A CONSERVATIVE CHOICE FOR THE MINORITY'S VOICE

American Traditions

Watch Night Services: The Anticipation of Freedom

by Tommy Davis (davist1@tntemple.edu)

Traditional historians agree that the predominantly black church in America should remind itself of the horrors of slavery.  The atrocities experienced at the hands of Southern Democrats instigated a spiritual revolution among black Christians and brought about a passionate black church which recognized that God cared for them.

Contemporaries speculate why many black American Christians annually observe what is termed “Watch Night” services, a yearly religious observation to bring in the New Year.  The Watch Night tradition dates back to 1862 when Republican President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation that took effect on January 1, 1863, as the nation approached its third year of the bloody civil war. The proclamation declared that “all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”

The Emancipation Proclamation was zealously anticipated. Historians pointed out that many black Americans gathered in groups around clocks or watches eagerly awaiting the arrival of midnight on December 31, 1862 because the Proclamation was to take effect on the first moment of January 1, 1863.[i]

Despite its extensive wording, the Emancipation Proclamation was restricted in many ways. It pertained only to states that had withdrawn from the Union, leaving slavery unaffected in the loyal border states. It also expressly relieved parts of the Confederacy that had already come under Northern control.

Although the Emancipation Proclamation did not instantaneously free a single slave, it fundamentally transformed the atmosphere of the war.  The slaves now recognized that they had no obligation to obey slaveholders.  Frederick Douglass, an abolitionist who escaped slavery in Maryland, proclaimed:

“About twelve o’clock, seeing there was no disposition to retire from the hall, which must be vacated, my friend Grimes…rose and moved that the meeting adjourn to the Twelfth Baptist Church, of which he was pastor, and soon the church was packed from doors to pulpit, and this meeting did not break up till near the dawn of day.  It was one of the most affecting and thrilling occasions I ever witnessed, and a worthy celebration of the first step on the part of the nation in its departure from the thralldom of the ages.”[ii]

Mr. Douglass and others had gathered at the Twelfth Baptist Church to continue enjoying the occasion of the new executive order.

After January 1, 1863, every progress of federal troops expanded the domain of liberty. Moreover, the Proclamation announced the acceptance of black men into the Union Army and Navy, enabling the liberated to become liberators.

From the first days of the Civil War, slaves had acted to secure their own liberty. The Emancipation Proclamation confirmed their insistence that the war for the Union must become a war for freedom.  As Frederick Douglass confirmed during the Watch Night service: “There was evidently no disposition on the part of this meeting to criticize the proclamation; nor was there with any one at first.  At the moment, we saw only its anti-slavery side.”[iii]   It added moral force to the Union cause and strengthened the Union both militarily and politically.  Again, Douglass noted that the Proclamation was “confined within certain geographical and military lines.”[iv]    As a signpost along the road to slavery’s final destruction, the Emancipation Proclamation has assumed a place among the great documents of human freedom.   It was the forerunner of the Republicans’ victory in passing the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1865—banning slavery in ALL America.

Thus, during Watch Night, black Americans should be reminded of this glorious event as observed by the pioneers of freedom from both corporal and spiritual bondage.  The Lord saw fit to answer the prayers of millions of slaves and those free persons who valued freedom for every one of their fellow men.


[i] David Barton, American History In Black & White (Aledo: Wallbuilders, 2004), 28

[ii] Frederick Douglass, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, p. 792

[iii] Ibid, p. 792

[iv] Ibid, p. 792


Abolitionism and the Evangelical Heritage

Providence Crowder

Providence Crowder

by Providence Crowder

Author Donald W. Dayton produced a remarkable historical summary of America’s evangelical[1] legacy in his work entitled, “Discovering an Evangelical Heritage.” This book provides compelling evidence that confirms “the Christian witness” has a powerful impact upon society when the gospel is put into action.  Unlike contemporary evangelicalism, which by and large evades questions of social responsibility,[2] Dayton sets out to prove that the evangelical heritage left by nineteenth century evangelicals such as Catherine Booth and Charles G. Finney demonstrated that the gospel and social responsibility were once intimately integrated.  He provides thrilling accounts of how the nineteenth century evangelical “abolitionists”[3] understood that to right societal wrongs, social injustice demanded a radical and Christian response.  The abolitionist movement was chiefly political and religious; abolitionists believed that slavery was a sin.  Through moral suasion, they set out to change laws in an effort to permanently abolish it. (more…)


