Tolbert Fanning–Advocate for Peace in 1861 (Part VI)

Below is the last of three articles Fanning wrote for the July 1861 Gospel Advocate where he attempts to persuade his audience (which extends from Virginia to Alabama to Texas) to resist the temptation to enter the fray between the Confederacy and the Union.  Christians, according to Fanning, must not participate in war “against their brethren and others” (“May Not Christians Engage in War Against Their Brethren or Others?” 7.7 [July 1861] 217-219).

Fanning lays much of the problem at the feet of preachers who use their position to promote violence rather than following the Prince of Peace. He is concerned that congregations are divided, brethren are killing each other, and some editors are calling for force rather than dialogue. Who is following Jesus, he asks?

In this article, Fanning clearly articulates his apocalyptic understanding that Christians are citizens of a different nation (the kingdom of God), and they have no role in constructing or remodeling any nation-state. They pay their taxes and respect the form of government under which they find themselves (whether monarchical or democratic or whatever), but they do not fight for it or against it except as kingdom people proclaim righteousness and peace as residents within any nation-state.

God may use the present crisis, Fanning surmises, as a test of Christian loyalty. Which “king” will believers follow? He writes in conclusion,

It may be that God intends to prove his people, and have a registry made of all who are worthy. The war may be the occasion for the test.

The righteous, he says, cannot shed the blood of their brothers or others.

****“May Not Christians Engage in War Against Their Brethren or Others?” Gospel Advocate 7.7 (July 1861) 217-219?****

We have received many enquirtes [sic] in reference to the duty and propriety of Christians voluntarily or otherwise engaging in war; but in our present issue, we are disposed to merely call attention to the position of parties, and add a few thoughts in regard to the character of the kingdom of the Savior.

We have not only been struck with the very hearty manner in which religious denominations of both sections of the country are engaging in the recently enaugurated [sic] war, but it must surprise the thoughtful to witness the conscientious zeal manifested by each in the frightful struggle. Both parties claim the sanction of Heaven, and very earnestly call upon God for help. Both cannot be right.

This is not the worst feature. Preachers and editors are leaders in the strife. We have thought, indeed, that we have heard not of more blood-thirsty exhibitions than have been manifested by preachers to excite the people to deeds of blood. The problem may be of difficult solution to men of the world, who have remained indifferent as to the authority of religion. Members of the same church are in deadly array against each other, all thinking they will render service to god in slaying their brethren, and in some instances their blood relatives. Not only are religionists foremost in the excitement, but are also in the very first ranks of the respective armies. A month ago, we had supposed that editors and preachers among the disciples were not disposed to imbrue their hands in each others blood, but we were mistaken. We notice in some of our exchanges, as The Christian Record for instance, by E. Goodwin, of Indiana,* the exhortation to put down oppositionpeaceably if we can, forceably [sic] if we must.” What can, and must be the state of mind in such as write in this manner? Are these blood thirsty men followers of Jesus of Nazareth? Can any one be fully under two antagonistic systems at the same time? Regarding the Christian institution, however, some very honestly entertain the following position, viz: Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace, that in order to make his reign triumphant, a bruised reed was not to be disturbed or the smoking flax quenched, that from the moment the Master told Peter to put up his sword, no offensive or defensive weapons, save the sword of the spirit, have ever been authorized for the use of his people. Such men also, generally, conclude that the kingdom of God is superior to the kingdoms and governments of the world—may possibly exist in any of them, or independently of them; and that the subjects of the spiritual kingdom should take no part in constructing or remodling [sic] the institutions of men. Still they are to pay their taxes, and be subject to every ordinance of man, whilst they are permitted to lead quiet, and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty. They also hold, that it is their right, if they find any civil government oppressive, to remove to another more favorable to their purposes, and in a word, they believe that Christians should take no part in the governments of the world, either to create them, fight for, or against them, or contribute in the least to their dissolution, unless it should be accomplished by the superior light of the truth, shining upon them. But quite religious men object to this view. Some of the grounds of their objection are the following:

1. They argue that, as Christians are lights in the world, they should have a controlling influence in the governments of men. This is answered by suggesting that possibly, the light of good men may be more successfully shed abroad, by keeping in their own sphere—the church,–in exerting all their influence through it, and that in attempting to control civil governments, they frequently become corrupt and lose all their power as Christians.

2. It is argued that, we cannot obey the powers that be, unless we shoulder our guns and fight for their defence [sic]. The answer of some is, that when the powers of the world require of the saints a course derogatory to the christian religion, it is not improper for them to say, “Whether it be right in the right [sic] of God to obey you, rather than God, judge ye.”

3. It is said unless Christians fight for their homes and families, they should not have the protection of the civil government.

It is answered that when the struggle is between two forms of government, or the administration of the same form by two contending parties, Christians may destroy themselves by interfering. We feel that it is proper in this connection to state our owo [sic] conviction touching the use of our property. It is evident, we accumulate and hold our property under the protection of civil government, and the civil authorities have the right at all times, to appropriate it, as they think best. We are to lay up enduring treasures in heaven.

But we did not introduce the subject of Christians taking the sword, for the purpose of at least for the present of arguing all the questions involved but mainly to call attention to the difficult points. We have looked at the matter calmly, and think we understand it, but we may be mistaken, and we are willing to hear the arguments of any, and of all, on both sides.

We have long been impressed with the belief that Christians should and must exert all their influence for good, through the church, and we are satisfied the time has come for trying our fealty to Christ. It may be the crisis will expose the utter worthlessness of most of the religions of our unhappy country, and enable believers to stand forth in their true colors. It may be that God intends to prove his people, and have a registry made of all who are worthy. The war may be the occasion for the test.

We may have more to say upon these matters as opportunity may offer, and yet we feel not a liberty to close without stating, that whilst all we have is subject to the call of our country, Christians and preachers particularly can perhaps accomplish the greatest amount of good, by employing none but spiritual weapons. If it should appear upon proper examination, that “the wicked are the sword of the Lord,” and that the righteous cannot shed the blood of their fellows with impunity, the sooner the brethren understand the truth the better. Peace must be secured by moral means alone. What influence are Christians exerting for the accomplishment of this earnestly desired end?

*Elijah Goodwin (1807-1881), of Indianapolis, IN, edited The Christian Record (which began in 1843) in 1861 and after the war merged it with the Christian Standard in 1866.

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