Towards a Southern national church (part II)

As noted in part I of this series, the major Protestant Christian denominations of the South separated from the generally more liberal Northern denominations either prior to secession or during the life of the Confederate States. The Episcopalians were somewhat unique in that their denomination was generally traditionalist and supportive of patriarchal values in both the North and South. As Glenn Robins of Georgia Southwestern State University notes in The Bishop of the Old South: The Ministry and Civil War Legacy of Leonidas Polk:

Aside from the social perception that Episcopalianism was a gentleman’s religion, the denomination appealed to the [US] army because it was the only major Protestant denomination to avoid a major schism prior to the Civil War. The Presbyterians, Methodists, and Baptists all split over the slavery issue in the late antebellum period. Furthermore, although doctrinal strife manifested from time to time, the relative intellectual and philosophical stability within the Episcopal denomination comported well with the army’s deep-seated social conservatism.

Nevertheless, Bishop Leonidas Polk, one of the South’s leading religious figures, came to embrace an independent Southern Anglican church.¬†Strongly pro-Southern throughout his life, in the aftermath of Abraham Lincoln’s election “The clearest indication of Polk’s Southern nationalism” was evident in his pro-secession political activism and continued biblical advocacy for the South. Though there were many strongly traditionalist figures in the Northern branch of his church, Polk announced:

Our separation from our brethren of ‘The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States’ has been effected, because we must follow our Nationality. Not because there has been any difference of opinion as to Christian Doctrine or Catholic usage. Upon these points we are still one…. our relations to each other hereafter will be the relations both now hold to the men of our Mother Church of England.

Source: Renewal, A Publication of the Secker Society, Cheryl H. White, Winter 2014-2015, page 3

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