Episode 19: The War Between the States
In this episode, we learn about how the new Seventh-day Adventist Church coped with the American Civil War.
An important part of the early story was an editorial James White wrote about the draft. I was glad to hear Lucio cover this aspect of the church’s struggle. One meaningful reaction against White’s argument — which was to follow the state’s orders because the moral blame lies on the government that commanded it — was someone who pointed out this was the exact logic the church was arguing against in the context of Sunday laws. Clearly, there were good reasons to oppose James’ early views on the topic.
The amount of debate demonstrates that there were mixed views in the early group about how Adventists should respond to war and the draft. However, the denomination’s official stance became clear:
May 17, 1865… While we thus cheerfully render to Caesar the things which the Scriptures show to be his, we are compelled to decline all participation in acts of war and bloodshed as being inconsistent with the duties enjoined upon us by our divine Master toward our enemies and toward all mankind.
(GC declaration quoted from Douglas Morgan, “The Beginnings of a Peace Church: Eschatology, Ethics, and Expedience in Seventh‐day Adventist Responses to the Civil War,”Andrews University Seminary Studies 45, no. 1 [Spring 2007]: 36.)
That this pronouncement was prescriptive and not entirely descriptive is most certainly true.
For more on Adventists and the Civil War, see these resources.