Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sectionalism, Fractionalism, and the Separation of Union: A Case Study of What Leads People of Principle to Fight

Alan C. Aimone is the Chief of Special Collections of the United States Military Academy Library, West Point, New York. He researches and writes historical articles, principally on West Point, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and Hudson Valley history. I wrote last week of Alan's kindness toward Rachelle and me as we visited with him at West Point. On the way home from New York I was able to read Alan's lengthy and scholarly article in the December 1991 edition of Blue and Gray Magazine entitled "Much to Sadden and Little to Cheer--The Civil War Years at West Point."

West Point, our nation's premier military academy for army cadets, became filled with tension in the months preceding the Civil War. Plebes (first year students) and cadets found themselves abandoning the traditional harmony of "God and Country" for the sectionalism of "north" and "south." In his article, Alan Aimone writes of the first recorded fist fight on the grounds of West Point over the division arising from principled differences that formed the cause of the Civil War. The fisticuffs between Emory Upton (Class of May 1861) of New York and Wade Hampton Gibbes (Class of 1860) of South Carolina was "the first determined stand by any Northerner against the long, aggressive and unchallenged dictatorship of the South" against those West Point cadets who held to abolitionist principles.

Cadet Upton had attended Oberlin College in Ohio, an institution that was "hated and despised by the South for ... admitting negroes as students." Cadet Gibbes made unflattering comments to his Southern friends regarding Upton's "intimate relationship with Negroes." Battle lines were then drawn and a fight was held behind closed doors in the barracks while a crowd of cadets gathered in the hall to listen to the skirmish. A contemporary of the fight's participants, cadet Morris Schaff, stood in the hallway and later wrote home describing the scene:

From time to time we could hear angry voices, the scuffling of feet, and those other dull sounds which fall so heavily on the ears ... (W)hen the fight was over, I saw Upton's resolute face bleeding. Upton's roommate and his second in the fight, John Isaac Rodgers, stood at the top of the stairs and defied the mob of cadets, yelling, 'If there are any more of you down there who want anything, come right up!' No one accepted his challenge. I am satisfied that the South then and there beheld what iron and steel there was in the Northern blood when once it was up."
This interesting anecdote gives some insight on why people of previous harmony wind up fighting.

(1). When differences in beliefs are not debated with civility, and one side or the other begins to personally denigrate and ridicule the character and personhood of those who believe differently, the beginnings of a fight emerge.

(2). From the group being abused personally--usually those who hold to a minority viewpoint--there arises one who stands firm against those who denigrate and abuse.

(3). When those in control feel  threatened or are challenged, they will attack with ferocity, believing themselves in danger of losing their dominating position.

(4). If the minority leader successfully holds his ground, others who also hold to the same viewpoint are emboldened and begin to rally, eventually feeling safe enough to issue challenges of their own to those who have personally denigrated those with whom they disagree.

(5). Eventually the fight will cease because those who love to bully and attack those with whom they are exposed as lacking the kind of character needed in true leaders.

An illustration of all five principles at play in a modern "fight" among Southern Baptists is forthcoming.

In His Grace,



Anonymous said...

Are you going to be a peacemaker?

Ramesh said...

Amen. Pastor Wade you have hit the proverbial nail on the head. This is it. At least from my perspective, what is happening in the SBC blog world. Hope these principles spread to the country and the world as a whole. That would be much for the better.

Bob Cleveland said...

Like you even need to give an illustration?

Joe Blackmon said...

Eventually the fight will cease because they who love to bully and attack those who disagree with them are exposed as lacking the kind of character needed in true leaders.

Yes, conservative Christians that have read your blog are aware of your lack of character. It's good that you're willing to admit that. It's a good first step, Wade.

Chris Riley said...

Wish I would have had this discourse when I wrote my master's thesis on E.Y. Mullins' a few years ago. Great insight!

gary dilworth said...

Excellent post, please fix the typos in (3).
Let's take a look at Norman Geisler's open letter to Peter Lumpkins: To Whom It May Concern:

“I am familiar with the slanderous charges that have been made against Dr. Ergun Caner generated by some Muslim groups and other extremists. I have looked into the matter, talking with Ergun and other principal parties at Liberty, and am convinced that the charges are libelous. I am also convinced that whatever ambiguous or misstatement that may have been made, Dr. Caner has done nothing heretical, immoral, or illegal. I stand with him against these vicious attacks. He has taken a strong stand on important issues that stir up controversy, but to my knowledge has done nothing unorthodox or malicious. I urge all to consider him innocent unless proven guilty. He has welcomed an inquiry from the Liberty authorities. Let’s await their findings. Christians have a bad habit of shooting their wounded. Let’s pray for and encourage our brother.”

