Monday, August 30, 2021

Pulpit Paranoia: The Black Robe Regiment, The Death of the American Church, and the Decline of American Moral Policy

“There is a time for all things, a time to preach and a time to pray.  But there is also a time to fight, and that time has now come!”
These immortal words echoed dramatically within the walls of the Woodstock, Virginia church in 1776 (Penn, 2021). The preacher who so fervently declared this call to arms was John Muhlenberg, a passionate pastor-turned-colonial officer, freshly commissioned by General George Washington himself to raise a regiment to fight in the War for Independence. At the end of the day, more than 300 men from Muhlenberg’s congregation rode away with him to join the war effort, bidding farewell to their wives and children. Many would not return. 

This was not at all an uncommon scene during the American Revolution. In fact, according to the American Pastors Network (, the coalition of colonial ministers who took up arms to fight the tyranny of the British crown were so numerous that they were dubbed the Black Robe Regiment. It’s a good bet that most people haven’t heard of the Black Robes. It’s a shame, because were it not for the unfaltering strength and courage of the puritanical churches in the American colonies, the Revolutionary War would likely never have been won. Certainly, there are explanations for America’s surprising victory over Britain that range from strategic to luck. And yet the churches and the pastors of the very young America were initially responsible for upholding the torches of liberty. 

Early American culture was so deeply rooted in puritanical ideology that the idea of declaring independence and seizing tightly to liberty was second nature to the early colonists. Many had come to America for religious freedom, a notion that no American today can truly grasp. As American citizens today waltz languidly into sleepy-eyed worship services that boast electric guitars and disco balls, the days of rough-hewn wood-steepled chapels are forgotten. Forgotten also are the rivers of blood that soaked the streets of Europe during the Great Inquisition. Forgotten are the cries of horror during the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in France hundreds of years ago. Forgotten are the executions and persecutions of the church of Christ in England and Spain. Forgotten are the thousands of pilgrims and sojourners who starved to death in the wilderness of the New World, grasping desperately at the threads of a newer, freer life. The American colonists, many who were direct descendants of these brave religious pioneers and zealous settlers, had worked hard to carve out an unperturbed existence for themselves along the East Coast. And, thanks to the lax enforcement of royal policy in the geographically isolated colonies - officially termed salutary neglect - Americans had developed a taste for two things: freedom to worship however and wherever they chose, and freedom to tend to their own business as they saw fit. 

Inevitably, things began to change. Britain became acutely aware of the Americans’ penchant for rebellious, independent behavior in the wake of the grueling French and Indian War, and decided that the policy of salutary neglect was not working out. They realized, too late, how important the colonies had become - and their potential to become even more. The monarchy’s fatal mistake, it would seem, was writing off the American colonies as weak, inconsequential tracts of land. Britain’s attempt to tighten their control on the American colonies by way of taxes, tariffs, and regulations was met with white hot rage. How long, after all, had Americans been left to tend to their own affairs? They had fought and bled and suffered and starved to eke out their colonial lifestyles, and suddenly the British crown assumed that this wealth of potential was theirs to seize by way of legislation? Never! American colonists were incensed. This was their home. They had done the legwork. They had suffered the starving times, they had taken the risks. The crown had no such claim. Britain had maintained only cursory interest in the American colonies until the French and Indian War pulled their attention dead center to it, highlighting a fundamental blind spot on their political horizon. 

For Britain, it was a strategic and integral blunder. For the Americans, it was the first step toward total independence. From the initial labor pains of boycotts and intellectual protestations (authored by the likes of Patrick Henry and John Adams), to the first shot fired at Lexington and the first real, bloody battle at Bunker Hill, the road to freedom would be paved with blood and bodies and fire and ash. But it was not just colonial soldiers who, beleaguered and beaten down, answered the call to join the Continental Army. Many ministers served in the regiments of the colonial forces, and many more parishioners besides. These men (and women) of faith understood that the heartbeat of American life was contained within the church. The moral framework for their entire society - a society whose foundational principles were rooted in the gospel-centered idea of freedom and brotherly love - was predicated on the strength of the people. It was, after all, John Adams who would later state that the Constitution of the United States was written only for a moral and religious people. A caveat to the gift of freedom. “A republic,” Benjamin Franklin would add, “if you can keep it.” 

