Editorial: Should Southern Christians sing this?
By ROLAND MANN, Times Editor
With the Fourth of July holiday creeping up on us, residents are beginning to
anticipate the celebrations and annual festivities. Some things we do, we don’t
know why… “we’ve just always done it that way.” Did you
know, though, the city of Vicksburg, Miss., did not celebrate the fourth for over
80 years? S’true. July 4 is the day it surrendered to U.S. troops.
As we near the fourth, patriotic tunes will flood the airwaves and churches.
One popular tune, however, shouldn’t be sung in our churches as it is
certainly not “Christian” and is definitely not patriotic for Southerners
(Northerners might consider it patriotic).
The Battle Hymn of the Republic began as the camp-meeting song “Say Brothers,
Will You Meet Us on Canaan’s Happy Shore.” It became a popular Union
army ballad when members of the 12th Mass. Infantry wrote new words and renamed
it “John Brown’s Body.” The song was not about the famous
terrorist John Brown who attacked Harper’s Ferry and assorted places in
Kansas, but one of the men in the 12th. Over time, it did become about that
Julia Ward Howe, who is given credit for writing the song, visited a Union
camp, and rewrote the lyrics the next day.
Howe was married to Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, a well-known radical abolitionist
and a financial supporter of the abolitionist-terrorist John Brown. Most historians
believe Howe was likely one of the “Secret Six” financial contributors
of John Brown.
The Howes were devout Unitarians. As such, Julia denied the divinity of Jesus
and did not believe in the Holy Trinity—elements, which I’m betting
all the Piggott clergy will say are crucial to the “Christian” faith.
In fact, many Christian hymnals have removed her third verse because it doesn’t
line up with most Christian beliefs. It reads as such: I have read the fiery
gospel writ in burnished rows of steel As ye deal with My comtempters, so with
you My grace shall deal Let the hero born of woman crush the serpent with his
heel Since God is marching on.
“Burnished rows of steel” is a reference to bayonets, and the “serpent”
is a reference to the South (The Union plan to split the Confederate States
was actually called the “Anaconda Plan”).
Yet, Howe’s tune is heralded as a “Christian” tune and sung
Further, the double meaning behind Howe’s lyrics is the conquest and
utter destruction of Southerners. Howe was not inspired to write the lyrics
after a revival meeting, but after a tour of a Federal camp.
Her lyrics, used as an inspirational battle tune even during The War, are about
Lord Lincoln using his armies to vent out his vengeance on the South, proving
not that God was on the side of the North, but as Voltaire put it, “God
is always on the side of the big battalions.”
As Americans, we wouldn’t revel in the destruction and death of over
2000 killed at Pearl Harbor. We wouldn’t sing, “The Japs bombed
Pearl Harbor and they killed 2000 men, they sunk the Arizona and the Utah went
down too. He has loosed the fateful lightning of His kamikaze plan, God’s
truth is marching on.” Yet, in essence, that is what every Southerner
is doing when they sing the Battle Hymn. I had two grandfathers serve in WW2
and I couldn’t sing the above. I had grandfathers serve in the Confederate
army and I can’t sing Howe’s version either.