The Battle for Jesus during the Civil War
The Civil War was a climactic moment, and its aftermath a turning point, not only in American national history, but in a lesser-known battle to bring Jesus into the sectional struggles of the mid-nineteenth century. During the war, when Lincoln was still alive, some prophesied that Jesus would return to set the captives free and save the Union. Confederates, meanwhile, struggled to figure out whether Jesus had forsaken them. It appeared that Jesus had invaded the American landscape. From proslavery forces bending their biblical readings to suit their slaveholding desires, to abolitionists cheering Jesus as a slave, from political redefinitions of the Golden Rule, to Nat Turner and John Brown speaking from prison that Jesus had led them to violence, Christ was a mighty presence. This lecture will consider images of Jesus in the Civil War era, and explain how the white South’s vision of Jesus carried on, even after the Confederacy’s defeat.
Paul Harvey, a graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University (BA 1983), and the University of California, Berkeley (Ph.D. 1992), is the author/editor of eight books in American religious history, including The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in American History (co-authored with Edward J. Blum, University of North Carolina Press).