Slavery Subdividing the Presbyterian Church.
Some twenty years have passed away since the first disruption of the Presbyterian Church in the United States. Recent events have continued to widen the breach, and at last the offshoot itself breaks in twain from the violence of the forces which have struggled within it.
The Old and New School General Assemblies met ten days ago; the former in Kentucky—the latter in Cleveland. The first has gone on with its business in its customary easy manner, not permitting itself to become excited on any subject, and refraining from the introduction of agitating topics. The body in session at Cleveland was yearly tossed by storms. It has been called to weather a heavy gale, has lost some of its spars, and is beating up against the wind. The moving cause of the troubles which have environed the Assembly of the New School, since the day of its organization for the session of this year, is simply Slavery. Intruded constantly upon the notice of members, presented in appeals from Presbyterics, dwelt upon with virulence by the press, and discussed, in and out of Assembly, by debaters of extreme acumen and no small genius, this unhappy topic finally produces the result in which its free consideration naturally ends. There is an explosion. An explosion too, in which the number of the wounded is large, and their prominence in the community invests their case with a peculiar interest. The Assembly takes ground distinctly against the system of Slavery. The South becomes intractable and bellicose, and finally secedes. The Presbyterian Church in the United States is again divided. The North and South draw a strongly marked line of boundary, and hence forth there are three General Assemblies—three separate branches of the Presbyterian Church—three sets of doctrine—a trinity of discord.
The action of the opposing parties has been summary throughout. A Committee, appointed at the meeting of the Assembly in this City last year, was charged with the duty of reporting upon the subject of Slavery, which had been specially committed to its care. The report was eagerly expected. It was not long in coming. Very soon after the preliminary organization at Cleveland, the Committee reported. The report was mild and temporizing, or at least was so intended. It divided the Church into two great classes,--one consisting of those who claim that Slavery is a natural relation, and that, as such, it is a desirable system and ought to be perpetuated; the other, comprising the party which holds that Slavery is undesirable and pernicious, and that it should not be encouraged. This report was accepted by neither North nor South. The Southern men denied the truth of the position assigned to them. Both parties united in the rejection of the report. Sundry substitutes were then offered, and one was finally adopted which makes the following declaration:--that the General Assembly observes with grief that a portion of the Church in the South has so far departed from established doctrine as to maintain that Slavery is an ordinance of God; that the Assembly bears solemn testimony against Slavery, as a system at war with the whole tenor of the Gospel and abhorrent to the conscience of the Christian world; that the Assembly can have no sympathy or fellowship with it; and that Church members are exhorted to eschew it as a serious and pernicious error. This report was strong and earnest—too strong for Southern members, who at once seceded and prepared a protest, in which the action of the Assembly, in adopting the report, is denounced as “unrighteous, oppressive, uncalled-for, the exercise of usurped power, destructive of the unity of the Church, hurtful to North and South, and adding to the peril of the Union of the States.” The Assembly received this protest, which bears the signatures of Dr. Ross and twenty-one others, and responded in a counter-statement which is refreshingly mild and non-combative when compared with the fire-eating manifesto of Dr. Ross and his colleagues. The Assembly disavows any desire to exscind the South from membership, but held firmly to its ground, and so the proceeding terminated, and with them the existence of the Assembly.
It is said to be the intention of the seceding party, comprising the Synods of the South, to call another General Assembly, to meet at Washington some time this Summer. The outbreak has been so long threatened and is so severe when it comes, that there is barely a hope of any future union of the elements now discordant. The Old School could not agree with the New on question connected with points of doctrine, and each went its way. Now, the New cannot agree with all its own members, but quarrels on Slavery, and a new School to be known, we presume, as the Southern Presbyterian, springs up to take its rank among the theologies of the day.
While it is cause of regret that a disturbance so serious as this should have been permitted to arise in a religious body which represents a very large class in our community, blame cannot rest upon the Assembly for the expression of an opinion which it ahs honestly believed to be true. In the belief that the institution of Slaver is unchristian and demoralizing, the Assembly as borne testimony against it. If it so believed, the voice of the majority was clearly entitled to a hearing. The Southern Church grew violent and denunciatory, and some of its ministers avowed themselves to be “slaveholders from principle and choice.” Extremes met, the event was unavoidable. The forces were no longer attractive but repellant. The issue is joined, and the South ahs now the task of severing its connection with the financial and charitable enterprises of the Presbyterian Church, as it has done with the Assembly. This is not the least difficult of the problem it has yet to solve.