Beliefs Politics

Secession theology runs deep in American religious, political history

RNS photo courtesy Library of Congress

(RNS) Corruption has gone too far. The righteous must break away. Hope now rests with a holy remnant that will honor foundational texts. 

The message sounds familiar. A church schism? No, mounting calls for secession from the United States.

A later, altered version of “The Pending Conflict” (1864). Albeit more optimistic from the Northern point of view than its earlier couterpart, this version is equally critical of European abetment of the Confederate war effort and of the anti-Lincoln or pacifist movement in the North. The artist has made significant changes in composition and details.

Since President Obama won re-election, more than 750,000 Americans have petitioned the White House website to let their respective states secede, from Alaska to Iowa to Maryland and Vermont. Those leading the charge are framing it, observers say, in terms that suggest a deep-seated religious impulse for purity-through-separation is flaring up once again.

But this time, it’s playing out on a political stage.

“Today's secessionist movements are just the latest example of a long parade of breakaway groups (in American history) seeking to restore some lost ideal,” said Peter J. Thuesen, professor of religious studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. “The problem is that the ideal is invariably a mirage.”

Seeking purity through separation has marked American religious history since the Puritans sailed from Holland to establish a holy beacon in the New World. It helps explain why Baptists, Presbyterians and others have splintered into countless subgroups over the years, and why the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina disaffiliated from the Episcopal Church this fall.

A tribute to commander of Union forces Gen. Winfield Scott, shown as the mythical Hercules slaying the many-headed dragon or hydra, here symbolizing the secession of the Confederate states

A tribute to commander of Union forces Gen. Winfield Scott, shown as the mythical Hercules slaying the many-headed dragon or hydra, here symbolizing the secession of the Confederate states

The pattern commonly involves one group breaking off to re-establish a holy community by living in fresh accord with sacred texts. Religious purists have the Bible to guide their quest; secessionists look to the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. Both insist these centers of authority have suffered neglect and must be restored.

“That’s a persistent line of thought,” said Alan Wolfe, director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College. “There are people who are disappointed with the direction the United States has taken. … It’s primarily political and economic, and then they just find a religious cover for it (as) they tap into pre-existent religious language.”

Dismissing the United States as hopelessly corrupt, secessionists are picking up the breakaway-for-purity motif and running with it. Radio host Alex Jones, whose show airs in 60 markets, alleged on Nov. 15 that “foreign megabanks have hijacked the government” and have made secession necessary.

“We do not want to secede from the Union to destroy the republic, but to restore it,” Jones said. “Go to the White House website. Do your own petitions to reinstall the Declaration of Independence. … It’s now time to launch the second American Revolution.”

Secessionists, such as Russell Longcore of Marietta, Ga., take inspiration from history. He sees secession as pursuit of God-given liberty, such as when American colonies seceded from Britain in 1776, when Southern states left the Union in the 1860s and when the Soviet Union dissolved into 15 separate states two decades ago.

In his view, petitioning the federal government is “silly” because states don’t need permission to secede, but he regards the petitioners’ goal as nonetheless serious and moral in nature.

“The moral decay comes from the fact that Washington, D.C., has summarily ignored the Constitution,” said Longcore, an insurance claims consultant who blogs at He offered the example of unsanctioned wars.

“Article One, Section Eight (of the Constitution) says Congress should have authority to declare war and to prosecute a war,” Longcore said. “There hasn’t been a declared war since World War II, but we’ve been in an awful lot of wars.”

Other narratives help secessionists, as well as religious isolationists, understand their efforts as part of a noble tapestry. Evangelical groups have for years supported Christians in South Sudan, which broke off from Sudan last year after persistent clashes with Muslims in the north. Some now laud how Sudanese Christians separated and hope American Christians would do similarly by withdrawing at least culturally, if not legally.

Those inspired by such examples include Jim Rawles, an evangelical blogger and novelist who teaches survival skills for the coming day when America’s economy collapses. He sees no point in seceding, since the federal government would “hammer” such efforts anyway.

Instead, he’s getting more response these days, he says, to his call for Bible-believing Christians, Orthodox Jews and Messianic Jews to relocate to what he calls the American Redoubt: Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, eastern Washington and eastern Oregon.

One reason he gives on his website for separation: “Even if God has withdrawn his blessings from our nation as a whole, he will continue to provide for and to protect his remnant.”

“It’s time to distance ourselves from the vile corruptness that we see inside the Washington, D.C., Beltway,” said Rawles, who blogs at “It is analogous to the Puritan exodus (from Europe). They couldn’t fit in and said, ‘We’re going to move to completely virgin territory and start afresh.’ … In effect, we’re becoming pistol-packing Amish.”

