There is plenty for liberals to rail against in Mel Gibson's new
movie, "The Patriot," including youngsters taking up arms to defend
their family, black people performing plantation duties of their own
free will, and certain British army officers ruthlessly and brutally
murdering women and children. Perhaps, the most politically incorrect
scene of all, however, is where the local parish pastor picks up his
musket and joins the militia. His explanation goes something like, "A
pastor has to tend the flock, and sometimes he has to fight off the
This is quite a departure from Hollywood's usual characterization of
Christian ministers. For the past 30 years, Hollywood has pictured
preachers as wild-eyed, maniacal misfits. And those are the good ones!
Not since Bing Crosby and Glenn Ford left the big screen has Hollywood
had anything good to say about preachers. Gibson's preacher is a breath
of fresh air. He is also an accurate reflection of hundreds of colonial
ministers who fought valiantly in America's War for Independence.
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Pastors from every Protestant denomination joined the cause for
liberty and took up arms against the British, including Episcopalian
ministers like Dr. Samuel Provost of New York, Dr. John Croes of New
Jersey and Robert Smith of South Carolina. Presbyterian clergymen like
James Hall and Adam Boyd of North Carolina, James Armstrong of Maryland
and James Caldwell of New Jersey were also counted among America's
Caldwell's story is especially inspiring. James Caldwell was pastor
of the Presbyterian Church of Elizabeth, N.J. He was affectionately
called "The Rebel High Priest" and "The Fighting Chaplain." He has been
made famous by the story "Give 'em Watts." It is told that at the
Springfield engagement when the militia ran out of wadding for their
muskets, Parson Caldwell galloped to the Presbyterian Church, and
returning with an armload of hymn-books, threw them on the ground,
exclaiming, "Now, boys, give 'em Watts! Give 'em Watts!"
Eventually, the British made martyrs of both Caldwell and his wife.
Elizabeth fell to the Crown in 1780. Caldwell's church was burned to the
ground, and his wife was shot. Later they shot Caldwell himself.
A clergyman that expressed similar resolve was John Peter Gabriel
Muhlenberg, who was the pastor of a Lutheran church in Woodstock, Va.
When the news of Bunker Hill reached Virginia, he reminded his
congregation that there was a time to preach and a time to fight. He
cried, "It is now time to fight." And throwing off his vestments, he
stood before his people in the uniform of a Virginia colonel. Muhlenberg
became a major general in the Continental Army and took part in the
battles of Brandywine, Germantown, and Monmouth. At Yorktown he
commanded the first brigade.
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Col. Joab Houghton of New Jersey is also typical of ministers in
Colonial America. Houghton was in the Hopewell Baptist Church when he
received the first information of Concord and Lexington. His
great-grandson gives the following description of the way he treated the
"Mounting the great stone block in front of the meeting-house, he
beckoned to the people to stop. Men and women paused to hear, curious to
know what so unusual a sequel to the service of the day could mean.
Words stern as death fell over all. The Sabbath quiet of the hour and of
the place was deepened into a terrible solemnity. He told them all the
story of the cowardly murder at Lexington by the royal troops; the
heroic vengeance following hard upon it; the retreat of Percy; the
gathering of the children of the Pilgrims round the beleaguered hills of
Boston; then pausing, and looking over the silent throng, he said
slowly, 'Men of New Jersey, the red coats are murdering our brethren of
New England! Who follows me to Boston?' And every man of that audience
stepped out into line, and answered, 'I.' There was not a coward or a
traitor in old Hopewell Baptist Meeting-House that day" (from Cathcart's
"Baptists and the American Revolution").
The truth is, America could never have won its independence from
Great Britain had it not been for the support of its pastors. America's
preachers sounded the clarion call for righteousness and freedom and
assisted the revolutionary effort with their own blood, sweat and tears.
A major cause of our nation's current deterioration is the apathy and
cowardice of America's pulpits! Many of today's pastors resemble
politicians more than prophets; they have more fluff than fight.
"Onward, Christian Soldiers" has been taken out of their hymn-books, and
the grit has been removed from their spine. No wonder our nation is in
Liberals may not like it, but it was men like Caldwell, Houghton and
Muhlenberg that helped deliver this nation from the chains of tyranny
and oppression. And it will take men of similar stuff to keep this
nation from returning to the bondage from which it had broken free.