The churches of Christ in Middle Tennessee presented the following petitions to the governing authorities of the Confederacy and the State of Tennessee during the War Between the States. They have been preserved for us in David Lipscomb’s book “Civil Government.” The faithfulness and respectful submissiveness of these brothers serve as an example and a challenge for the church of today.
TO HIS EXCELLENCY THE PRESIDENT OF THE CONFEDERATE STATES OF AMERICA:
WHEREAS, A large number of the members of the churches of Jesus Christ throughout this and the adjoining counties of the State of Tennessee, feel a deep sense of responsibility they are under to recognize the Bible in its teachings, as the only infallible guide of their life, and the supreme authoritative rule of action, and as being of supreme authority to and more binding upon the subjects of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, than the rules and regulations of any human government or power, they would respectfully represent:
- That they are fully satisfied that God, through the Scriptures of Sacred Truth, demands of his servants that they should submit quietly, heartily, and cheerfully to the government under which they may live, in all cases, except when compliance with the civil law would involve a violation of the law of God. They are deeply impressed with the truth that when there is a conflict between the requirements of worldly government and the law of God, the duty of the Christian, is, upon the peril of his well-being, to obey God first, let the consequences be to him what they may.
- They are firm in the conviction of the truth, that no man who regards the authority of God, the spirit and letter of the Sacred Scriptures in their proper division and application, the life and teachings of the Son of God, or his Holy Apostles, as given for the guidance of his followers, can in any manner engage in, aid, foment, or countenance the strifes, animosities, and bloody conflicts in which the civil governments are frequently engaged, and in which they often involve their subjects.
The measure and limit of their duty to, and connection with the governments under which they live, as laid down in the Sacred Scriptures, is not an active participation in the affairs to destroy or upbuild, but simply a quiet and cheerful submission to its enactments, in the payment of tribute and any demands on our property or time, modified only, by the first and highest obligation to obey God.
With these considerations of what our duty to God requires at our hands, the enforcement of the ‘Conscript Act’ for the purpose of raising and maintaining an army, for the carrying on of this unhappy war, in which our country is involved, cannot fail to work indescribable distress to those members of our churches holding these convictions. Some of them will be driven as exiles from their homes, for no political preferences, but because they dare not disobey the commandments of God. Others may be thrown into seeming opposition to your government, suffering imprisonment and punishment as may be inflicted on them. Others still by the pressure of circumstances, may be driven to a deeply sadder fate, the violation of all their conscientious convictions of duty to their Maker and Master, whom they have under the most solemn vows, pledged themselves to serve.
In view of these things, we are induced to make a statement of these facts to you, with the hope that some relief may be afforded to those of our members thus distressed.
We are the more encouraged, too, in this hope, from the fact that we perceive that the Congress of the Confederate States of America, with a commendable regard for the conscientious convictions of its subjects, made provision upon certain conditions for the exemption of the members of certain denominations of professed Christians, from the performance of requirements repulsive to their religious faith. With the view, too, that this law might not act invidiously with reference to individuals or bodies of individuals, not specifically named in said act, the power was vested in the Honorable President, of making such further exemptions as, in his judgment, justice, equity, or necessity might demand. We respectfully petition of you that those members of our churches, who are now, and have been striving to maintain a position of Christian separation from the world, its strifes, and conflicts, may be relieved, on terms equitable and just, from requirements repulsive to their religious faith, and that they may be, at least, placed upon a footing similar to that in which denominations holding a like faith are placed.
BEECH GROVE, Williamson County, Tenn., Nov 13th, 1862
David Lipscomb goes on to comment:
This document was signed by the elders and evangelists of ten or fifteen congregations, and was the means of saving all those members of the church who would take this position, set forth above, and stand firmly to it, from service in the war through which we passed.
The following petitions are of similar nature, and were presented to Union Authorities when they were in power in the state of Tennessee:
TO THE RULING AUTHORITIES OF THE STATE OF TENNESSEE:
WHEREAS, A large number of the members of the Churches of Jesus Christ feel a deep sense of the responsibility they are under to recognize the Bible in its teachings, as the only infallible guide and authoritative rule of action, and as being of superior authority to, and more binding upon the subjects of the kingdom of Jesus Christ than any human rules or regulations, they would most respectfully represent.
