During the presidential campaign of 1800, Christian opponents of candidate Thomas Jefferson warned he “abhors the Christian system” and if elected, might send troops to seize Christians’ Bibles.
In 1860, Abraham Lincoln’s election was thought by some Southern Baptist leaders to threaten fundamental American liberties. A century later, the presidential campaign elicited the Chicago Sun-Times headline “Southern Baptists Tell Why They Are Attacking Kennedy.”
These and other interjections into presidential politics by followers of Jesus have led a Baylor University church historian to note that Christians’ at times heated rhetoric surrounding the Clinton-Trump presidential campaign may not be unprecedented.
“Christians have routinely forecast the ominous consequences of the election of certain candidates throughout American history,” Thomas Kidd, distinguished professor of history at Baylor and a blogger for The Gospel Coalition, told Baptist Press in written comments. “The election of those candidates has almost never led to anything as dire as what people predicted.”
Through the years, Christians’ political rhetoric has been reasonable at times and unreasonable at times. Their predictions about the consequences of electing particular candidates have at times been accurate and at times inaccurate.
Yet a common theme through two centuries of presidential elections has been passionate opining by Christians of all denominational stripes — especially before the 1954 Johnson Amendment prohibited 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations like churches from endorsing or opposing candidates.
Jefferson & Lincoln
In 1800, Baptists widely supported Jefferson because they saw him “as the great champion of religious liberty,” Kidd and fellow Baylor historian Barry Hankins wrote in their book “Baptists in America.” But other Christians predicted, Kidd told BP, that Jefferson “would inaugurate anti-Christian terror like that seen in radical phases of the French Revolution.”
As Jefferson campaigned, one pastor called him “a confirmed infidel” known for “vilifying the divine word, and preaching insurrection against God,” according to historian Robert MacDonald’s book “Confounding Father.” For his alleged lack of church attendance and skepticism regarding some biblical accounts, other ministers denounced Jefferson as a “howling atheist” and among the “fraternity of infidels.”
Lincoln’s candidacy drew particular concern from Southerners, including Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s second president John Broadus. In 1893, Broadus recalled in his “Memoir of James Petigru Boyce” that at the time of Lincoln’s election, the candidate’s stated intention of restricting slavery “to the states in which it already existed” was “regarded as a menace, not only to the institution of slavery, but to state rights and the fundamental principles of American liberty.”
Leading up to the 1860 election, North Carolina’s Biblical Recorder newsjournal rightly predicted, “A stormy time likely awaits the country.”
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SOURCE: Baptist Press