On this day, Nov. 13, in Beech Grove (Coffee County), Tennessee, in 1862, a number of elders and preachers from several Churches of Christ in that area met together and drafted a letter to the President of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis. A copy of this same letter was also sent to then governor of Tennessee, Andrew Johnson. A portion of the letter read:
“A large number of the members of the Churches of Jesus Christ throughout this and the adjoining counties of the State of Tennessee … are firm in the conviction of the truth, that no man, who regards the authority of God … can in any manner engage in, aid, foment, or countenance the strifes, animosities, and bloody conflicts in which civil governments are frequently engaged, and in which they often involve their subjects …
“With these considerations of what our duty to God requires at our hands, the enforcement of the ‘Conscript Act’ for the purpose of raising and maintaining an army, for the carrying on of this unhappy war in which our country is involved, cannot fail to work indescribable distress to those members of our churches holding these convictions.” (Restoration Quarterly 8:4 : 235)
Their plea was heard and resulted in Jefferson Davis extending an exemption law already passed by the Confederate Congress that allowed members of some churches to claim conscientious objector status. As a result, a huge percentage of the men who were members of Churches of Christ in central Tennessee chose not to, and were not forced to, join the military. Writing in light of such four years later, David Lipscomb said:
“The position assumed by the Churches of Christ in Middle Tennessee in hours of fearful trial and trouble … alone saved them from almost total ruin.” (Gospel Advocate [July 3, 1866]: 419)
what it must have been like for Christians to stand their ground of conviction regarding nonviolence even as the lives of their own family and friends were at stake and the lust for war raged ever higher;
how it is that both our understanding of Christian faith and the practical expression of it has come to change so very much across the decades, to the point that we are now quite unlike our ancestors in faith;
and how we as Christians today would best serve our Lord and Savior – yes, their Lord and Savior – by doing likewise.
let our own minds be made up now, in a relative time of peace, to serve Christ Jesus in this way – nonviolent ways – always, lest when the time of war does arrive, as it always does, we be swept up and swept along with our passions and the fever of war that always sweeps so many away;
may the heroes we celebrate and hold up to our children and grandchildren as models and examples of truly great and mature Christian faith be those who fight the battles of this life not with weapons made by human hands, but with decidedly the opposite – the ways of Jesus Christ;
and let us pray. Come, Lord Jesus, Prince of Peace, and swiftly, that all bloodshed and war, hatred and strife, would forever cease. Amen.