Some scholars still aren’t buying it. As Wolfe sees it, calls for secession and cultural withdrawal are just sour grapes.

“It’s not religious in inspiration at all,” Wolfe says. “It’s like in the Old South, where if you gave (secession) a religious cover, you made it sound better. But it’s just people who basically have difficulty accepting that we have a two-party system. One party wins. One party loses.”

But separatists insist the impulse to flee corruption and live rightly before God is genuine. And if that means clustering in ever more secluded enclaves, then so be it.

“The Bible teaches that the remnant will be small,” Rawles said. “People who recognize that they are of the remnant, that they are God’s elect, will in increasing numbers choose to vote with their feet.”


About the author

G. Jeffrey MacDonald

G. Jeffrey MacDonald is an award-winning reporter and an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ.


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  • I signed one of those petitions as a protest against the scandalous voting fraud surrounding this election. It’s one thing to lose in a fair election; it’s another to lose an election that is so corrupt one would rather live in another country, whether that country is located within the boundaries of the contiguous 48 or in another sovereign country. As a Christian I know this earth is not my real home, however, while I am still in this human body, I would rather live in a nation that doesn’t pretend to be something it is not!

  • Let all these whiney-assed wingnuts congregate in the Republic of Texas and secede all at once. Good riddance.

    Oh – sorry, though, you’ll have to leave your socialist Medicare and Social Security behind.

  • Secession will only provide more of the same as long as those leading the movement are doing that “which is right in [their] own eyes.” (Judges 21:25) It’s this very thing that has gotten America in the mess she’s in, beginning with the 1787 Philadelphia cadre of thirty four who established a government of, by, and for the people instead of for Yahweh and who’s Constitution is not only antithetical, but hostile, to Yahweh’s sovereignty and morality in nearly every article and amendment.

    Hard to believe? Take our Constitution Survey at and receive a free copy of the 85-page “Primer” of 565-page “Bible Law vs. the United States Constitution: The Christian Perspective.”

  • Ted’s right. His Kingdom/Will On Earth is the only solution.

    Re: Alex Jones. Remember this: With a lot of truth, you can easily float a lie. The end result is deception. That’s why Alex is there; to deceive. Learn to see what you’re looking at.

    Re: ” … to his call for Bible-believing Christians, Orthodox Jews and Messianic Jews to relocate to what he calls the American Redoubt: Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, eastern Washington and eastern Oregon.”

    “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” 2 Corinthians 6: 14. And most certainly not with anti Christs. 1 John 2: 22-23.

  • @WaningGibbous – Nice try, but there are tens of thousands of ex-pats currently recieving their Social security and Medicare benefits as they live abroad.
    It’s the law, or are you saying that the legal system should be manipulated?

    They put their money into it, and they get their benefits. The same would hold for people that left for sucession.

  • Alan Wolfe is asked to spew his fallacious clap trap about what a conservative thinks. Why?
    He is a Saul Alinsky left wing extremist. One need only read about his ties to “THE” most liberal U.S. colleges and universities, as well as his connection to a marxist publication, to understand which side he champions.

    Is Wolfee the kind of person you want spouting his bilious, one sided, bilge about what a Constitutional Conservative thinks?????
    It is He, and the elitist, intellectual goons he consorts with, that destroyed this nation, and delivered it to its current third world status.
    Does anyone in their right mind think Conservatives actually want to secede?
    No! Secession is on the table because this country has spiraled out of control and with another 4 years with Caligula at the helm, this country is, for all intents and purposes, finished!
    In the future, don’t have this “Wolf” in Trotsky’s clothing bloviating about what a “True” Conservative thinks.
    He can no more understand “Conservative Values” than a cockroach can recite Shakespeare.

  • By nature a Christian is non-violent. It only makes sense that we would vote with our feet when our vote no longer matters because we have become the minority. This is the reason why we move on rather than fight. Unlike other religions i dont want to kill in the name of God, but i will defend my life, liberty, and my ability to love my God as i see fit. Just my thoughts!

  • Wow! Some very serious comments here. I guess I didn’t realize until reading the above article and then the comments made (thus far) that so many people are near hysteria regarding Obama’s re-election. Why? What rights, exactly, have Christians (or members of other faith-religions) lost over the past four years? How has (in the words of one respondent) our “life, liberty and … ability to love God” been taken away or compromised? Besides, are there not still representatives in Congress? Are there not still state legislatures, local governments and courts? Or, in the opinion of secessionists, has every level and facet of this society been so corrupted that it is truly beyond redemption???