James Byrd teaches American religious history at Vanderbilt and is the author of a new book on the Bible and the American founding that has been getting a lot of attention lately. Over at Jesus Creed, David Moore interviews Byrd about Sacred Scripture, Sacred War: The Bible and the American Revolution. Here is a taste of Moore’s interview:
Moore: What were the most popular passages of Scripture which preachers used to muster support for the American Revolution?
Byrd: Most popular was Romans 13; which included commands for obedience to civil rulers. Understandably this was a major text used by loyalists to oppose the Revolution, so patriots had to deal with it at length.
Second was Exodus 14-15; the parting of the Red Sea story, which made sense for patriots who felt that they were like the Hebrew slaves under bondage to the Egyptian Pharaoh, which they related to British tyrannical policies. Paul’s commands on the freedom of Christ (Galatians 5) was third, which they related to civil freedom as well. Fourth was the story of Deborah and Jael in Judges 4-5. This included the famous Curse of Meroz against any who did not join in God’s army to fight. There were several other popular texts, including many from David’s life, including his victory over Goliath, which made sense for patriots who saw themselves as Davids going up against a new Goliath in the British Empire.
Moore: Were there any influential ministers who preached pacifism?
Byrd: There were pacifists. Anthony Benezet, the great abolitionist, wrote Serious Considerations on War and its Inconsistency with the Gospel (1778). It went through several printings and patriotic preachers responded to it at length. Benezet and others made use of the Sermon on the Mount, which was another of the most cited texts because patriots had to respond to it.