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Texas History: Civil War and the Church

The American Civil War brought much sorrow to our country. Sometimes called the “Brother’s War,” it pitted families against each other. The war between the states finally ended in 1865 with approximately 700,000 soldiers killed and millions more injured.

Though the war started in 1861, tension built in earlier years over stubborn issues that refused to be settled through elections, politics, or sermons. Yes, even the church was divided prior to the Civil War, and that may have contributed to the horrific bloodshed.

The reasons for the Civil War are primarily based upon whose values and beliefs would control the economic and political destiny of the States. Among the specific disputes that led to war were States’ rights, slavery, industry versus agriculture, and the secession movement.

But what was the church in Texas saying? When the congregation gathered for worship, did the pastor address the issues that were driving the state toward war? As we study history, we see that the preachers in Texas were not in agreement on the primary issues.

Certainly, a major flashpoint was slavery. Some churches supported slavery while others were either silent or weakly opposed to it. Church officials were aware that the Texas economy was dependent upon keeping slavery viable, and the stupefying ramifications if slavery was outlawed.

Before the war began, violence over the issue of slavery was already engulfing Texas. The region around Fort Worth quickly became a hotspot for pro-slavery “vigilance committees.” These groups spread rumors that abolitionist (anti-slavery) groups were burning towns and murdering citizens that supported slavery.

In the summer of 1860, suspicious fires were breaking out around Fort Worth. The fear of these lawless actions caused panic among the citizenry, and eventually partial blame was focused on a recently arrived Methodist preacher named Anthony Bewley.

In 1858, Bewley immigrated from Virginia to Texas with his family. He began to serve as a circuit-riding preacher throughout the area and sermonized against slavery. Soon, baseless rumors named Bewley as an abolitionist who was responsible for the fires.

When Bewley tried to escape from Texas, a “vigilance committee” captured him, brought him back to Fort Worth, and handed him over to a lynch mob. On Sept. 13, 1860, Bewley was hanged and left on public display through the next day. After being buried in a shallow grave, his bones were unearthed, stripped of their flesh, and left to decay in the elements.

This mob violence incensed a whole nation and contributed to starting a horrible civil war that still disturbs our nation today. Be warned, we must stop the bitterness and anger that is currently consuming our nation or things will get worse. As it says in Hosea 4:2, “Bloodshed follows bloodshed.”

Please pray for our country. May the Lord quell the violence and send a mighty revival of righteousness and peace. Jesus is the only answer.

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