From the Editor: Discovering the Unexpected - Again
Welcome to the latest issue of Christian History: Christianity and the American Revolution. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself surprised, as I did as I edited the issue.
I am amazed at the amount and depth of Christian influence during the American Revolution. All my historical training took place in secular schools, and my professors simply ignored the religious dimension of the Revolutionary era (which in this issue we’re stretching from the 1760s, the beginning of British taxation, to the 1790s, the beginning of Constitutional government). Yet as Harry Stout points out in the lead article, How Preachers Incited Revolution, it was Protestant clergy who propelled colonists toward independence and who theologically justified war with Britain. Furthermore, as the article Holy Passion for Liberty shows, Americans were quick to discern the hand of God in the tumultuous events of the times.
On the other hand, I’m perplexed at the increasingly small role Christian faith played as the era moved forward. Church attendance declined during the war, and though God is mentioned four times in the Declaration of Independence, he does not make an appearance in the Constitution. The founding fathers were deeply religious men, and they believed religion necessary for the survival of the country. But sometimes they mocked orthodox Christianity or, at best, remained cool towards it. And one of the most challenging mission fields of the day was the Continental Army!
Another surprise still: many devout believers were opposed to the war, and not necessarily on pacifist grounds.
And on it goes. The more I explored, the more surprises I found. And we simply didn’t have room to include how the era played out with Catholics, Christian women, and free blacks, among others.
So I’ve discovered once again that history is not what I expect it to be. It’s always much more interesting than that.
Be sure to tell us what you think.
I highly recommend Mary Silliman’s War, a dramatic video of one Puritan family’s Revolutionary War ordeal. It is based on a true story and shows, with realism and sympathy, how Christian faith inspired patriotic sacrifice, troubled consciences, and comforted hearts. Contact Heritage Films (1–800–400–3302) for more information.
Copyright © 1996 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian History magazine.
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