The churches of America were so heavily involved in the Revolutionary War, as a matter of fact, that the British Parliament would often refer to the situation in the colonies as the
Presbyterian War. They recognized, at least, something that most high school and college graduates will never be taught: the fight for independence was won through the power of the local church. This is a lesson that modern churches in America seem destined to bury and stifle. The church today cannot hold a candle to the revolutionary zeal and fire of the colonial church. Indeed, colonial churches openly discussed public policies and politics from the pulpit, understanding that policy and legislation in turn affected society and that society, in turn, affected the overall climate of morality. Having once been so grossly persecuted, American colonists and preachers clearly understood the price of religious liberty. Churches today, clearly, do not. American churches no longer preach political sermons (because church isn’t about politics...right?). Why? Does the genocidal slaughter of millions of unborn children not demand the immediate intervention of the churches in America? How can one actually compartmentalize this annihilation of innocent life, relegating it to the category of politically-charged topics that must not be discussed on stage? How have we come to this point? Are American church-goers - and even more disturbingly, church pastors - so afraid of being labeled as offensive or politically incorrect that they cannot bring themselves to become involved in the civic process to halt such policies that prey on defenseless babies? Add to this the issue of human and sex trafficking in America, a bottomless depravity which permeates almost every level of society; a modern slave trade that sees the perverse breeding of infants, children, and women for torture, organ harvest, and sexual abuse. How long until churches, afraid to go toe-to-toe with federal or state agencies on Covid-19 regulations, will demand parishioners show medical passports to worship during their services? How long until come as you are is a thing of the past? 

Many Americans wonder how it is that America has fallen so far. How is it that America, land of the free and home of the brave, has crashed to such crestfallen lows? Why are American churches terrified of addressing cultural and societal issues? When was the last time you heard a pastor speak candidly about a presidential election or a political issue? When was the last time you heard a pastor talk about the moral depravity of corporate America, a monstrous coalition of elitist abusers who enslave and destroy the lives of millions of slave laborers across the world? When was the last time you heard a pastor talk about the truth of the harmful effects of illegal immigration? Most will preach to love thy neighbor, whilst conveniently leaving out the part about the millions of human traffickers, rapists, and terrorists who are pouring into our country, posing a threat to the least of these - women and children. Where is the spine of the American church? Love cannot exist without the law. To argue otherwise is madness. American pulpits are so consumed with keeping the peace that they have forgotten that conflict avoidance is simply not the same as conflict resolution.

Peacemaking, by its very nature, requires action in the first place. American colonists understood this. Colonies were built around their community in the church, and both pastors and parishioners alike understood the integral truth that the spiritual life shaped personal life, and personal life shaped social life, which in turn affected how the entire community viewed the world. Modern churches, for years cow-tied and muzzled by the totalitarian trap of a 501c3 non-profit status, clamped their mouths shut on political issues - turning their backs on a legacy of civic involvement.

Remember the abolitionists? It was through the revivals in America and the conviction of the churches that the abolitionist movement picked up steam. Every cultural and moral shift toward good, just change in American society has been spearheaded by the religious community. And yet, today, American churchgoers seem content to lament the state of the nation to each other in church, to briefly say a saccharine prayer before the weekly offering for the conspicuously titled chaotic world of unrest in society (far be it from churches to be specific in naming names or pointing out specific misdeeds!), and to turn the other cheek, somehow forgetting that turning the cheek is not meant to be translated as doing nothing, but rather, continuing onward with what is right despite being antagonized for it. 

Truly, the warrior zeal of legendary patriot and pastor James Caldwell - sometimes called the Fighting Chaplain - would be ashamed of the lukewarm interest most churches take in political events of today. As the story goes, Caldwell supplied his troops with hymnals in place of ammunition when they had run out of shots against the British, declaring riotously, “Give em’ Watts, boys!” A reference of course, to hymn writer Isaac Watts (watch this video to learn a little more about this cool story).

The APN (I have linked their website as a resource at the bottom of this article) shares on their site the immaculate observation of revivalist Charles Finney:

If there is a decay of conscience, the pulpit is responsible for it. If the public press lacks moral discrimination, the pulpit is responsible for it. If the church is degenerate and worldly, the pulpit is responsible for it. If the world loses its interest in religion, the pulpit is responsible for it. If Satan rules in our halls of legislation, the pulpit is responsible for it. If our politics become so corrupt that the very foundations of our government are ready to fall away, the pulpit is responsible for it.

