Slavery was Christian Charity

Frederick Douglass
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This is the view of J. Stevens Wilkins who wrote,

“Slavery, as it operated in the pervasively Christian society which was the old South, was not an adversaria­l relationsh­ip founded upon racial animosity. In fact, it bred on the whole, not contempt, but, over time, mutual respect. This produced a mutual esteem of the sort that always results when men give themselves to a common cause. The credit for this startling reality must go to the Christian faith. . . . The unity and companions­hip that existed between the races in the South prior to the war was the fruit of a common faith.”.

He advocates that the South was the Christian nation. I know this platform, front and back…

Three things to read – hereherehere.

This is what is circulating about Michele Bachmann, but I don’t want to focus on her. What I want to do is to focus on the fact that during the antebellum South, Christianity was used to promote slavery. Today, Christianity is used to promote several different things. Politics.You know what I mean…

So, how do we who are concerned that Christianity, our faith, is being used, again, to oppress and to shape a society into something we feel the Scriptures are opposed to, respond?

There has to come a point in which we, as Christians, get loud against our fellow believers when they abuse our faith.


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8 Replies to “Slavery was Christian Charity”

  1. yes, I agree. Disagree on politics, I hate it when someone claims the Bible says this about there pet economic theory, etc. You may draw principals from the Bible, but not specific ideas.

    1. I think we can draw specific ideas (you know, like love your neighbor) but no, people use the bible to support their own economic theory which is generally no more than 100 or 150 years old anyway.

  2. If early Christians thought slavery so benign, one wonders why there are stories of ancient bishops selling church ceremonial plates, cups and such made of gold and silver to purchase freedom for Christian slaves?

    And one wonders since Greek and Latin were more commonly required study back in the days of the Old South, that these stories weren’t brought up more and to greater effect.

    Of course, if the slave across the plantation wasn’t a fellow (insert your own term here), then one probably wasn’t so concerned about his or her lot, hmm?

    Imago dei never quite sinks in, does it?

  3. Paul said in Ephesians 6:5-9 that slaves should obey their masters and that masters should look after their slaves. So yeah, slavery must be Christian!!

    We have men sold to build churches, women sold to support the gospel, and babes sold to purchase Bibles for the poor heathen, all for the glory of God and the good of souls. The slave auctioneer’s bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master. Revivals of religion and revivals of the slave trade go hand in hand.

    Were I to be again reduced to the chains of slavery, next to the enslavement, I should regard being the slave of a religious master the greatest calamity that could befall me. For of all slaveholders with whom I have ever met, religious slaveholders are the worst. I have ever found them the meanest and basest, the most cruel and cowardly, of all others.

    It was my unhappy lot to belong to a religious slaveholder. He always managed to have one or more of his slaves to whip every Monday morning.

    In August, 1832, my master attended a Methodist camp-meeting and there experienced religion. He prayed morning, noon, and night. He very soon distinguished himself among his brethren, and was made a class leader and exhorter.

    I have seen him tie up a lame young woman, and whip her with a heavy cowskin whip upon her naked shoulders, causing the warm red blood to drip; and, in justification of the bloody deed, he would quote the passage of Scripture, “He who knoweth the master’s will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes.” (Luke 12:47)

    I prayed for freedom twenty years, but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.

    Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave

    Henry Bibb…lists six “professors of religion” who sold him to other “professors of religion.” (One of Bibb’s owners was a deacon in the Baptist church, who employed whips, chains, stocks, and thumbscrews to “discipline” his slaves.) Harriet Jacobs, in her narrative, informs us that her tormenting owner was the worse for being converted. Mrs. Joseph Smith, testifying before the American Freedmen’s Inquiry Commission in 1863 tells why Christian slaveholders were the worst owners: “Well, it is something like this–the Christians will oppress you more.”