Sincerely in Christ,

Dr. Norman L. Geisler

If the charges are slanderous and libelous, then Caner cannot be innocent till proven guilty, but must be innocent without the possibility of being proven guilty. Would you agree? Or am I missing something?

wadeburleson.org said...


Something happened in the save of this post that caused many words to be jumbled--in many places. I didn't know it until this morning. Thanks for pointing it out. I think I've repaired all errors.

Anonymous said...

Just because you are in the minority or in disagreement with those in authority does not automatically make you right or a martyr.

wadeburleson.org said...


True. But when those in a majority personally denigrate those in the minority, they abdicate the privilege of leadership.

gary dilworth said...

In my above post where I have quoted Dr. Geisler, the quote ends where his name ends. That next group of sentences that say, ["If the charges are slanderous and libelous, then Caner cannot be innocent till proven guilty, but must be innocent without the possibility of being proven guilty. Would you agree? Or am I missing something?"] are my own questions. Just wanted to be clear. Thanx.

Garen Martens said...

Point 5 - The fight might cease, but often the hard feelings remain for a long time.

Anonymous said...

Joe Blackmon,

You have a lot of nerve saying that Wade lacks character when, in fact, you engage in some of the most vile attacks and unnecessary name-calling in the entire blogosphere.

Anonymous said...

Hey Wade - watch out. That picture with a red circle through it might be interpreted as being threatening. Some folks in Jacksonville are basing their entire defense of establishment clause violations and first amendment violations on a red circle with a line through it on a blog. Regardless of the context or content of the blog itself, some officials and law enforcement seem to be saying the red circle with a line through it is threatening. And therefore,...they can file criminal complaints and issues subpoenas. I know it sounds ridiculous, but sadly, it is true.

Beware the cirle with a line through it on blogs.

Anonymous said...

If those in the majority abdicate the position of leadership when they denigrate those in the minority, does this same principle hold true for the minority? Surely you jest if you think the minority is sinless in these encounters and their insults can be equally as denigrating.

linda said...

Those of us who are "of a certain age" can remember when debates within the SBC were,well, for lack of a better word, genteel.

Now, it's all go for the throat fight to the death struggle.

I watched the chilling effect of this in SS last Sunday.

We were discussing a passage in Leviticus and NO ONE wanted to comment on it. Finally one person basically said "well, we all agree this is all about homosexuallity and that it is wrong." The flood gate opened and everyone spoke at once in agreement.

Now, the passage was NOT "all about homosexuallity." Most of it concerned heterosexual marriage or liason taboos. Taboos being broken in our community on a regular basis.

But we never discussed them.

Why? I suspect from the rest of the discussions that followed that the assembled DIDN'T KNOW that stuff was in the Bible, or DIDN'T KNOW what the party line is so were afraid to comment.

I suspect that because of what happens at that SS if someone says they don't think the earth is less than 10,000 years old, or believe scripture allows women's ordination, or suggests the teen girls help the teen boys take the offering, or isn't pretrib premil.

In those instances you are not debated, or told "I believe you are wrong", or any such civil comment. You are point blank told you "just don't believe the Bible."

I'm old enough to remember when Southern Baptists were taught they had the responsibility to read and seek to understand the Bible.

Now we are told to shut up and believe whatever the current leadership gurus tell us to believe.

And if we don't, we are labelled heretics, or troublemakers, or stupid, or folks that "don't believe the Bible."

Are we really so insecure we cannot stand to be questioned?

greg.w.h said...

Anonymous asked:

If those in the majority abdicate the position of leadership when they denigrate those in the minority, does this same principle hold true for the minority? Surely you jest if you think the minority is sinless in these encounters and their insults can be equally as denigrating.

If that's a call for repentance by everyone from this sin, I think you're making a fine point. I'd offer that the Bible consistently held the de facto and de jure leaders more accountable than those they led, though.

As to who is and is not sinless, I'll also conjecture that none of us, no not one, is righteous. And in this case, imputed righteousness clearly doesn't cure the problem of continuing unrighteousness (something Paul addresses). So it must have a different purpose.