Beware of the Gospel Killers – Part 1

Poor Children

Poor Childrenby Providence Crowder

At certain times throughout history, the Church had failed to side with the oppressed, choosing for erroneous reasons to instead to side with oppressive human governments.  They had negated their charge to “dispense justice to the cause of the lowly and poor.”[1] The Church’s silence on social matters had spoken volumes to those who, like black slaves in America, suffered grave injustices at the hands of ill-willed men.  If theology intended to, as Karl Barth has suggested, “apprehend, understand, and speak of the God of the gospel,”[2] then understandably the theological tendencies of the poor and oppressed would be towards the God who dispensed justice to the cause of the poor; they would cleave to Christ the liberator of the world who sets the captives free.[3]

(more…)


Beware of the Gospel Killers – Part 2

by Providence Crowder

The Prosperity Gospel, the Wrong Gospel

Many church leaders in the twenty-first century have aided in the oppression and bondage of the scripturally illiterate masses by promoting material worship through the “prosperity” gospel.  Advances in technology, such as the advent of television and internet, make the preaching of a false gospel more devastating as it is able to quickly reach large audiences.[25]  These false prophets promise prosperity and healing, often in exchange for an offering or a fee.  Prominent twenty-first century televangelist and Pastor Frederick K. Price is quoted as saying on his Ever Increasing Faith television broadcast that “The Bible says that he (Jesus) has left us an example that we should follow in his steps.  That’s why I drive a Rolls Royce.  I’m following Jesus’ steps.”[26]  (more…)


Does the Bible Promote Socialism – Part 4

by Providence Crowder

So How then Can Government Help?

President Abraham Lincoln declared: “The legitimate object of Government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done but cannot do at all, or cannot so well do for themselves in their separate and individual capacities.  But in all that people can individually do as well for themselves, Government ought not to interfere.”

To further minimize the dependency on and scope of government, peoples, communities, churches, and organizations throughout the ages have often voluntarily “done for others” what others could not do for themselves.  In America and Europe, organizations such as the YMCA, the YWCA, and the Salvation Army were Christian initiatives established to, as Gonzalez has said, “reach the impoverished and unchurched masses.”  Ordinary people saw a need and responded.  The United Way and the American Red Cross were also developed to aid those in need.  Voluntary contributions have allowed them to successfully aid millions.  (more…)


Does the Bible Promote Socialism – Part 2

by Providence Crowder

Wealth is Not Evil

The Bible indicated that certain believers had been entrusted with riches (Abraham, Joseph, David, Solomon, Job, etc.) and others had lived in poverty.  Although Christ encouraged the idea of community and admonished believers to care for the poor, He never guaranteed any man an income, poor or otherwise, nor did He rectify inequalities in material wealth (see the parable of the talents Matt. 25:14-30).  In the book of Luke, a man from the crowd asked Christ to make his brother share his wealth with him.  The man demanded, ‘“Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’  But Jesus said to him, ‘Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?’  And He said to them, ‘Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses’” (Lk. 12:13-14).  (more…)


Does the Bible Promote Socialism – Part 1

by Providence Crowder

Was Jesus a Socialist?

Many people question whether or not Jesus of Nazareth promoted and supported the ideas of a socialist government.  That question can be emphatically answered no.   Socialism can be defined as “an economic theory or system in which the means of production, distribution, and exchange are owned by the community collectively, usually through the state.  It is characterized by production for use rather than profit, by equality of individual wealth, by the absence of competitive economic activity, and, usually, by government determination of investment, prices, and production levels” (World English Dictionary).  By this definition, Jesus can be said to espouse some socialist views, but he does so only within the confines of His Church, not secular government.  Out of love for God and fellow man, Christ taught His followers to voluntarily and charitably give of their possessions to care for and respond to the needs of the most vulnerable in society; the sick, elderly, poor, widow, and orphan. (more…)