- That they recognize the necessity for the existence of civil government, so long as a considerable portion of the human family fails to submit to the government of God.
- That while God demands of his servants that they should submit cheerfully and heartily, to the government under which they may live, in all cases, except when compliance with the requirements of civil government involves the violation of God’s law, they are deeply impressed with the truth that when there is a conflict between the requirements of civil government and the law of God, the duty of the Christian is, upon peril of his eternal well-being, to obey God first, let the consequences be to him what they may.
- They are satisfied that the measure of their duty to civil government, as defined in the Bible, is to submit, not by personal participation in affairs of government, to uphold or destroy, pull down or upbuild, but simply, as a duty they owe to God, to submit, and in that submission, modified only as above to discharge the offices of good citizens in all relations of life.
- They are firmly impressed with the truth that no man who regards the authority of God, or of his Holy Apostles, as set forth in example and precept, for the instruction and guidance of his followers in the future ages of the world, can engage in, or in any way aid, foment, or countenance the strifes, animosities, and bloody conflicts in which civil governments are frequently engaged, and in which they involve their subjects.
- The spirit of the Church of Christ and the spirit of civil government are different. The one is a spirit of force, violence, and destruction of life. So they must maintain that existence by force. But we suppose the future, with slight variations, will repeat the history of the past. But Christianity permits not its subjects to use force or do violence, even in defense of its own existence; its guiding spirit is one of love, “peace on earth and good will toward man.”
- The difference in the spirit of the two institutions, the government of God and the government of man, together with the diversity of the means essential to the prosperity and success of each respectively, necessarily, at times, involves a conflict in their respective requirements. We, therefore, in behalf of the churches of which we are members, respectfully petition of you that the requirements which, as we believe, conflict with our duties to God, may be remitted to those members of our churches who have been, and are now, striving to maintain a position of Christian separation from the world, its conflicts and strifes, as set forth in the preceding articles.
- We firmly believe that the oaths of allegiance, and the oaths to support and defend the governments of the world, now imposed as necessary to the transaction of the common affairs of life, are contrary to the spirit and teachings of the Savior and his inspired Apostles, and involve, if strictly complied with, a violation of some of the plainest precepts of the Christian religion. We therefore, feel that in taking these oaths and obligations, and in performing those requirements that have an appearance of countenancing bloodshed and violence, we are violating the obligations of fealty we have taken with our Heavenly Master. We imperil the well-being of the church, dishonor God, and involve ourselves in eternal ruin. We, therefore, respectfully ask a release from the performance of these requirements, and others of similar character, assuring you again, that we recognize it as a solemn duty we owe to God, to submit to the government under which we may live, in all its requirements, save when that government requires of us something contrary to the letter and spirit of the Christian religion, as revealed in the Bible.
TO HIS EXCELLENCEY ANDREW JOHNSON, GOVERNOR OF THE STATE OF TENNESSEE:
We, the undersigned, having been appointed a committee by an assembly of members of churches of Jesus Christ, met at Leiper’s Fork, Williamson County, Tenn., to present to your Excellency their grievances, and in their and our behalf to petition of you a release from certain requirements made at their hands, would most respectfully represent that the mass of the members of the churches of Jesus Christ, in the counties of Davidson, Williamson, Maury, and Hickman, and many others scattered through other counties of Middle Tennessee, believe that all military service, or connection with military service, is utterly incompatible with the spirit and requirements of the Christian religion. Believing this, they cannot comply with the requisition made of them in common with other residents of the State, for enrolling themselves for military service without a violation of their solemn conscientious convictions of duty to their Lord and Master, and a violation of their vows of fealty to him. We, therefore, in behalf of these churches and members of churches, respectfully petition of you, in the exercise of your authority, a release from those requirements, that are repugnant to their religious faith, upon terms that you may consider just and right. We desire to assure you in this requires and movement, upon the faith and integrity of Christians, we are acting from no factious or political motive, but from a single desire of preserving our faith and profession of Christianity pure. Praying earnestly that your counsels of the of the rulers of our country may be so conducted as to restore to our country a speedy and lasting peace, we are most obediently and respectfully yours.
Signed by Committee