    Donald B. Gibson, “Faith, Doubt and Apostasy,” Frederick Douglass: New
    Literary and Historical Essays, ed. Eric J. Sundquist Gibson


    I want you to tell me the reason you always preach to the white folks and keep your back to us. If God sent you to preach to sinners did He direct you to keep your face to the white folks constantly? Or is it because they give you money? If this is the cause we are the very persons who labor for this money but it is handed to you by our masters. Did God tell you to make your meeting houses just large enough to hold the white folks and let the Black people stand in the sun and rain as the brooks in the field? We are charged with inattention. It is impossible for us to pay good attention with this chance. In fact, some of us scarcely think we are preached to at all. Money appears to be the object. We are carried to market and sold to the highest bidder never once inquiring whether sold to a heathen or Christian. If the question was put, “Did you sell to a Christian?” what would be the answer, “I can’t tell what he was, he gave me my price, that’s all I was interested in?” Is that the way to heaven? If it is, there will be a good many who go there. If not, their chance of getting there will be bad for there can be many witnesses against them.

    Blacks in Bondage: Letters of American Slaves, ed., Robert S. Starobin

    It is not uncharacteristic in the study of race relations that the catechisms, as instruments of control, revealed more about the thinking of the slaveholding society and its clerical leaders than they did about the slaves.
    – Forrest G. Wood, The Arrogance of Faith: Christianity and Race in America from the Colonial Era to the Twentieth

    Wood’s book explodes the myth that most slaves became Christians: figures were closer to 10%, roughly the same percentage of the free population that attended church regularly. Another false legend exposed here is that northern churches aided and encouraged efforts to free the slaves: many abolitionists broke away from the mainstream churches because they would not provide assistance to escaped slaves. Northern churches considered slavery a political issue rather than a moral one so as not to offend their southern affiliates. “Spiritual” music was anything but: Allowed to sing only religious music, slaves often composed songs that were outwardly biblical, but that were actually coded messages for the underground railroad. Subjugation of all “inferior” races was an integral part of Manifest Destiny. The author contends that since the few freethinkers were not organized, they had no say in the slavery issue. His research is incomplete: Thomas Paine almost single-handedly abolished slavery in Pennsylvania, the first state where it was outlawed, in 1780. In fact, when did the other northern churches abolish slavery? You won’t find that answer in this book. Most of the material deals with slavery in the United States during the antebellum period, which is probably the author’s special field of study. He spends only a few pages on the genocide of the Native Americans, and almost totally ignores slavery in the Spanish settlements.
    – John Rush (Austin, Texas) reviewer of Wood’s book at

    African slaves were allowed to organize churches as a surrogate for earthly freedom. White churches were organized in order to make certain that the rights of property [including the master’s right to own his slave] were respected and that the numerous religious taboos in the New and Old Testaments would be enforced, if necessary, by civil law.

    Gore Vidal, “(The Great Unmentionable) Monotheism and its Discontents,” essay

    Before the South seceded politically from the North, she seceded religiously. The three largest Christian denominations in the South, the Methodists, Baptists and Presbyterians, seceded from their northern brethren to form separate “Southern” denominations, each founded on the Biblical right (of laymen and ministers) to own slaves.


    The Old School (Presbyterian) General Assembly report of 1845 concluded that slavery was based on “some of the plainest declarations of the Word of God.” Those who took this position were conservative evangelicals. Among their number were the best conservative theologians and exegetes of their day, including, Robert Dabney, James Thornwell and the great Charles Hodge of Princeton–fathers of twentieth century evangelicalism and of the modern expression of the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy. No one can really appreciate how certain these evangelicals were that the Bible endorsed slavery, or of the vehemence of their argumentation unless something from their writings is read.

    Kevin Giles, “The Biblical Argument for Slavery,” The Evangelical Quarterly, Vol. 66, No. 1, 1994

    Southern clergymen spoke openly and enthusiastically on behalf of disunion…Denominational groups across the South officially endorsed secession and conferred blessings on the new Southern nation. Influential denominational papers from the Mississippi Baptist to the Southern Episcopalian, the Southern Presbyterian and the South Western Baptist, agreed that secession “must be effected at any cost, regardless of consequences,” and “secession was the only consistent position that Southern freemen or Christians could occupy.” (One amusing anecdote tells how a prominent member of a Southern Presbyterian church told his pastor that he would quit the church if the pastor did not pray for the Union. Unmoved by this threat, the pastor replied that “our church does not believe in praying for the dead!”)

