A Conflicted Message: Christian Theology and Political Action During the Civil War Era by Nick Sacco

When citizens of a democratic society participate in electoral politics, they are often forced to determine the extent to which they are willing to compromise on their beliefs when voting. Voters sometimes find ideal candidates who share most if not all of their views, but oftentimes the best candidate in a given election holds a mix of views that an individual voter simultaneously agrees and disagrees with, leading them to believe they must choose between “the lesser of two evils.” While voters of all types throughout the United States are grappling with this tension amid the current 2016 Presidential election, the conflicted emotions of Christian voters have been particularly noteworthy in popular media coverage. According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, many Christians believe that both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have poor religious credentials and values that contradict the church’s teachings. Christian voters are studying their Bibles and using its words to interpret the various issues at hand, but their conclusions are widely divergent. Some frustrated Christians are holding their noses and supporting either Clinton or Trump, but some believe that a vote for either is a sinful compromise.[1]

Conflicting political actions among the faithful today echo the ones that emerged before the outbreak of the Civil War. For example, Frederick Douglass, an ordained minister of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, came to believe that participation in electoral politics was the best method for enacting the end of slavery in the U.S, while the Unitarian William Lloyd Garrison could not fathom voting in a sinful political system that condoned the institution. Christians who did vote often disagreed about the best candidates to represent their values. They also debated the proper boundaries for establishing the separation of church and state and discussed if such a boundary was even necessary.

The rest of the article can be viewed on the Journal of the Civil War Era Muster blog.

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