The Decline and Fall of Gettysburg

Gettysburg is a small Pennsylvania town with a small school district, a small seminary, and a small college surrounded by apple orchards.  It is best known for the most important battle of the American Civil War and the location of Abraham Lincoln's most famous speech.  Every summer, a million tourists visit to see the battlefields.  These tourists are historically knowledgeable and are good for the community.  They are history tourists, not amusement park tourists.

Gettysburg was a three-day battle that became the turning point of the Civil War.  In his Gettysburg Address just a few months after the fighting, Lincoln used words like "consecrated," "dedicated," and "devotion."  He called the ground "hallowed."  Most visitors to Gettysburg understand these principles.

Gettysburg, like nearly all historic communities in the United States, has a long history of Christian influence.  During the battle, the seminary, the college, and the local churches served as hospitals.  Some of them overflowed with blood and had to cut holes in the floorboards to drain it.

Gettysburg Seminary was founded in 1828 by Simon Schmucker.  Schmucker was an abolitionist theologian who desired to train courageous pastors to be salt and light in the community, preaching against the sins of their age, toward repentance and forgiveness in Christ.  Thaddeus Stevens, also a Christian abolitionist, gave a ridge on the west side of Gettysburg to the seminary.  When General Lee invaded Pennsylvania, his army took over the Seminary Ridge and made the seminary buildings his headquarters.

For the three days of fighting, this abolitionist seminary became a Confederate hospital for dying soldiers.  Abolitionist theologians and pastors-in-training had to wipe confederate blood out of their buildings and start over again when the battle ended.  For decades after the war, this seminary produced humble, strong, and faithful pastors who knew with certainty that the wages of sin is death.


It is hard to say exactly when or how, but this community, which was built around a seminary, a Bible college, and then a battle, slowly turned secular.  For decades there was a large nativity in the center square of town every December.  Sometime in the 1990s, the city planners moved it off the square, into a small nook behind some trees.

Around this time, battlefield ghost tours became popular among certain types of tourists.  Tour guides used teenagers dressed in battle uniforms to spook tourists at night.  These battlefield ghost tours did not hallow the battlegrounds.  They took the hallowed history of the ground and turned them into present-day silly experiences for tourists looking for a chill.

Naturally, the ghost tour industry spawned a kind of witchcraft and summoning industry that dabbles in darker things.  Wiccans and mediums periodically attempt to summon spirits out of bloodstained artifacts, and ghost-hunters move through the cemeteries and battlefields at night, not to honor the dead, nor remember the past, but to play games with spirits they do not understand.  These things attract different kinds of tourists, who do not hallow the ground or the memories of heroes.  This growing obsession with the ghosts and spirits of war that laid waste to the city and the nation is not good for the community.  There is in fact a spiritual war, exactly as the Bible describes, and this spiritual war has tangible effects.

While the ghost industry was on the rise and the Christmas nativity was in decline, the seminary was in a nosedive.  The Gettysburg Seminary, built on Thaddeus Stevens's land, is now a rainbow-flying, trans-affirming school with an openly gay president.  It trains up proud "pastors" who walk in pride parades through town every June, dancing, frolicking, and spreading "glitter blessings" over the blood-soaked land.

The high tourist season in Gettysburg is summer, of course, and during this time the town overflows with rainbow pride flags beginning sometime in early May, through much of July.  The only tipping point from the rainbows is Halloween season, which comes early in Gettysburg just as Pride Month runs late.  Halloween is the high season for ghost tours.  Even some churches in town get into the spirit, desecrating their rainbow flag entryways with cobwebs, ghouls, and ghosts.  "Desecrate" is the only word for this kind of thing.  It is the opposite of "decorate."

The Latest Thing

Last week, the Gettysburg School District held a public board meeting, in which hundreds of residents stood up and cheered their support for the hiring of a transgender tennis coach.  This man, who for the past few years has worn a wig and called himself a woman, has a crowd of supporters who are threatening to sue the school board if they do not hire him.  His contract expired last year after he entered the high school girls' locker room on at least two occasions, with girls present.  He now believes he is entitled to be re-hired.  On its own, this would not be a surprise, but the surprise was the hundreds of supporters he had.  At the board meeting, 29 people stood up for public comment.  Twenty-seven of them spoke in support, with standing applause from the crowd.

These people are lost and blind.  Education ought to prepare young people for the real world.  Instead, it is teaching them to live in denial of the real world.  There is not a single person in the Gettysburg School District who truly, in his heart, believes that wishing and pretending to be a woman can turn a man into a woman.  Yet the overwhelming majority in that auditorium believe that it is good and right to tell children exactly this.

Eternal Laws

The law of reaping what you sow is an eternal truth.  God himself ordained it, and he will not be mocked.  A community that allowed its Christian college and seminary to turn against God, allowed its hallowed ground to become a Halloween show, and its fruitful summer months to be ruled by the fruitless pride rainbow should not be surprised when it can no longer teach its children the difference between a boy and a girl.  They turned a blind eye to God, and now they are blind to the male and female image of God.  They have failed to acknowledge God, and now they cannot even tell a man from a woman.

Even still there is hope for this community.  The law of reaping and sowing can work the other way, too.  If the righteous and God-fearing men of the community will plant seeds of truth and the hot, passionate gospel of repentance and forgiveness in Christ, there will be hope for this hallowed city again.  The faithful churches that remain in the community will need to find their courage and their voice.

The only solution for small-town decline is small-town revival.  These things are possible when the God-fearing salt of the earth gains its courage and begins sowing seeds of truth again.  With those seeds of courage and truth, it is possible that this nation, under God, can have a new birth.

T.S. Weidler has lived in or near Gettysburg for most of his life.  He writes regularly at City on a Hill.

Image: Onasill via Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

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