    Meanwhile, Northern clergymen blamed their Southern counterparts for “inflaming passions,” “adding a feeling of religious fanaticism” to the secessionist controversy, and also blamed them for being “the strongest obstacle in the way of preserving the Union.” In this way, the Northern clergy contributed to the belief in an irrepressible conflict, and aroused the same kind of political passions they were condemning in their Southern brethren.

    One Southern sermon that had “a powerful influence in converting Southern sentiments to secession,” and which was republished in several Southern newspapers and distributed in tens of thousands of individual copies, was Reverend Benjamin B. Palmer’s sermon, “Slavery a Divine Trust: Duty of the South to Preserve and Perpetuate It,” delivered soon after Lincoln’s election in 1860. According to Palmer that election had brought “one issue before us” which had created a crisis that called forth the guidance of the clergy. That issue was “slavery.” Palmer insisted that “the South defended the cause of all religion and truth…We defend the cause of God and religion,” while abolitionism was “undeniably atheistic.” Palmer was incensed at the platform of Lincoln’s political party that promised to constrain the practice of slavery within certain geographical limits instead of allowing it to expand into America’s Western territories. Therefore, the South had to secede in order to protect its providential trust of slavery.

    When Union armies reached Reverend Palmer’s home state, a Union general placed a price on his head, because as some said, the Reverend had done more than “any other non-combatant in the South to promote rebellion.” Thomas R. R. Cobb, an official of the Confederate government, summed up religion’s contribution to the fervor and ferment of those times with these words, “This revolution (the secessionist cause) has been accomplished mainly by the Churches.”

    Mitchell Snay, Gospel of Disunion (See also Edward R. Crowther’s Southern Evangelists and the Coming of the Civil War)

    The Southern Presbyterian Church resolved in 1864 (while the Civil War was still being fought): “We hesitate not to affirm that it is the peculiar mission of the Southern Church to conserve the institution of slavery, and to make it a blessing both to master and slave.” The Church also insisted that it was “unscriptural and fanatical” and “one of the most pernicious heresies of modern times” to accept the dogma that slavery was inherently sinful. At least one slave responded to such theological resolutions with one of his own: “If slavery ain’t a sin, then nothing is.”


    To judge by the hundreds of sermons and specially composed church prayers that have survived on both sides, ministers were among the most fanatical of the combatants from beginning to end. The churches played a major role in dividing the nation, and it may be that the splits in the churches made a final split in the nation possible. In the North, such a charge was often willingly accepted. Granville Moddy, a Northern Methodist, boasted in 1861, “We are charged with having brought about the present contest. I believe it is true we did bring it about, and I glory in it, for it is a wreath of glory round our brow.” Southern clergymen did not make the same boast but of all the various elements in the South they did the most to make a secessionist state of mind possible. Southern clergymen were particularly responsible for prolonging the increasingly futile struggle. Both sides claimed vast numbers of “conversions” among their troops and a tremendous increase in churchgoing and “prayerfulness” as a result of the fighting.
    – Paul Johnson, A History of the American People

    Other “results of the fighting” that clergymen were not nearly as boastful about included tremendous outbreaks of syphilis and gonorrhea among both northern and southern troops who took time out from their fighting and prayers to visit women who attended to the troops’ less than holy concerns.
    – E.T.B.


    In The Slaveholders’ Dilemma (1992), and again in this most recent book, A Consuming Fire, Eugene Genovese shows that in the contemporary self–understanding of Southerners, their views of states rights, religion, and society were all mixed with slavery. The slave system provided the social context for how they thought about local political authority, economics, and their social and religious duties. Before the war the best of Southern thinkers and clergy of all denominations defended slavery on its moral, religious, and social merits. During the war white Christian Southerners regarded slavery, not states rights or military valor, as the fulcrum of divine judgment; and slavery became for them the key to explaining the failure of Southern arms.

