Gentleman Theologians

According to Dr. Curt Daniel the 19th-century Southern Presbyterian Calvinist, John Lafayette Girardeau (1825-1898)

” … was another Confederate chaplain. He taught at Columbia from 1875 till 1895. Among his several books, two are of special note: Calvinism and Evangelical Arminianism (which deals mainly with election and reprobation) and Discussions of Theological Questions (mainly on theological method and Scripture). Girardeau was pro-slavery, but was by no means a racist. He pastored a black church for 8 years and ardently worked for more evangelization of the blacks, both before and after the Civil War” (Curt Daniel, The History And Theology Of Calvinism, p. 117).

Curt Daniel had written this about Girardeau:

“Girardeau was pro-slavery, but was by no means a racist” (Curt Daniel, The History and Theology of Calvinism, p. 117).

And Curt Daniel had written this about R.L. Dabney:

“Like many other ‘gentleman theologians,’ he defended slavery — and even owned several slaves himself. This was a regretable [sic] weakness (great men have great weaknesses). Even after the Civil War, Dabney protested allowing blacks to be equal church officers in Presbyterian churches” (Curt Daniel, The History and Theology of Calvinism, p. 116).

Evidently the repugnant racist Dabney was a “greater man” than Girardeau was.

Curt Daniel on 19th-century Southern Presybterianism and “southern culture”:

“Southern culture was somewhat different than in the North, which is reflected in the churches and in the theologians. E. Brooks Holifield well describes these theologians as ‘Gentleman Theologians’ — a mint julip [sic] in one hand and a Bible in the other. They were of the middle and upper classes with a desire to maintain the old ways against the influx of new liberalism. Most tended to be of the Scotch-Irish ancestry predominant in the Carolinas and Virginia, the heart of Southern Presbyterianism” (Curt Daniel, The History and Theology of Calvinism, p. 115).

It seems the epithet of “Gentleman Theologians” is a kind of euphemism for “white-supremacist common-grace tolerant-Calvinist God-haters” (cf. These “Gentlemen” were so besotted with their (supposed) superiority that they violently shoehorned their virulent racism into the text of Scripture.

From the little bit I’ve read on slavery in the South and in the North:

Racism North: Popular scientific view of polygenesis, a theory which held “black and white” were entirely different species. Said (by some) to be virulent, “scientific,” modern, and cruel.

Racism South: Paternalistic, opportunistic, condescending, and virulent.

Some who admire R.L. Dabney have nonetheless acknowledged something like the following (if I recall correctly this criticism came from Wilson’s Black & Tan book). Dabney had an aristocratic view of society and wanted:

“honest and kind treatment of the freed slaves, but this is clearly mingled with a condescending racism and a hard edge of rhetoric concerning the limited capacities of blacks.”