Sunday, August 11, 2013

The American Right to Revolt Against Tyranny: Part B—Colonial Pulpits

Does it seem plausible that the true spark of the American Revolution was the religion of peace—Christianity? In fact, how could it be any other way in a country expressly founded to establish Christian religious liberty?

Colonial America was one of the most intensely evangelized and churched societies in history. For example, according to Harry Stout in The New England Soul: Preaching and Religious Culture in Colonial New England, the typical colonists probably listened to 7,000 hours of sermons in their lifetime. For many colonists, their instruction in religion, science, history, politics and most other subjects were delivered only by the pulpit. And the first wave of American ministers were Harvard trained.

Early American society was so influenced by the Bible, church, and preaching that it took on many of these traits by exposure and lack of other influences. Many colonists lived isolated existences, and counted only a few books, the Bible being chief in most homes. And weekly church meetings would have filled the role of religious instruction, social gathering and information exchange with neighbors. As the States grew and began to struggle for an independent voice from mother England, especially after mad King George pressed America for increasing funds, pulpits began to ring with protests, as detailed in James P. Byrd’s Sacred Scripture, Sacred War: The Bible and the American Revolution. Historian Gordon S. Wood wrote,

It was the clergy who made the Revolution meaningful for most common people,” because “for every gentleman who read a scholarly pamphlet and delved into Whig and ancient history for an explanation of events, there were dozens of ordinary people who read the Bible and looked to their ministers for an interpretation of what the Revolution meant.
In a land dominated by Christianity, it is inevitable that the plans to resist tyranny, fight for liberty and form a new nation were at first advanced in the form of sermons across the colonies.

I. Understanding the Colonial American Mindset

The colonies were an offshoot of a British society remarkable for its piety and seriousness of Christian focus. The colonies, being built upon a Christian mission, were even more devout. And because they were an outpost, without much infrastructure, the church dominated society. Stout writes,
In Revolutionary New England, ministers continued to monopolize publiccommunications, and the terms they most often employed to justify resistance and to instill hope emanated from the Scriptures and from New England’s enduring identity as an embattled people of the Word who were commissioned to uphold a sacred and exclusive covenant between themselves and God. The idea of a national covenant supplied the “liberties” New Englanders would die protecting, as well as the “conditions” that promised deliverance and victory over all enemies. It also provided the innermost impulsion toward radical thought and violent resistance to British “tyranny” in New England.

CONTINUED:  The American Right to Revolt Against Tyranny: Part B—Colonial Pulpits

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