    Russell Hittinger, “A Confederate Theodicy,” a book review of A Consuming Fire: The Fall of the Confederacy in the Mind of the White Christian South by Eugene D. Genovese, as appeared in First Things, No. 95 (August/September 1999), p. 67-72

    Methodist Ell Gertrude Clanton Thomas, a member of the planter elite in Augusta, Georgia, owned more than ninety slaves; the Civl War destroyed much of her wealth, and she and her husband were “reduced from a state of affluence to comparative poverty.” Until emancipation, she had not realized “how intimately my faith in revelations and my faith in the institution of slavery had been woven together… if the Bible was right then slavery must be–Slavery was done away with and my faith in God’s Holy Book was terribly shaken. For a time, I doubted God.”… Reluctantly she admitted, “Our cause was lost. Good men had had faith to be lost? I was bewildered–I felt all this and could not see God’s hand.”

    Central to their [Southerner’s] remarkably resilient worldview was the adamant conviction that God still favored the South and its churches. Slavery as an institution and secession were not sinful, though most admitted that some abuses had existed in the practice of slavery. Since northern denominations were hopelessly political and radical, the southern denominations had a duty to preserve the Gospel untainted. Furthermore, while northerners and freedpeople controlled much of the political and economic life of the South, southern evangelicals had to maintain their churches as bastions of regional identity.

    Religious reconstruction was the process by which southern and northern, black and white Christians rebuilt the spiritual life of the south in the aftermath of the disruptions wrought by the Civil War. Each group, however, had a different vision of what was necessary and how best to accomplish this process. For white southern Christians, the task was primarily to restore the antebellum status quo in their religious lives. In the immediate aftermath of the war, they made their intentions clear as they tried as much as possible to restore the old order–political, social, and religious–and only grudgingly accepted change.

    Daniel W. Stowell, Rebuilding Zion: The Religious Reconstruction of the South, 1863-1877 (Oxford University Press)

    After decades of denouncing the emancipation of the slaves many members of evangelical Southern Protestant denominations applauded the “magnificently constructed” walls of segregation that followed. As Rev. Clayton Sullivan recalls:

    “Blacks were viewed as inferior. They rode at the back of the bus, went to separate schools, lived in shanties on the other side of town, and attended black churches (called ‘nigger churches’’). Nor do I recall from my… youth hearing anyone question the justice or injustice of segregation… For a white Southerner to question segregation would have seemed as surprising as to question the existence of God.”–Clayton Sullivan, Called to Preach, Condemned to Survive: The Education of Clayton Sullivan (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1985), p. 141-42.

    In the 1950s Rev. Clayton joined nonprejudiced seminarians at the Southern Baptist Louisville Seminary in wincing “…when Dr. W. A. Criswell [the famous Southern Baptist preacher] in Dallas spoke to the seminary students in Alumni Chapel and said, ‘Fellows, things are changing down home. You used to be able to say “chiggers.” But now you have to say “cHEE-groes.”‘“–Sullivan, p. 143

    Two decades later, things had changed:

    “The ‘impregnable walls of segregation’… were not, so it turned out, impregnable after all… [For instance] Mississippi now has the highest number of elected black officials of any state. Negroes patronize motels, restaurants and libraries. The public schools have integrated and blacks compose the backbone of the Ole Miss football team. The only institutions left segregated are churches, funeral homes, country clubs, and chapters of the Daughters of the Confederacy.”–Sullivan, p. 154.

