POLITICS AND RELIGION
As previously observed, the Washington Society occupies a strictly neutral position on these subjects. All our efforts are devoted to the one single object of inducing all, the temperate and intemperate, to sign a total-abstinence pledge, and to drink no more while the world stands.
On the subject of political action, we have previously stated the principles of the society. Perhaps our relation to the matter of religion is of more importance, and less understood. We have been represented as being adverse to religion – as arraying ourselves against the Church – as declaring our labors to be higher and holier than those of the Christian ministry – as substituting Temperance for religion. In all these charges we are wholly and entirely misrepresented or misunderstood. Our true principles on this subject are as follows: as a body, retaining our original position as a unit, we have nothing to do whatever with religion or politics; any more than a political party has to do with religion or temperance. If a man will only comply with our constitution he may be a Catholic, a Protestant, or an Infidel, if he chooses. We do not enquire into his creed or notions. This is not our business. He may be anything or nothing in this respect. But he must not bring his creed or party into the society. When he comes into the Washington Temperance Hall, he leaves his church creed and party politics at home; and meet all his fellow-members not as Democrats or Whigs, not as Presbyterians, Methodists, Catholics, or anything else – no, not even as Christians, (for they may not all be such,) but as his fellow-men, on the one common platform of total-abstinence. We do not mean that anyone is to so any thing in the society, or as a member of the same, contrary to his religious creed and obligations, or his political notions; but he is not to introduce them to the society. No matter then who the man may be, we give him the hand of a brother Washingtonian, if he signs our pledge and keeps it, and conducts himself becomingly among us, – and few cold-water men are other than gentlemen.
Constituted thus, how then could the society, as such, legitimately have anything to do with religion. The members, as individuals, have to do with religion as they had before they joined. If they were drunkards and have reformed, this only places them back in their original position as men; and to their God and their own consciences must they stand or fall.
With these sentiments, the society does not have any religious worship connected with their regular meetings in their Hall. Yet when they are permitted to occupy, for their public meetings, any usual place of worship, they are in the habit of requesting some minister or religious person to open the meeting with prayer, according to the mode and form in use where they meet.
If a clergyman joins the society, he is precisely on the same footing with all the other members; and his ministerial character is not recognized among us.
All this neutrality is necessary in order to combine the heterogeneous elements that make up the Washington Society. The object is not only to avoid all sectarianism, but even the appearance or suspicion of sectarianism. Indeed we have more in view. The design is to prevent all suspicion that the Temperance cause is a church affair; and that with this wise and benevolent design; we wish to reach and save all men from intemperance, even those who are embittered against the church. Heretofore most of the Temperance societies were connected more or less, nominally or otherwise, with some church or other; the meetings were usually held in churches, conducted with religious exercises, and more or less under the direction of ministers; many of the addresses were made by ministers, and partook of the nature of sermons rather than Temperance speeches. All this was very well, so far as it went. It had its designed effect; but only on a portion of the community. While these arrangements were calculated to accomplish much with the upright and religious, they were strongly calculated to make the impression upon the drinking man, that the Temperance reform was a church affair, and that joining a Temperance society, was more or less a religious business.
Now anyone who knows anything of drunkenness knows that most drunkards are strongly averse to religion, if not infidel at heart. They want to hear nothing about “moral reform” and “church societies.” Hence this class of men rarely went near a temperance meeting formerly. Indeed many of them in their degradation and wretchedness would not have gained admission to a church. It was to reconcile such feelings and aversions, that this strongly neutral ground was taken in the first place, and is still held by the Washington Temperance Society.
The drunkard is prejudiced against the church and her ministers. Satisfy him that these have nothing to do with your society, and he will listen to you. When he joins and is reformed, and has come to his proper senses and his conscience, no one can doubt the effect of his reformation will have on his notions of church matters. Cold water clears the head; and though it does not regenerate, it greatly unwraps the heart. And though a man reformed from intemperance, may still be an unconverted man so far as religion is concerned, yet he is now prepared to view matters in their true light, with a cool head; and now, if ever, he will be likely to attend religious worship and become a Christian. Religious influences now have access to him; before they had not.
These statements will explain much in which the society has been wrongly represented. When the president and the members, after the foundation of the society, over and over again said to the public:” We have nothing to do with religion,” they meant as we have explained above, and do not array themselves against religion. Indeed there are now men in the Washington Society of as much piety as any men in the city of Baltimore. As regards being opposed to Clergymen, the society has shown no such feeling. We number among our members several of the principal evangelical ministers of the city; which is sufficient evidence that all is right on that score.
The true position of the Washington Society is this: as a body we recognize no creed of religion. Our members may be as much or as little religious as they please, provided they do not violate our pledge. We do not substitute temperance for religion, nor place temperance above religion. On the contrary we hold that a man’s reformation from intemperance only places him in his original position, and leaves him to deal with the Church and his God, according to the dictates of his own conscience. Of one thing we are certain: sober men are more likely to be religious than drinking men; and the church will gain more members where there is a Washington Temperance Society, than where there is none.
In conclusion on this subject, instead of the society being infidel, and setting itself up as independent of all divine influence, we have often heard its founders remark, that such has been the result of their efforts, beyond all they could have anticipated, that they cannot but believe that the hand of GOD has been in this reform; and that they have been made the humble instruments in the hands of Providence, of accomplishing these great things.