Friday, May 25, 2012

The Battle of New Hope Church

Two separate Civil War skirmishes were called the Battle of New Hope Church. When I first read about that (just a few months ago), I was immediately interested in learning more, partly because my father’s home church was New Hope Church.
The two battles of New Hope Church, however, were not in northwest Missouri but in northwest Georgia and in northern Virginia.
The Battle of New Hope Church in Georgia was fought May 25–26, 1864, between the Union forces of General Sherman and the Confederate Army of Tennessee under General Johnston during the Atlanta Campaign. The battle ended with a Confederate victory. And even though to this day it is called the battle of New Hope Church, the Union soldiers referred to it as “Hell’s Hole.”
The other Battle of New Hope Church took place several months earlier near the New Hope Baptist Church in Orange County, Virginia, a church begun in 1857 and still active. In late November 1863, close to that church there was a battle in which the Union troops fought soldiers led by General Robert E. Lee. That battle also ended in a Confederate victory.
In the latter Battle of New Hope Church, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s son Charlie was shot through the back and brought to the church for medical attention. It was while sitting at his son’s bedside following that injury that Longfellow penned the words to the well-known carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”
Even though both of these battles of New Hope Church ended with Confederate victories, it is evident to most of us that the Southern states, fighting to preserve slavery, were on the wrong side of history. Perhaps it is true that “the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice,” as Martin Luther King Jr., President Obama, and others have emphasized.
(As I point out on pages 105-6 of my book The Limits of Liberalism, the words quoted in the previous paragraph can be traced back to a 1852 sermon by Theodore Parker, a famous Unitarian pastor. Those words, I suggest there, perhaps point to the “excessive optimism” of Christian liberalism. But I also say in a footnote, “Parker’s words as used by King and Obama are full of hope, but they do not reek of the syrupy optimism of the nineteenth century liberal preacher.”)
Even after the end of the Civil War, the Confederate States and some others had anti-miscegenation laws, which meant that people of different races could not legally marry. The last of those laws, including Missouri’s, were not overturned until June 1967 (!) when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled them to be in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Those States were again, or still, on the wrong side of history.
And now, in 2012, all the same states, and others, have constitutional amendments prohibiting same-sex marriage. Will those states at some time in the future once again be found to be on the wrong side of history? Probably.


  1. Well, I suspect they will--eventually. We could possibly go backwards for a generation or two, but in this realm--legitimizing same-sex relations--the trajectory will be for equality and justice, at least in the long run.

    What I as a syrupy liberal would take issue with is your comment about the "syrupy optimism of the nineteenth century liberal preacher." In fact, in the nineteenth century, especially at the end of the century, everybody was optimistic. Historians have catalogued fairly thoroughly this reality, and I doubt very much that liberal theologians were anymore optimistic than anyone else. But what I really want to say is that it's from the ranks of those liberal preachers that the anti-slavey movement came, as well as great agitation against the injustices and cruelties of an industrialized laissez-faire capitalism (child labor, work hours, union organization, and so on), what has been known as the "social gospel." Your own undergraduate alma mater, by the way, was offering courses in the first decade of the 20th century titled, "Christian Socialism."

    Thanks, again, for the thoughtful and insightful piece. Interesting, isn't it, that in such an essay, you focused on an event associated with a church named NEW HOPE!?

    Enjoy your travels. I hope to see you soon. Blessings.

  2. Anton, thanks for not only being the first to post comments but for again posting thoughtful, significant comments as well.

    The "syrupy optimism" I refer too is that of the Unitarians from about 1870 on. Among other things, they proclaimed

    The Progress of Mankind
    Onward and upward forever.

    It is certainly not original with me, but I often point out the difference between optimism and hope. Hope, and "new hope," is very much a Christian concept that I affirm and seek to embody as well as to encourage. But this is different from optimism, which is often based on the idea of innate human goodness and or cleverness.

    While it is certainly true that some of the great social movements (anti-slavery, etc.) were forwarded by the optimistic liberals (and I applaud them for that), those movements were also spurred by many hopeful Christians (and others) who did not embrace the same sort of optimism.

  3. My esteemed Thinking Friend in Kentucky wrote,

    "You are so right about southern states being on the wrong side of history, Leroy. Support of injustice is always on the wrong side."

  4. I am thankful to be living at a time in history following many victories over conservative forces that at one time burned people at the stake for not having correct religious beliefs. There have been many battles since then such as acceptance of democracy, women's suffrage, abolition, civil rights, gay rights, and now same sex marriage. At the risk of being sirupy liberal, I'm reasonably confident about the long term trend evident from history. However, I feel conflicted by the fact that some of the loudest conservative voices in resistance to social changes that I support are coming from minority and disadvantaged social economic groups whose voices I would normally want to be heard. This also includes voices from third world countries that I don't agree with, but in many other ways I wish to be supportive of their welfare.

  5. Thinking Friend Kevin Payne, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Independence, MO, sent the following comments by e-mail, which I post here with his permission:

    "Thanks for your thoughtful comments; I would take issue with your implication that making homosexual marriage legal is 'the right side of history.'

    "We’ve talked about this issue; no doubt, we as a people will struggle with this for some time. My concern is not the fact that homosexuals want to be together – I agree that they should be allowed to live as they choose; the issue with the legalization of homosexual marriage is the re-definition of marriage. I think this is a real mistake to call any union a marriage, just because there is political and cultural pressure to do so.

    "Whenever you submit to cultural pressures to change moral standards, you get away from those unchanging biblical principles that can give stability, and freedom from the tyranny of emotion. (As an aside, I do not accept the argument that slavery and racism is the same as bias against homosexuality.)

    "Long-term, I think the Church will have to get out of the 'marriage business' and reserve the ideals of Christian marriage for Christians, rather than the civil practice that it has become."

  6. Was at New Hope Church in Orange,VA today where my grandfather pastored in 1919. Thought about what Longfellow, a Northerner, wrote there after his son survived: "I heard the bells on Christmas Day". Thought, what a great message for this divided nation today.This woman(moi) being not too pleased with either Hillary or Trump, but who looks at myself in a mirror and realizes all people are in "process", prays for both of them. As for their followers, I pray the motes will come out of each camp's eyes, especially the self-rightousness. I can understand women's outrage with Trump (and Bill Clinton, too), and yet, as one who was converted on another Civil War Battlefield, Gettsyburg, in a Paul on the Damascus Road flash, to the sanctity of life, I cannot laud the way we have become almost desensitized even to civil discussions in this nation about abortion. Are pro-lifers OR Pro-abortion folk on the right side of history? My 10+ friends who had abortions felt relieved at the time but live with regrets years later (and two are clergywomen). God's mercy is there, of course, for those who have terminated, but I would urge anyone to "choose life" when possible. What is lacking in the issue is real informed consent.

    1. Homosexuals are not a race. They are perverts.If people would read the Bible,they would know this.