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Baptists, Methodists, and Politics

In The Gospel Working Up (p.88-89), Beth Barton Schweiger explains some of the tension between religion and politics in mid-nineteenth century Virginia. "Political battles, it seemed to Southern pastors, were essentially about ‘absolute’ political truths and thus might destroy civic order. They vehemently denied any interest in politics whatsoever, Virginia Methodists and Baptists had long stressed the incompatibility of religion and partisan politics. They characterized politicians and their ‘dirty work’ as unworthy rivals in a contest for the hearts and minds of the people. ‘The only inquiry is—not "what must I do to be saved" but "who, think you, will be president?" ’ a Baptist noted with disgust at the height of the 1844 contest between Henry Clay and James K. Polk… Another Baptist argued in 1852 that ‘political excitement is detrimental to the interests of religion.’ Although he denied that politics was ‘evil per se,’ he viewed the animosity between parties as increasingly ‘threatening,’ presumably to the Republic. The partisan politics, and the party prejudices engendered even among some ministers particularly loathsome."