    In the 1960s in Greenville, South Carolina the former tent-evangelist and fundamentalist founder of Bob Jones University, Bob Jones, Sr., cited the apostle Paul’s statement in the book of Acts (17:26, KJV) in order to oppose interracial schooling and dating. Paul wrote, “And [God] hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of theit; habitation” (emphasis added). Bob Jones, Sr., interpreted Paul’s statement this way:

    “If you are against segregation and against racial separation, then you are against God Almighty, because He made racial separation in order to preserve the [Jewish] race through whom He could send the Messiah and through whom He could send the Bible. God is the author of segregation. God is the author of Jewish separation and Gentile separation and Japanese separation. God made of one blood all nations, but He also drew the boundary lines between races… [compare Paul’s statement, above-ED.] Slavery was not right… The colored people should have been left over in Africa, and we should have sent missionaries over there and got them converted. That is what we should have done. But we could not have converted them as fast that way; and God makes the wrath of men to praise Him… We had planned to build a school, just like Bob Jones University, here in the South for colored people… Where Christian colored people could get their education in’an atmosphere where their talents in music and speech and art and all could be preserved and handed down… We had that in mind until all this agitation started… [Yet how did ‘all this agitation’ really ‘start?’ With the enslavement of a people.-ED.] No nation has ever prospered or been blessed like the colored people in the South.”–Bob Jones, Sr., Is Segregation Scriptural? (Greenville, S.C.: Bob Jones University, 1960),
    p. 16,19,22,24-25,32.

    So spoke Bob Jones, Sr., in an address delivered over radio station WMUU at Bob Jones University, Greenville, South Carolina, April 17, 1960, transcribed and printed/as the pamphlet Is Segregation Scriptural? But that sermon is no longer seen on the shelves of the campus bookstore at Bob Jones University. Furthermore, a handful of black students now attend Bob Jones University each year. It seems that the university is gradually losing sight of its founder’s original teachings, or, in the words of Bob Jones, Sr., they are going “against God Almighty!”

    However in 1968 one Bob Jones University alumnus, Dr. Dennis Ronald MacDonald, recalls how he was attending a Bible conference on campus that year when the news arrived of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. The audience with few exceptions clapped and cheered on hearing that Bob Jones University would not be hanging its American flag at half-mast to honor Dr. King, who was viewed as an “apostate” for his “social Gospel” message.

    Edward T. Babinski, “Fundamentalism’s Grotesque Past,” Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists (Prometheus Books, 1995)

    The South may have lost the Civil War, but By God, they’re still doing what they can to keep those damn “Nigras” in line. Blacks continue to receive the harshest sentences in court, including the death penalty. Blacks make up 41% of the total percentage of inmates living on death row in America yet blacks comprise a far lesser percentage of the nation’s citizenry. 207 blacks received the death sentence last year for killing white people, while only 12 whites received that harsh sentence for killing blacks. That’s “southern” justice for you. Everyone should be playing on the same level field in court, but let me know if you can find a playing field (other than a football field) where blacks are treated as equal.

    D. A. Stacy, “U.S. Executions Reach 1000” [circa 2004?]

    By the mid-1960s, the legal status of segregation had been settled in America’s courts and political chambers. But segregation’s staunchest proponents continued to fight, insisting that integration was the leading edge of a social revolution bent on “overthrowing God’s established order.”

    As conservative Christians reacted to what they regarded as perilous change, they pressed Nimrod’s legend into service. One example is Corey Daniel of Dallas, a Baptist preacher who utilized the legend to depict integration as part of a demonic social scheme… Daniel combined race and disorder in his portrait of Nimrod, “the Negro leader of the Babelbuilders (Gen 10:6-10), whose name means ‘Rebel'”…

    Like many Southern conservatives, Daniel associated the campaign for civil rights with socialism, internationalism, and revolutionary dictatorship. In fact, the alliance between integration and the loss of individual freedom is exceedingly close in Daniel’s mind. Using epithets such as “those first unholy one worlders” and “the United Nations’ modern tower of Babel,” Daniel applies Genesis 11 to popular anxieties about America’s role in a changing world…

    Like the Babel-builders, the UN seeks to integrate races and governments, “lest [they] be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” Again like the architects of that ancient UN, the modern internationalists “are ignoring, when they are not actively blaspheming, the Lord Jesus Christ and His glorious gospel blood redemption.” Thus, in Daniel’s view, Nimrod is the patriarch of all schemes to consolidate in rebellion against God.

    Stephen R. Haynes, Noah’s Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery

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