The fall of the Confederacy proved traumatic for a people who
fought with the belief that God was on their side. Yet, as Eugene
D. Genovese writes in A Consuming Fire, Southern
Christians continued to trust in the Lord's will. The churches had
long defended "southern rights" and insisted upon the divine
sanction for slavery, but they also warned that God was testing His
people, who must bring slavery up to biblical standards or face the
wrath of an angry God.
In the eyes of proslavery theorists, clerical and lay, social
relations and material conditions affected the extent and pace of
the spread of the Gospel and men's preparation to receive it. For
proslavery spokesmen, "Christian slavery" offered the South, indeed
the world, the best hope for the vital work of preparation for the
Kingdom, but they acknowledged that, from a Christian point of
view, the slavery practiced in the South left much to be desired.
For them, the struggle to reform, or rather transform, social
relations was nothing less than a struggle to justify the trust God
placed in them when He sanctioned slavery.
The reform campaign of prominent ministers and church laymen
featured demands to secure slave marriages and family life, repeal
the laws against slave literacy, and punish cruel masters. A
Consuming Fire analyzes the strength, weakness, and failure of
the struggle for reform and the nature and significance of southern
Christian orthodoxy and its vision of a proper social order, class
structure, and race relations.
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