Early Religious Views

The path to Angelina’s remarkable life was established in and influenced by her religious beliefs. From the time she was a young woman she felt that God had a greater plan for her life than she could imagine. She recorded her thoughts on it in her diary:

 “It does appear to me, and it has appeared so ever since I had a hope,

that there was a work before me to which all my other duties and trials

were only preparatory. I have no idea what it is, and I may be mistaken,

but it does seem that if I am obedient to the ‘still small voice’ in my heart,

that it will lead me and cause me to glorify my Master in a more honorable

work than any in which I have been yet engaged.” (Birney 55-56).

 When Angelina was thirteen she refused to be confirmed in the Episcopalian faith because she did not agree with the regulations of the church. After she was reassured that confirmation was a tradition of the aristocratic families, she refused all the more (Goodman 182). Prodded by her sister Sarah’s concern for her religious life, she eventually joined the church, but soon left it. She had found that she was dissatisfied with her new religious commitment because its ritualism did not touch her (Birney 41-42). She then embraced the comforting new religion of Presbyterianism (Goodman 182).  Angelina felt she was making the right religious decisions and had obtained salvation in her conversion to Presbyterianism. She liked Presbyterianism because it was action oriented and had “weekly prayer meetings” and classes (South Carolina 68). She liked that people of other denominations were welcomed at the church (Birney 50). This religious unbinding moved her to make a few decisions of her own that foreshadowed the events of her later life.

          Angelina set the tone for her unorthodox belief early in her conversion to the Presbyterian faith when she began holding monthly women’s prayer meetings for women of different faiths (South Coralina 69). Also, while a member of the Presbyterian Church she took her first step toward abolition by holding daily religious meetings for the servants in her mother’s house. Soon neighbors’ servants were also attending these services (Birney 72). This was unusual because allowing slaves religious education was thought dangerous. It was during this time of social rebellion that Angelina began to disagree with Rev. William McDowell, the minister of the Presbyterian Church. The disagreement was over the moral obligation to denounce slavery in the church. Although Rev. McDowell did not believe slavery to be right, he would not openly condemn it in church (South Carolina 70). This greatly disappointed Angelina. Since he was a Northerner, she had expected that he would hold the same opposition to slavery she had, but he did not. In fact, he felt that ending slavery would do more harm the good (Struggle Against 281-82). This incident and Angelina’s general dislike of slavery led her to speak to the Church’s elders about condemning slavery. Their response to her was that time would reveal to her that slavery was reasonable. When confronting the elders of the Church proved futile, Angelina talked to individuals within the Church. They too would not speak out against slavery (South Carolina 71). The frustration from these disagreements dimmed Angelina’s religious idealism about the Presbyterian Church.

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Last updated March 2, 2001

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