Heritage, Not Hate

{This was written for a newsletter of the local Sons of Confederate Veterans chapter, in part over concern for potential prejudices within such an organization.}

One of the main purposes of the Sons of Confederate Veterans is to preserve and educate people about the heritage of our ancestors. We can wave the Battle Flag or the Bonnie Blue; we can speak of Southern hospitality and maybe do it in a Southern drawl; we can argue the right of self-determinism and place in a more accurate context the evils of slavery and the part it played in the culture. But what of our spiritual heritage?

We can easily find the word “Christian” on our lips, but what does it mean? Was the soul of the South a matter of denominational affiliation and particular belief? After all, such things divide us amongst ourselves, no matter how small the group. The South could very much be describes as “Christian” — as could the North — but there were two primary differences. Here’s a brief history lesson:

First, there was a theological difference. In general, Northern preachers concerned themselves with social justice issues more than individual salvation; in the South, the opposite was true. In other words, the balance was different between altar calls and charitable good works, though both were found throughout. Originally, this was not about liberalism or conservatism, Catholic or Protestant. But in one way it was a denominational issue. Over the 15 years preceding the Succession, many of the larger Protestant groups had already drawn lines between the “Northern” and “Southern” church communities. To this day, though no longer geographically exclusive, we still talk of such things as “Southern Baptists” and the “Missouri Synod” Lutherans.

Secondly, the Southern denominations didn’t work as well together as in the North. There was no Christian Commission south of the Mason-Dixon line, except for the smuggling in of scriptures and leaflets to Southern soldiers by Northern Christians. And there certainly was no Sanitary Commission (its secular counterpart) in the South, as unchurched as was a significant percentage of the population. This didn’t mean denominational confrontation necessarily, but perhaps more autonomy, which hints to a context truly within “Southern” life and values.

The regionalism of such a large country was primarily economic, and naturally heavily influenced by geography. The South was more agrarian because it made sense in terms of climate. There were more ports in the North, which better accommodated merchants and manufacturers, not to mention larger, more concentrated populations. The point is that such things affect culture, and the needs of the people in the South were different of those in the North, economically and otherwise. The North had a larger influence over national policy, which included tariffs and other laws that detrimented the other regions, in particular the South.

Southerners saw the need for state’s rights when the union (in the pre-war sense) did not serve well the locals. It is possible this dissatisfaction spread to religious circles, where Southern something-ists or other-arians were a minority in their own religion. Even at the time of the war, many Southern chaplains had received their education in the seminaries of the North because that is simply where they existed. If the cultures of North and South drew apart, and the animosity of the situation grew stronger, it would make sense it would manifest itself on a religious front before coming to a head in the more formally mechanized political medium. The South wanted out as a people, and they had more freedom in their churches than in their federally-subservient state capitols.

So to preserve the religious heritage, at least in memory (as it has changed quite much in myriad ways since then), we must look for those interdenominational values that were tied to all other aspects of Southern culture. I’m not of Southern decent, so I am wiling to stand corrected, but I believe these values are centered around a personal relationship with God in a way of your own choosing, yet still with a respect for your kinfolk and countrymen. It means you still take your hat off in a church and appreciate grace before meals even if you might not want to be the one giving it. It means you have an old-fashioned sense of right and wrong, even though you don’t always follow it and need a little forgiveness now and then. It means being a sinner, yet saved. And it means that Christian majority or not, you have a right to your way of life and be proud of it.

A man can be a Southern gentleman without being racist, a Christian without imposing his beliefs on others, and be public about who he is without having to apologize. Let us honor these values for what they are, and in a way we can all respect and admire.

Ken posted at 2007-10-18 Category: Uncategorized
Log in here!