Who Among You Are With Me?: The Story of the Black Robe Regiment
“For everything, there is a season. A time for peace and a time to fight.” Peter Muhlenberg stepped out from behind the pulpit and removed his black clergy robe. Underneath, he wore his military uniform. “There is a time to fight. And that time is now! Who among you are with me?” Muhlenberg grabbed his musket and marched out of the church. That day, January 21, 1776, 300 men answered their pastor’s call and enlisted in the 8th Virginia Regiment. Muhlenberg’s brigade fought throughout rest of the war, including the fight against Cornwallis at the Battle of Yorktown.
Peter Muhlenberg was only one of the hundreds of pastors who fueled the fire of the Revolution. All across the colonies, pastors actively participated in the American Revolution. Because of their black clergy robes, colonial pastors became known as the Black Robe Regiment. Their involvement was just as crucial as active militiamen. In fact, there were those in the British Army who blamed the Black Robe Regiment for American independence. Some pastors, like Peter Muhlenberg, led their congregations in actual combat, while others involved themselves at home.
In the years leading up to the Revolutionary War, colonial pastors led a spiritual revival, called the Great Awakening. The Gospel of Jesus Christ was preached in a fire and brimstone manner all across the colonies – saturating American hearts and minds with the Gospel and patriotism. Shortly thereafter, King George and the British Parliament adopted policies that began to antagonize the colonies, infringing upon what the colonists considered to be basic human rights that they were entitled to by the laws of nature and nature’s God. King George hoped the patriots would be easily subjugated, but the people of the land had changed during the Great Awakening, rededicating themselves to Christianity and patriotism. They were not about to submit to what they saw as acts of tyranny.
Colonial pastors like Peter Muhlenberg, Francis Armstrong, and James Caldwell took a bold stand against Mother England, leading their congregations on the battlefield. Other pastors stayed home to rally the troops. These pastors preached about the Creator and explained their belief that Creator endowed each person with certain inalienable rights, such as the people’s right to abolish any form of government that does not secure individual rights. They infused into the population concepts of religious freedom, liberty, and even taxation by representation.
In addition, the influence of the Black Robe Regiment extends into our founding documents. Because of the Great Awakening, our founders had a renewed dedication to Christianity and resilient patriotism. Almost every signer of the Declaration of Independence professed belief in the Christian God. In fact, the 27 grievances listed in the Declaration were the most popular sermon topics of the day. For example, George Whitefield preached “Britain’s Mercies and Britain’s Duties.” Isaac Backus delivered “An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty.” Elisha Williams recited “The Essential Rights and Liberties of Protestants.” Furthermore, during the First Constitutional Convention, our founders opened with 3 days of prayer and an intense Bible study.
In this Bible study, our founders studied the government system God created in the Bible. This was the basis of our three-branch government. Patrick Henry said that, “It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great Nation was founded not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For that reason alone, people of other faiths have been afforded freedom of worship here.”
Also in this convention, they created a means in which every person would have complete religious freedom: the First Amendment. The First Amendment forbids Congress from making any law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the exercise thereof. Basically, this Amendment is designed to keep Congress from establishing a national or mandatory religion like the king of Great Britain presided over or from passing laws that keep people from worshiping freely. It is not a statement that America is religion-free, nor that the country does not have religious roots.
Quite frankly, America has does have religious roots. The contribution that the Black Robe Regiment and other early Christians had on the formation of our country deeply embedded Christian principles into the very heart of our nation. Biblical principles are abundant in the Declaration and Constitution and the structure of our government. The First Amendment was designed solely to offer religious freedom to people of other faiths. However, in recent years, Americans have misinterpreted the First Amendment to mean that America is just a religion free zone. In so doing, they have stripped our nation of its identity.
Just as you would see statues of Buddha in Japan or the Star of David in Israel, you should see a wooden cross at Easter or a nativity scene at Christmas in America. But instead, part of our religious freedom is being chipped away. Several years ago in Florida, when a college student refused to stomp on a piece of paper with Jesus’ name on it, he was suspended from the religious tolerance class. Politicians are trying to take In God We Trust off our money and “one nation under God” out of our pledge of allegiance. People are too worried about offending someone if they say Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays. America was not intended to be religion free, but rather, a bastion religious freedom. This fact cannot be hidden by Happy Holidays or by the Easter bunny or by Santa Clause.
The Black Robe Regiment were convicted that God endowed each individual with certain rights. When these liberties were breeched by King George, the Regiment staunchly defended these rights in both word and deed. In doing so, they committed what was deemed to be treason and encouraged war. Not everyone in the colonies agreed with them, but these pastors and their followers were not afraid or ashamed to take an active position on their beliefs. Sadly, Americans today are often discouraged to take a firm stand for what they believe, especially in the area of religious freedom. We have been indoctrinated to think that if someone disagrees with another, they are being intolerant, opinionated, and should not be allowed to express themselves.
When I participated in the Sons of the American Revolution National Historical Orations Contest, representing the state of Ohio, I almost decided not to talk about the Black Robe Regiment in my speech because of fear that I would offend the judges and get a bad score; I was apprehensive that I would be judged as a “religious freak” and, therefore, not be liked. However, this group of pastors has taught me to be bold and unashamed of sharing what I believe. I affirm that a providential Hand guided our nation’s founding, and that that Hand used pastors to help win the Revolutionary War. Furthermore, I believe that our nation will only prosper if “in God We Trust.” Now is the time for us to stop pretending that we don’t have religious roots. America is not supposed to be religion free, but a bastion of religious freedom.
So how does the story of the Black Robe Regiment apply to our lives today? Keeping those Christian heroes of our early history in mind, I challenge you to identify something you have been reticent to acknowledge. Then, speak out and become active: boycott companies in an attempt to affect change, explain your position to your representatives, defend your beliefs publicly, and educate others about your point of view. Do not stand by passively. The Black Robe Regiment showed us that if we want to make a change, we must be passionate. In the words of Muhlenberg, “for everything there is a season. Who among you are with me?”
Lydia Grace is a senior in high school who lives with her family in Ohio. Ever since kindergarten, she and her five siblings have been homeschooled. This fall, she will attend Ohio University and major in either education or physician’s assistance. She also plans to become a certified American Sign Language interpreter. During high school, Lydia has competed in several different oratory disciplines, including oration contests, mock trial, and moot court. For the past several years, she has represented her state in the Sons of the American Revolution oration contest and placed second in the 2014 nationals for her speech dealing with the relevancy of the Black Robe Regiment in modern America.