The Bible: Whites Used It to Justify Slavery and Africans Used It to Promote Freedom

Slave Bible 2

Check out Julie Zauzmer’s nice piece on the Bible and slavery at The Washington Post.  It draws from some of the best scholars on slavery, American religion, and the Bible, including Mark Noll and Yolanda Pierce.  Here is a taste:

As America commemorates the 400th anniversary of the creation of representative government in what would become the United States, and the first documented recording of captive Africans being brought to its shores, it is also grappling with the ways the country justified slavery. Nowhere is that discussion more fraught than in its churches.

“Christianity was proslavery,” said Yolanda Pierce, the dean of the divinity school at Howard University. “So much of early American Christian identity is predicated on a proslavery theology. From the naming of the slave ships, to who sponsored some of these journeys including some churches, to the fact that so much of early American religious rhetoric is deeply intertwined . . . with slaveholding: It is proslavery.” Some Christian institutions, notably Georgetown University in the District, are engaged in a reckoning about what it means that their past was rooted in slaveholding. But others have not confronted the topic. “In a certain sense, we’ve never completely come to terms with that in this nation,” Pierce said.

The Africans who were brought to America from 1619 onward carried with them diverse religious traditions. About 20 to 30 percent were Muslim, Pierce said. Some had learned of Christianity before coming to America, but many practiced African spiritual traditions.

Early on, many slaveholders were not concerned with the spiritual well-being of Africans. But few had qualms about using Christianity to justify slavery.

Some theologians said it was providence that had brought Africans to America as slaves, since their enslavement would allow them to encounter the Christian message and thus their eternal souls would be saved, said Mark Noll, a historian of American Christianity.

Read the entire piece here.

3 thoughts on “The Bible: Whites Used It to Justify Slavery and Africans Used It to Promote Freedom

  1. People have misused the Bible to defend an alarming number of positions today. In fact, recently Alyssa MIlano attempted to defend third trimester abortions using Scripture to balance it out. One can also recall the famous sermons of Jeremiah Wright coming back into focus.

    As a resident of a former Communist nation, I can also relay that many leaders there attempt to show that Jesus was a fan of socialism and that the policies of the nation are therefore just and honest.

    I always found it quite telling that the Bible shows that Satan is able to quote scripture as well as Jesus can, and I think that there’s a message there for anyone who would listen. None of us should be so proud that we take an obscure verse and use it to back our preconceived notions. We must be doers of the word, and not hearers only, and sometimes we must be in constant prayer, fasting, and supplication to truly understand the message.


  2. I imagine most everyone here is familiar with Lincoln’s second inauguration address.
    “Both (sides) read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces,”

    Lincoln was a thinking President.
    He did go on from that statement to muse on the fact that we should not judge. He was aware that the north bore responsibility for the wrongs of slavery as well.

    And can anyone imagine Trump crafting a speech like this!?


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