- A Kingdom Divided: Evangelicals, Loyalty, and Sectionalism in the Civil War Era by April E. Holm
In A Kingdom Divided: Evangelicals, Loyalty, and Sectionalism in the Civil War Era, April E. Holm analyzes the tensions within, the breakup of, and the very partial reunion of three nineteenth-century evangelical American churches—Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian. She centers on the border South states as she seeks to demonstrate "how religion, politics, and morality interacted in a time of political crisis to create lasting institutional and cultural divisions in American Christianity" (p. 1). Holm uses the churches' internal rifts "as a critical lens through which to analyze sectionalism, war, and reunion" during a period stretching from the antebellum years, through the Civil War and Reconstruction, and into the final decade of the nineteenth century (p. 1). She defines the "border region" expansively and a bit vaguely as "all of Delaware, Maryland, western Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri, as well as portions of every neighboring state" (p. 7).
A Kingdom Divided begins with Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian church communities in the "Evangelical West," which Holm places in the Ohio River Valley during the 1830s and 1840s (chap. 1). She points out that the first division within one of these churches (that between Old School and New School Presbyterians) was more theological than sectional. By the 1840s, however, the Methodists and Baptists divided sectionally over slavery. This, Holm emphasizes, set "border Methodists and Baptists" on a path toward defining slavery as a "political, not a moral and theological matter," and stressing "the 'spirituality of the church'" (p. 13). [End Page 173]
During the 1840s and 1850s, the border churches were caught in the middle as northern evangelicals opposed slavery and southern evangelicals defended it. The splits deepened during the Civil War as U.S. government action divided border evangelical churches internally. Union officials intervened to replace pro-Confederate ministers with ones loyal to the Union. They also transferred church property from pro-Confederate to pro-Union ministers and congregations. This strategy separated "border moderates" from the "northern brethren" in each of the churches and "generat[ed] more sympathy for southern denominations" (p. 14).
After the war, during "religious Reconstruction," U.S. government officials demanded loyalty oaths from ministers and called for the inclusion of African Americans in evangelical congregations (p. 133). As northern church organizations pressed for reunification and sent missionaries into the border slavelabor states as well as the former Confederate states, they pushed border evangelicals into formal alliances with the southern organizations. Meanwhile, formerly proslavery southern church organizations began to adopt the border evangelicals' emphasis on spirituality as a means of avoiding political issues such as black rights. These churches began to deny that their defense of slavery before the war had been the reason they had split from national church organizations. In contrast, northern churches recalled their members as having been closer to abolitionists than had been the case. The result was that the northern and southern churches remained separate, with the border churches tied to the South.
Holm might have discussed northeastern evangelicals at greater length. While reminding readers of the racism among white border evangelicals, she implies that they had little choice in adopting a neutral position in regard to slavery. There is too much repetition of arguments and specific points—sometimes on a single page. Nevertheless, Holm's interpretation is sound and interesting, and it has implications that transcend previous studies of American evangelicalism. It also adds another point of view to the recent outpouring of books on the border region. Her extensive research and close reading of primary sources allow her to provide illuminating quotations from ministers, parishioners, and politicians concerned with church issues. Holm frequently notes the work of other historians on related subjects that helps clarify her subject matter. Her book fills a significant gap in our understanding of religion during the Civil War.