There’s a great line from the 1969 John Wayne movie The Undefeated. Col. John Henry Thomas (played by Wayne), who is presently fighting a group of Confederates, learns that Lee had surrendered to Grant several days before. Due to the slow travel of news in that era, Col. Thomas explains to Maj. Sanders, commander of the Confederate force that the war was over. The Confederate Maj. unexpectedly tells Thomas that he knows and has known for several days. Bemused by the reply, Col. Thomas responds with clarification that “I don’t think you understand Major, the war is over”. The Maj. replies in the affirmative. The Union Col., in total confusion asks the Confederate Maj. “So are you telling me that you intend to keep fighting?” The Maj. replies with the clarifying question, “Well haven’t we just proven it sir?” Of course, the Union officer had to ask, “Why?”.
The response of Maj. Sanders is a classic response and sums up the end of the war, the reason most Southerners fought so furiously, and the reason so many good men died. “Because this is our land, and you’re on it.” (Selah)
Let that resound in your mind a moment.
Soon after the war was finally and really over, came reconstruction. To the revisionist history books, mostly written from a Northern perspective, this was a great time of unity and rebuilding for the Union. For the common Southerner, it was a time of oppression and humiliation.
At the peak of this humiliating era, came the symbol of the spirit of reconstruction, at least in the eyes of a Southerner. Standing atop the still smoldering rubble, while the widows still mourned their children and husbands, was the one figure that embodied reconstruction…the carpetbagger.
Carpetbaggers were “people” who came from the north for the sole purpose of profiting from the condition of the South. The South was helpless, in a sense. There was a vacuum of power while many of the men were dead, and the rest were busy starving with their families. The economy and the governments were very unstable and there was very little in the form of law and order. The people were easy prey for a slick talker with a little charisma and a self-serving agenda. As their plans became obvious to the people, they were hated and rejected. They’re success was short-lived.
Still today, there’s not much of a worse name to be called in the South, than carpetbagger.
Unfortunately, that situation is analogous to the Southern church. Of course I don’t mean every Southern church, nor do I mean only Southern churches. There are many good churches in the Southern United States. There are many that are much like the South during reconstruction though. They are weak and plagued with poor leadership and bad or no theology. Not only in the South, but I would imagine those conditions exist in many rural churches in all parts of the nation.
The people suffer from a dumbed down Christianity, beaten down by conflict inside of the church and enemies outside of her. Wars over the King James Version controversy, the age of the Universe, Inerrancy, and the emergence of liberal theology in many mainline churches, have lead many to withdraw into autonomous local units, walling themselves from other churches to protect their version of “how church is supposed to be”.
Attacks from outside the church made this even worse. The Scopes monkey trial was the Gettysburg for the Southern church. She focused so much of her efforts to defeat the encroachment of the Federal government that winning the battle on paper meant losing the war in reality.
Time after time she would stand up to insurmountable odds and defeat enemies from within and out, only to be weakened as her members lost the will to experience so many casualties. Church walls became fortresses, locking out the “world”. Evangelism became something “missionaries” did. Theology became something that lead to “too much head, not enough heart”. Doctrine became dogma, no matter how non-essential it was. The men became weak, theologically ignorant, and disinterested. In many cases, the women had to lead because the men were absent. The pulpits of the Southern church became a vacuum, a low fruit, ripe for the pickin’.
Enter the carpetbagger…
to be continued…