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Monday, May 24, 2010

Evangelicals Attempt to Defend Slavery in 18th and 19th Century America--Part One

I have in prior posts shown contemporary Evangelicals attempts to defend the Canaanite genocides. I have also shown that the God of the OT condoned rape. It is also clear that the same God condoned slavery. Often it is said, by current day Christian apologists, that the slavery of the OT was not the same as the slavery of the antebellum Southern United States. The fact, however, is that a number of conservative Christians, many of whom are held up as great examples of men who were used mightily by God, argued that the slavery being practiced during their time (18th and 19th centuries) was in fact God's will.

C. S. Cowles, former Professor of Theology at Point Loma Nazarene University wrote:
There is no way to overstate the inhumanity, the atrocities, the horrors visited upon generation after generation of slaves by our Bible-believing slave-holding ancestors. When abolitionists became serious about ending slavery in this country, they were vigorously slapped down by biblical literalists on `scriptural grounds.' George Whitfield, the great English evangelist and Wesley co-worker who was instrumental in sparking our country's first Great Spiritual Awakening, purchased a Georgia Plantation along with its slaves, and put them to work at his orphanage as well as nearby plantations. Slavery had been outlawed in Georgia in the early 18th century. But thanks to Whitefield's vigorous campaign defending slavery on `biblical grounds,' it was re-legalized in Georgia in 1751. (“Scriptural Inerrancy? 'Behold, I Show You A More Excellent Way': An Open Letter by C. S. Cowles, " Spring, 2009).

As Cowles points out, slavery was actually banned from 1735 to 1750, in the colony of Georgia.
General James Oglethorpe, the earl of Egmont, and the other Trustees were not opposed to the enslavement of Africans as a matter of principle. They banned slavery in Georgia because it was inconsistent with their social and economic intentions. Given the Spanish presence in Florida, slavery also seemed certain to threaten the military security of the colony. Spain offered freedom in exchange for military service, so any slaves brought to Georgia could be expected to help the Spanish in their efforts to destroy the still-fragile English colony (Betty Wood, "Slavery in Colonial Georgia," The New Georgia Encyclopedia).
One of the leading voices calling for slavery to be re-instituted in Georgia was the evangelist George Whitefield, who is credited with being the major human force behind the First Great Awakening.
In 1749, George Whitefield campaigned for its legalisation, claiming that the territory would never be prosperous unless farms were able to use slave labour. He began his fourth visit to America in 1751 advocating slavery, viewing its re-legalisation in Georgia as necessary to make his plantation profitable. Partially through his campaigns and written pleas to the Georgia Trustees, it was re-legalised in 1751. Whitefield became a slave owner, using them to work at his Bethesda Orphanage. To help raise money for the orphanage, he also put slaves to work at a plantation called Providence. Whitefield was known to treat his slaves well; they were reputed to be devoted to him, and he was critical of the abuse and neglect of their slaves by other owners. When Whitefield died, he bequeathed his slaves to Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon.

So, partly due to the great influence of evangelist George Whitefield,
Georgia's enslaved population grew in size from less than 500 to approximately 18,000 people [Between 1750 and 1775]. Beginning in the mid-1760s, Georgia began to import slaves directly from Africa—mainly from Angola, Sierra Leone, and the Gambia. Most were given physically demanding work in the rice fields, although some found employment in Savannah's expanding urban economy ("Slavery in Colonial Georgia," The New Georgia Encyclopedia).
Whitefield was not alone in his defense of slavery, The Princeton Theological Review, the journal of Princeton Seminary, the home of strict Calvinism and biblical inerrancy, published an article in 1838 entitled: ("State of the West Indies before Emancipation," PTR  [1838], pp. 603-04). The article stated:
The leading characteristic doctrine of [the abolitionists] is that slaveholding is in all cases a sin, and should, therefore, under all circumstances, be immediately abandoned. As nothing can be plainer than that slaveholders were admitted to the Christian church by the inspired apostles, the advocates of this doctrine are brought into direct collision with the Scriptures. This leads to one of the most dangerous evils connected with the whole system, viz., a disregard of the authority of the word of God, a setting up a different and higher standard of truth and duty, and a proud and confident wresting of Scripture to suit their own purposes (emphasis original). The history of interpretation furnishes no examples of more willful and violent perversions of the sacred text than are to be found in the writings of the abolitionists. They seem to consider themselves above the Scriptures; and when they put themselves above the law of God, it is not wonderful that they should disregard the laws of men. Significant manifestations of the result of this disposition to consider their own light a surer guide than the word of God, are visible in the anarchical opinions about human governments, civil and ecclesiastical, and on the rights of women, which have found appropriate advocates in the abolition publications. Let these principles be carried out, and there is an end to all social subordination, to all security for life and property, to all guarantee for public or domestic virtue."
As I continue this series, I will point out other notable Bible-believing, evangelical Christians who defended the institution of slavery in the Antebellum Southern United States.


  1. No True Scotsman fallacy coming in 3... 2... 1...

  2. ---

    No True Holy Spirit retort immediately to follow...


  3. BTW, I should mention that Whitefield's friend, John Wesley, disagreed with him on the matter of slavery calling it "that most vile of all human institutions." Of course, Wesley also thought that Whitefield's Calvinism made God into the devil.

  4. Ken,

    Let me ask you, what is the difference between slavery of the 18/19th cent and current day abuses of the working man in the so called corporation? I contend it is the same thing, all abuse of poor for the benefit of the rich.

  5. If those are your beliefs John Shiffer you need to go read a history book and truly understand what was done to slaves.

    While I do not support the mistreatment of workers I am disgusted that anyone would compare current day treatment to slavery as that is an abhorrent and vile comparison not worthy of mention.

  6. Read the if you do not think abuse in the christian church is continuing.

  7. The website is sorry for the error.

  8. John Sfifer: "Let me ask you, what is the difference between slavery of the 18/19th cent and current day abuses of the working man in the so called corporation?"

    Slavery: Involuntary. You can't quit.
    Working for a corporation: Voluntary. You can quit.

    Slavery: You can be flogged severely for disobedience.
    Working for a corporation: You can get a written reprimand in your file.

    Slavery: Work day is sunup to sundown.
    Working for a corporation: Shift is usually eight hours, with lunch and coffee breaks.

    Slavery: No vacation.
    Working for a corporation: Two weeks of vacation, with sick days, holidays and maternity/paternity leave.

    Slavery: No collective bargaining (slaves union nonexistent, slave strikes not tolerated).
    Working for a corporation: Collective bargaining allowed. Lavish favors available from one of the major political parties.

    Slavery: The master can arrange your marriage, split up your family, sleep with your wife/daughter/you.
    Working for a corporation: The boss cannot even utter a sexually harassing comment.

    J.S., are those enough differences?

  9. How about the most significant difference, that in the modern world you can learn a new skill or profession and go get another job.

  10. That's a good distinction. But people who hold views like J.S.'s tend to project a Charles Dickens context on today's laborer. He becomes a pathetic soul living on the edge of bare subsistence, locked into his miserable fate, filling the coffers of the robber barons while going home to hungry children.