William Mercer Green, *The Influence of Christianity Upon the Welfare of Nations*

In 1831 William Mercer Green, an Episcopal clergymen and later bishop of Mississippi, used a lecture at the University of North Carolina to extol what he argued was the near total affects of public Christianity on the development of Western social progress. For Green, Christianity was less the culmination of a Western intellectual, religious, or social tradition and more a revolutionary conqueror that subdued the Greeks and Romans.  He stated flatly that the “religion of the Bible is the highest ornament and the surest safeguard of national prosperity.” Green noted that personal piety was beneficial to the body politic of the American republic and all nations. He also believed that the social effects of Christianity represented conquest of paganism that lifted the human condition. “Involuntary proofs of the beneficial effects of Christianity on individual character, are abundantly supported by similar testimony to its benign influence on society generally.” As soon as “the mild religion of the Son of God obtained a footing in the world, than its benevolent spirit became a bond of union between independent nations. The middle wall of partition, which had so long divided the Jewish and Gentile world, crumbled at its touch.”

Pagan virtues that fed “pride and revenge, those fertile sources of war and bloodshed, were supplanted by humility and forgiveness. Into every family it came a messenger of love, a dispenser of peace.” Christianity gave women a better life as it “took by the hand the softer sex, and eased “their shoulders of the onerous burdens that barbarous superstition had put upon them. Christians lifted women “from a degraded and servile state, and gave to them that equal rank in refined society to which they are justly entitled.” The religion of Christ “abolished polygamy, and restricted the power of divorce. Unnatural crime has fled at its approach. The harshness of parental authority has been tempered by the mild precepts of the gospel.” Instead of the pagan practice of “putting to death the old and the decrepit, and weak and deformed children, as was sanctioned by the laws of many heathen states,” Christianity’s benevolent genius “spread over these hapless members of the human family the ample aegis of the law, and erected asylums for their preservation and relief.” Marital relationships and the relationships between parents and children, “which formerly differed but little from that of master and slave, are now stripped of all unnecessary power. The poor and the ignorant have been taken under the patronage of the rich and enlightened.” Prosperous Christians allowed themselves to be “taxed to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and heal the afflicted.” No matter what form or the degree human misery took, “the spirit of Christianity opens to its relief the hand of private benevolence and munificent storehouses of public charity.”

            Christianity, argued Green, also “erected houses of refuge for every grade and species of human suffering. It has established schools for the gratuitous instruction of the poor.” The religion of Christ “penetrated in to the noxious dungeon, and not only lighted it’s darkness with the lamp of eternal life but placed within the reach of its wretched tenant every comfort that the strict claims of justice will allow.” The expansive course of Christian benevolence had even “descended to the care of inferior animals by discountenancing every exercise of cruelty towards them and by making their ease and security a subject of legal enactment.” Human individuals, human societies, and even animals experienced the benevolent reign of Christendom. “Instead then, of asking, ‘what has Christianity done?’ we may demand ‘What has it not done toward meliorating the condition of man?’”[1]

[1] William Mercer Green, The Influence of the Christianity Upon the Welfare of the Nations (Hillsborough, NC: Dennis Heart, 1831), 16-17.


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