It was the patriot-pulpit that delivered America from bondage. This is the fighting heritage of America’s pastors and preachers. So, what has happened?

Indeed, that is the question. What has happened? When, precisely, did American churches cease to attack difficult subjects and unabashedly define right versus wrong based on the standards of the Word of God? When, exactly, did this communal decline begin? Was it after the Civil War, in the corrupt, ash-laden factory towns of the Industrial Revolution? Was it after the first World War, when the horrors of tear gas and bombs had blown soldiers into pieces? Was it during the Roaring Twenties, when loose and easy became the new moral and upright? Was it after World War II, when FDR’s socialist policies began to take malicious root in the fabric of American culture, expanding the breadth and control of the godless federal government to never before seen proportions? Was it during the sexual revolution? The feminist movement? What triggered the destruction of the puritanical ideals that empowered and strengthened America at her founding and carried her through the devastation of the Civil War? 

No. It was none of these things alone. 

It was us, dear reader. The people. 

When the churches slowly succumbed to the gospel of political-correctness, we surrendered our freedom. When we decided that being comfortable, that being prim and popular and busy was more important than being just, we surrendered. When the genocide of unborn children was fashioned as a political weapon in the popular media, we hid from it. When radical feminism was unleashed on society, we allowed it to
subversively work its way into our women’s Bible studies and book clubs. When television, movies, and public schools promoted consequence-free sexual liaisons, the church responded with the toxicity of purity culture - absolutist demands without adequate explanations, fanning the flames of feminist disdain and breeding doubt and feelings of worthlessness among young teen girls. When presidential administrations committed heinous atrocities or put forth godless, destructive, anti-biblical legislation, the church remained silent. Sealed.
Politics just isn’t our area, we were told. We’re just supposed to love everyone. That’s what Jesus wants us to do. 

And yet are we not commanded to show our love through the fruit of our good works? Are we not, as blessed members of a constitutional republic, tasked with the incredible duty of taking part in civil discourse so that we may shape the policy and society of our culture? In failing to take part in such civil discourse, are we not shirking our duty - indeed, are we not shirking our very jobs? This is not, as many Christians fallaciously argue, a society which mirrors Roman culture. Pay your taxes and follow the laws set forth by your emperor, we were instructed by the apostles who came before us. Yet here in America, we the people are the seat of political power. When our morality wanes, so does our society. There is no excuse for any church in America to shy away from political or cultural topics. When we, as Christians, remain silent in the face of evil, our silence is thunderous. Our silence says to the world, We are weak. We are Christians who stand for nothing, fight for nothing, and are unable to tolerate even the faintest touch of persecution to speak the truth. Because at the heart of it all, that is what stops the church from speaking truth into a hurting world on fire: fear of persecution. Make no mistake, persecution has been a hallmark of the Christian church since its birth. And perhaps this knowledge has not been totally forgotten by American pastors and their congregations. After all, the fear of being cancelled, sued, or imprisoned for espousing Biblical principles from the pulpit is often what stays the hands of many pastors. When it becomes terrifying to preach Christ, to preach the gospel, to preach what is true, many shrink back. Yet, the brave-hearted, warrior preachers of the American Revolution knew better. The Black Robe Regiment carried not just the holy fire of Christ’s redemptive love in their hearts, but an inferno of patriotic zeal - a love for their families, a love for freedom to worship in a white-washed chapel, and a love for declaring the Word of God, unmolested and unashamed. 

How long, America, will we tolerate this weakness of the church? How long until the church, in its unabashed quest to remain fun and fresh, perishes into nothingness? For it is not secularism that threatens the doors of Christ’s congregation. No, it is something far worse. It is the religion of self. The religion of sensuality and hyper-sexuality and self-indulgence. The religion of subjectivity and cancel-culture and social media trends. The religion of nanny-state government. The religion of medical fascism. I have news for you, wayward church: this is all coming to your doorstep.

Actually, it’s already here.

So, my question to you is this: will you stand and fight back?

Or will you conform? 

I’ll leave you with this: 

Do not be conformed to this world  but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect

Romans 12:2 

Resources used in this article for quotations of historical figures:

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