I'll offer that imputed righteousness is the great sign and seal that the Holy Spirit will succeed with each of those in Jesus's hand in completing the work of conforming us to the image of Christ Jesus. If I were to borrow from a particularly poignant passage (AH...SWEET alliteration):

Mark 9:20-29 (NIV)

So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.

Jesus asked the boy's father, "How long has he been like this?"

"From childhood," he answered. "It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us."

" 'If you can'?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for him who believes."

Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"

When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit. "You deaf and mute spirit," he said, "I command you, come out of him and never enter him again."

The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, "He's dead." But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.

After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, "Why couldn't we drive it out?"

He replied, "This kind can come out only by prayer."

I'm not arguing that this kind of infighting is demonic, by the way. (I think the proof of the "pudding" is in the eating, so to speak). I'm pointing out that the gap between belief and unbelief, between righteousness and unrighteousness, is one that we continually must deal with IN OURSELVES as believers while still on this earth.

If we fully understand that problem of evil--that God imputes righteousness to us while we are still able to sin--then our response ought to be contrition, confession, repentance, and sweet, sweet forgiveness. Not a hardening of our hearts against each other.

Now if we take THAT responsibility seriously, then we will enjoy the emergence of a TRUE priesthood of the believer/believers.

Greg Harvey

Anonymous said...

I'm not convinced that those in authority are any more sinful than those who disagree with their leadership. Seems to me that most who disparage others do so because they are not the person in authority or they didn't get their way on some issue.

Maligning others is not a virtue in either camp as far as I am concerned.

Rex Ray said...

Gary Dilworth,
You asked, “Am I missing something?”

If you hadn’t written twice, I’d say you missed what you wrote. :)

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe you meant to say something like this:

‘If the charges are slanderous and libelous, then Caner cannot be GUILTY until proven guilty, but must be CONSIDERED INNOCENT until proven guilty.

I thought it almost funny that Gesler said, “Christians have a bad habit of shooting their wounded.”

The question begs: If Caner is wounded, what made him wounded if he did not lie?

On the subject of “No Bully Zone”, what Zone would this be?

“If you think that this church needs a new “coach”, then follow your conviction and “man up” by making a recommendation to have me removed. For once, do not hide behind a pen, paper, or computer. I will even make the motion that the church votes by secret ballot. I will leave the meeting so everyone can speak freely. But, if it does not pass…I will ask for your removal as a deacon and/or church member.”

Jack Maddox said...


That sounds like someone calling your hand brother! LOL!

gary dilworth said...

Rex Ray,
Thank you for responding to my question.
I did write exactly what I meant. But let me rephrase....
If the charges are slanderous, and libelous, then the evidence is worthless, fraudulent, and not good. There can be no substantive truth to the charges. "Caner has done nothing immoral" says Dr. Geisler. Caner is therefore innocent without the possibility of being proven guilty.
Slander- words falsely spoken that damage the reputation of another.
Libel- A false publication, as in writing, print, signs, or pictures, that damages a person's reputation.
Dr. Geisler is saying the charges are falsely spoken, and are false publications. He says Caner has done nothing immoral. It seems to me Dr. Geisler is saying Dr. Caner is innocent and the evidence against Dr. Caner is worthless.
But, Dr. Geisler then contradicts himself. He says later, innocent unless proven guilty, but first he says he really is innocent, because the evidence against Dr. Caner is false.
And there are other problems with what Dr. Geisler said. It seems to be a very logically conflicted statement.


Debbie Kaufman said...

First, this isn't a court of law, and this shouldn't be treated as a court of law. This is a morals issue not a civil issue.

I never claimed to be sinless nor has anyone else. I have said that I to go and am going through a sanctification process. I have not asked Ergun Caner to do anything I myself am not willing to do.

Innocent until proven guilty is a mute point. The evidence says he lied. He was dishonest. The fact that he pulled vidoes, changed evidence, took down his statement, etc. is telling to. It was probably the worst thing he could have done.

This is about integrity and honesty in the church with no repentance. That is all this is about.

Rex Ray said...

I see we’re on the same side with Debbie.

Debbie you said, “This is about integrity and honesty in the church with no repentance.”

I agree and would add, ‘This is about no integrity and dishonesty in the church with no repentance.’

Thanks for the LOL. ‘Showdown at OK corral’ – huh? What a can of worms that would be. Reminds me of a cowboy rescuing a cow stuck in mud trying to get the rope off without getting killed.

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