Christianity and the American Revolutionary War
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" (n.pag). According to Cassandra Niemczyk in her article in this issue of Christian History "(the Protestant Clergy) were known as "the Black Regiment" (n.pag). 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" (n.
Mark Galli, the editor of this issue says "many devout believers were opposed to the war, and not necessarily on pacifist grounds. Most colonial legislatures exempted pacifists, such as Quakers and Mennonites, from military duty although they were still fined to underwrite the expenses of the war" (n.pag). Stout goes on to say " Pacifist opposition to the war was concentrated in Pennsylvania. Quakers, Mennonites, and Amish refused to fight, and for their refusal were suppressed and humiliated like the royalists" (n.
pag). Often the pacifists served in hospitals, tending to both British and American wounded.
From these readings one can discern that Eighteenth-century America was a deeply religious culture. Sermons taught not only the way to personal salvation in Christ but also the way to temporal and national prosperity for God’s chosen people. Timothy D. Hall a professor at Central Michigan
University in The American Revolution and the Religious Public Sphere gives us this overview: ;Religion played other important roles in mobilizing support for Revolution regardless of whether it was evangelical or not.
Colonists often encountered Revolutionary themes for the first time when local ministers announced the latest news from the pulpit or when parishioners exchanged information after Sunday meetings. Ministers occupied an important place in the colonial communications network throughout the eighteenth century, especially in towns where few people had access to newspapers and official information was dispensed from the pulpit or lectern. Sunday afternoons provided a convenient time for men who had already gathered for worship to form militia units and drill, and many ministers used their sermons to motivate the minutemen. Israel Litchfield, a young Massachusetts minuteman, recorded that his local minister keyed Biblical texts and sermon themes to the great events of 1775. In Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley the Lutheran minister John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg concluded a Sunday sermon of 1775 by throwing back his ministerial robe to reveal a military uniform, rolling the drum for Patriot recruits, and leading them out for drill. Few ministers matched Muhlenberg’s flair for drama, but many throughout the colonies used their pulpits to mobilize resistance.
The article by Peter M. Calhoun containing the Christian History TimelineChristianity and the American Revolution gives us an overview of important dates for both Christianity and the Revolution. Some of these are: Christianity: 1740’s Great Awakening inspired by George Whitefield’s preaching spreads through colonies: 1747: Jonathan Edwards’s The Visible Union of God’s People envisions Americans bound together by shared conversion experience: 1750: Jonathan Mayhew’s Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance announces Christian duty to resist tyranny. Revolution: 1740-1748: King George’s WarFrench and British maneuver to dominate North America: 1760 George III becomes king of England: 1756-1763: Seven Years’ WarBritish expel French from North America: 1764: Sugar ActBritain tightens enforcement of the acts of trade,
seeking more revenues from colonies: 1765: Stamp ActAmericans complain of taxation without representation 1773: Boston Tea Party protests Tea Act of 1773.
The article entitled America a New Haven states that "clergy in the Revolutionary era reminded people not only what they were fighting against, namely tyranny and idolatry, but also what they were fighting for: a new heaven and a new earth" (n.pag).
Some argue that the American Revolution was motivated by Christian idealsthe love of political and religious liberty, and the passion to create a society built on Biblical values. Derek H. Davis in his article Jesus vs the Watchmaker suggests that
"many scholars say the Revolution was merely the product of Enlightenment deistsrationalists who believed God, like a watchmaker, set the universe running and let people manage it by reason. They wanted to found a just and free society on rational, scientific principles. It certainly appears that during the war and in the aftermath of .