When the Church’s Pulpit Battled Lincoln’s Bully Pulpit

Although Abraham Lincoln had a deep faith in God, he was not as quick to put his faith in those who claimed to be God’s messengers. A distinguished clergyman happened to be giving a series of speeches on theological matters, and despite repeated invitations to come and listen, Lincoln stayed away.

A friend asked Lincoln why he wouldn’t be in attendance. Lincoln replied, “I wouldn’t trust [that clergyman] to construe the statutes of Illinois, much less the laws of God.” He also said that anyone who knew the clergyman wouldn’t trust him with business matters, knowing him to be incompetent. “So why would I trust him in the most important of all affairs — the salvation of the soul?”

Remarks like this did not endear the religious establishment toward Lincoln, his campaign for the presidency, or for his agenda in office. A survey of the citizens of Springfield showed 23 members of the clergy who were opposed to Lincoln. Upon seeing this, Lincoln pulled a New Testament from his pocket and said, “These men well know that I am for freedom in the territories, freedom everywhere as far as the Constitution and laws will permit, and that my opponents are for slavery. They know this, and yet, with this book in their hands, in the light of which human bondage cannot live a moment, they are going to vote against me. I do not understand it at all.”

After a long pause, he added with tears, “I know there is a God, and that He hates injustice and slavery. I see the storm coming, and I know that His hand is in it. If He has a place and work for me — and I think He has — I believe I am ready. I am nothing, but truth is everything. I know I am right because I know that liberty is right, for Christ teaches it, and Christ is God.”

The conflict continued even after Lincoln moved into the White House. Once he was visited by two delegations that came to argue as to whether or not a St. Louis church should be closed as a result of statements of disloyalty from its minister. The President listened to both sides and then said that the situation reminded him of a story. He said a man back in his county in Illinois had a melon patch that kept getting ruined by a wild hog. He decided to take his sons and hunt the animal down. They followed the tracks to the neighboring creek, where they disappeared. They discovered them on the opposite bank, and waded through. They kept on the trail a couple of hundred yards, when the tracks again went into the creek, and again turned up on the other side. Out of breath and patience, the farmer said, “John, you cross over and go up on that side of the creek, and I’ll keep up on this side, because I believe that hog is on both sides of the creek!” “Gentlemen,” concluded Lincoln, “that is just where I stand in regard to your controversies in St. Louis. I am on both sides. I can’t allow my Generals to run the churches, and I can’t allow your ministers to preach rebellion.”

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Read more Presidential humor.

Read more fun facts about Abraham Lincoln.

Read more fun facts about religion.

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