NPT TRACKS ‘CRISIS OF FAITH’ IN “TENNESSEE CIVIL WAR 150″ SERIES
Important series presents religion and history scholars who provide context on division that led to war..
The vast majority of Americans in the first half of the 19th Century were highly religious, overwhelmingly Christian, and believed America was destined for greatness, in part because of their belief in God. This conviction was particularly strong in the heavily-protestant South. The belief among Southerners that they were ordained for greatness by God, though, was put to the ultimate test by The Civil War, making the war not only a crisis of country and conscience, but also a crisis of faith.
“Crisis of Faith,” the latest episode in Nashville Public Television’s “Tennessee Civil War 150” series, a joint production between NPT and the Renaissance Center, examines how positions on slavery and biblical interpretations on its morality divided religious denominations, and ultimately, the nation. Written and produced by NPT’s Justin Harvey (“Nashville: The 21st Century in Photographs,” “Nashville World War II Stories”), “Crisis of Faith” premieres Thursday, June 21 at 8:00 p.m., on NPT-Channel 8. It is the fifth episode in the “Tennessee Civil War 150” Series, a multi-part project coinciding with the Sesquicentennial anniversary of the Civil War. Previous installments include “Secession,” “Civil War Songs and Stories,” “No Going Back: Women and the War” and “Shiloh: The Devil’s Own Day.”
With interviews from notable religion and history scholars, including Mark Noll, James Byrd, Dennis Dickerson and Traci–Nichols Belt, among others, “Crisis of Faith” tracks the argument over slavery from the American Revolution, through the division of the Methodist, Baptist and Presbyterian Churches into northern and southern factions before the Civil War, and how that eventually led to a divided nation.
“The theological difficulty with slavery was the clear testimony of the scriptures,” says Noll in the documentary. “In the Old Testament and the New Testament, the defining figures of the Christian faith had not objected to slavery. In the Old Testament it’s obvious that Abraham had owned slaves. It was obvious that the Mosaic legislation had provided for Israel many provisions concerning the enslavement of those who were defeated in battle by the Israelites.“
Dickerson contextualizes this view: “With regard to slavery, the Confederacy believed that the Bible never condemned slavery. That in fact there was slavery all throughout the scripture, and that there was never any explicit condemnation of the practice. So, there was obviously no condemnation for the Confederacy and its version on its understanding of its democratic rights.“
Abolitionists had to instead turn to other methods to combat the overwhelming wave of Biblical support for slavery. Moral reasoning and Jesus’ command to love one another unconditionally became the preferred position. As quoted in the documentary, Henry Ward Beecher best explained the stance:
“’I came to open the prison-doors,’ said Christ; and that is the text on which men justify shutting them and locking them. ‘I came to loose those that are bound;’ and that is the text out of which men spin cords to bind men, women, and children. ‘I came to carry light to them that are in darkness and deliverance to the oppressed;’ and that is the Book from out of which they argue, with amazing ingenuity, all the infernal meshes and snares by which to keep men in bondage. It is pitiful.”
The constitution established for the Confederacy imitated closely that of the United States, except for one large addition, according to Noll — that of its belief in God and rule of God over the Nation.
Nichols-Belt adds “the Confederacy from its inception sets itself up as a Christian nation. They’re definitely not looking to set up a wall of separation between church and state. The Confederate Constitution says provoking the favoring and guidance in all mighty God. “
Once the war begins, providential reasoning took hold of the Confederacy, says Noll. There was a strong belief that the Lord was on its side, often echoed in Confederate President Jefferson Davis’s speeches referencing God — the God of battle, the God of nations — as the one who he trusted to bring success to the Confederacy.
“That high-profile voice was echoed by hundreds if not thousands of well-known and obscure Confederates who also felt very clearly that the Lord was on their side.”
Begun in 2011, and scheduled to continue for the next two years,” Tennessee Civil War 150” focuses on several areas of life in Tennessee, including the role of women, rivers & railways, music, the African-American experience and the Battle of Shiloh. The series will be supported by a comprehensive website and short broadcast vignettes that expand on the content in the documentaries.
“Tennessee Civil War 150″ is made possible in part by The Tennessee National Heritage Area, the Tennessee Dept. of Education and the Tennessee Sesquicentennial Commission.
For more info, contact Joe Pagetta at firstname.lastname@example.org