After the revolutionary era, American churches promoting reasonably orthodox beliefs flourished, precisely because they adapted so energetically to the republican freedoms won by the War for Independence. But by i860 the mixture ofreligious and political freedom had taken on a sobering aspect. In both the North and the South, evangelical Christians, who held that the Bible was true and who trusted their own understandings of Scripture above all other religious authorities, constituted the most influential religious presence. Religion was now at a higher point of public influence than at any time in American history. Yet these Protestants recognised no authority greater than the Bible for adjudicating disagreements over interpretations of Scripture. In i860 such fundamental disagreement existed on what the Bible had to say about slavery that the churches were no help when the nation tore itself apart over the issue.
The Civil War itself offered great practical challenges to the churches, which were well met through the North's Christian Commission and, especially in the South, by a powerful surge of revival in the camps. The disintegration of 'Christian America' caused by competing claims about what it meant for a nation to be Christianised was a different matter. As a demographic indication of broader change, it was during the 1860s, while Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists and other Protestants were caught up in the civil strife, that the Roman Catholic Church became the largest Christian denomination in the United States.
Dilemmas of'Christian America', 1865-1914
Significant changes in American Christianity arose directly from the Civil War itself. In the victorious North concern for containing slavery gave way to a fixation on inner spirituality and to coping with industrialisation, the creation of large bureaucracies in government and industry, and the movement of people from farms to cities. For the defeated South, religion grew stronger, but at a price. In the wake of the War's economic and cultural devastation, evangelical denominations offered profound consolation. Yet they were also complicit in the passage of Jim Crow laws against blacks and the dreadful wave of lynchings that began in the 1870s and lasted for more than fifty years.
The Civil War also affected the way in which the West was incorporated into national religious life. Protestants soon found that the influence they had exerted east of the Mississippi would not extend much beyond the Mississippi, where a large Hispanic Catholic population already existed in the Southwest, Mormon settlements had spread over Utah and Idaho, Indian reservations
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