By Blaney Pridgen
All writers in Op Ed are here to inform and acknowledge issues of importance to our communities, however these writings represent the views and opinions of the authors and not necessarily of The Advertiser.
Once upon a time long ago, I took a graduate course in Southern Literature at the University of South Carolina. For a part of that study I remember writing a research paper on sermons preached in the “tall steeple churches” of Charleston during the years that led up to the War Between the States, a particularly uncivil war. In the Caroliniana Library, I specifically ferreted the sermons concerned with slavery. There were a plenty of them, especially in the newspapers. Sunday sermons in the well established churches were published sort of like opinion editorials in Monday and Tuesday editions. I doubt they were exactly considered to be opinions among the readership of the day. Perhaps more like reports from Mount Sinai, but maybe not. Well, absolutely none of the sermons I found were against slavery or even contained the slightest whiff of abolitionist sentiment. I reckon that the pastors of the establishment are rarely called to the voice of a prophet. These sermons actually made a subchristian argument for slavery.
The pulpiteers found their champion in the Apostle Paul in parts of his letters to nascent communities of Christians two millennia ago. Times were very different then, just like they were in the 1850’s. And it didn’t hurt that slavery and indentured servitude are throughout Old Testament literature. The hand of the Almighty was even seen in the cruelty of Pharaoh
In the maturation of the chosen. These were peculiar arguments.
The most peculiar argument concerned the souls and salvation of the early African Americans. (I refer to the slaves as Americans, not because of the citizenship they did not have, but because of where they lived and moved and had their being in the eyes of God along with their masters and the pastors who served them.) As passionately preached, these people were blessed by God through the institution of slavery to be introduced to Christianity. Also, the slave owners were called by God to be evangelists to their human properties. And, if the slave owners could not get them into the balconies of their churches, then they were obliged to preach the Good News to them at the plantation, as some of the slave owners did. Thus, the agency of God in human affairs was construed to work in this strange and mysterious way through slavery. Slavery afforded the Africans salvation. Thus, slave owners could be missionaries without ever having to leave home!
Jumping ahead a couple of generations after the midcentury, the memory of the War Between the States somehow became “The Lost Cause.” As some have said, “the North won the war but the South own the mythology.” Stories and recollections and some records describe several Southern generals as men of devout prayer in their wrestling with bellicose decisions and misgivings about their mission. Another way of putting this is that they sought the guidance of their understanding of God in the context of their culture and times. As anyone knows who actually prays a lot and regularly seeks Divine guidance, this can be a very tricky business. Discerning the will of God requires much reasonable sorting and history is the judge.
Which brings me to today. My research paper is lost in my personal history except in the mists of my memories. I am the opposite of a hoarder. Setting the paper aside, in a research of my own life history, I know that I have misread the tea leaves of prayer enough times to make me speak of God with fear and trembling. Fear and trembling are reasonable when it comes to the almighty and prayerful discernments. True believers, like me, can get it terribly and awfully wrong. Just saying.