departed from/withdrew from/seceded from England to govern themselves; the colonies did not revolt in order to rule over England as well as themselves. Likewise, the Southern states left/departed from/withdrew from/seceded from the United States, to govern themselves — not to drag Michigan and New York and the remainder of the USA into the CSA, nor to convert Connecticut and Maine and other “free” states into slaveholding states, nor to “take over” the District of Columbia and governmental structure of the United States.


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