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Saturday, May 29, 2010

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

Two of the original faculty members of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, founded in 1859 in Greenville, SC (now located in Louisville, KY), were John Albert Broadus (1827–1895) on the left  and James Petigru Boyce (1827–1888) on the right. Broadus was an outstanding preacher (Spurgeon called him "the greatest living preacher") and NT scholar. His Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew and his textbook for homiletics, On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons are both still widely used in evangelical colleges and seminaries. Boyce was a Systematic Theologian and he served as the first President of Southern Seminary. He had studied under Charles Hodge at Princeton and was a strong proponent of Calvinism. Boyce is probably best remembered today for his textbook, Abstract of Systematic Theology, published one year before he died and encapsulating a lifetime of theological studies. (It is available online here). Studies on the lives of both men have recently been published:  James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman  (2009) by Tom Nettles and John A. Broadus: A Living Legacy  (2008) ed. David Dockery. They are still very highly thought of in conservative Southern Baptist circles.

As Southern men with means, they both owned slaves. Boyce called himself ultra pro-slavery, whereas Broadus seemed to be more of a reluctant slaveholder. Broadus was, in this respect, much like that great Southern General Robert E. Lee, who though he had slaves longed for the day when he did not (Bound to Be Friends: Slavery and Friendship in the Lives and Thoughts of James P. Boyce and John A. Broadus). While loyal to the South and ultimately supportive of the War, they did not favor secession. However, once the South seceeded, they both actively supported the Confederate  troops as chaplains.

Boyce thought slavery was being removed by God as a punishment on America for neglecting the slaves marital and religious rights. He said that God had allowed slavery as long as he did in America to show us how great we might have been had we treated the slaves properly.  He wrote to his brother-in-law, H.A. Tupper:

I believe I see in all this the end of slavery. I believe we are cutting its throat, curtailing its domain. And I have been, and am, an ultra pro-slavery man. Yet I bow to what God will do. I feel that our sins as to this institution have cursed us, - that the Negroes have not been cared for in their marital and religious relations as they should be; and I fear God is going to sweep it away, after having left it thus long to show us how great we might be, were we to act as we ought in this matter. (John A. Broadus, “Memoirs of James Pettigru Boyce,” in Selected Works of John A. Broadus [2001] 4:185).
Broadus, as already mentioned, was a reluctant slaveholder, and not eager to defend the practice; nevertheless, as was customary in his day, he felt the negro race to be a "lower grade of humanity." He stated:
We must not forget that the Negroes differ widely among themselves, having come from different races in Africa, and having had very different relations to the white people while held in slavery, many of them are greatly superior to others in character, but the great mass of them belong to a very low grade of humanity. We have to deal with them as best we can, while a large number of other white people stand off at a distance and scold us. Not a few of our fellow-citizens at the north feel and act very nobly about the matter; but the number is sadly great who do nothing and seem to care nothing but to find fault (Quoted from: “A Sermon on Lynch, Law, and Raping: Preached by Rev. E.K. Love, D.D. at 1st African Baptist Church, Savannah, Ga., of which he is pastor, November 5th, 1893.” [Augusta: Georgia Baptist Print, 1894], 11).
So, here again,we find Evangelical Christians defending slavery, even as it was practiced in the antebellum South. Granted, they would like to have eliminated some of the abuses, and Broadus especially felt that it was wrong to prohibit slaves to marry and to attend religious services; but the fact still remains that they did not see anything unbiblical about the essence of slavery. These men believed the Bible was the Word of God and on that basis they defended the practice of slavery.


  1. Fascinating reading, thanks Ken. I trust that we will be getting this and more in a paper, or book ven?


  2. Then, as today, people supposedly see what God is trying to teach them. Preachers are always telling us what God's purpose is in an event. HOW do they know these things?

    1. Thanks Lynn - great question!! The reality, of course, is that these blind fools were lost in their own sinful and pathetic deceit before God in so many ways - beginning with their adherence to the murderous barbarian John Calvin. Once you depart from Christ - there is no where but down.

  3. It is popular because it makes people feel good about themselves (emphasis added) in spite of their not following the challenging parts of the Bible that have to do with how we relate to others.
    That is why I do not trust people who call themselves "Christians". They feel free to be dishonest because of the above.
    The ideas of sin and subsequent guilt feelings are encouraged by clergy. It is all about the power and the money. If you don't go to church,and do not believe in God, you are only responsible to others and to yourself. If you do not harm others, then there is nothing to feel guilty for and therefore no need for penal substitution. Christians, put down that heavy suitcase of guilt, and take responsibility for your own behaviour.

  4. Sorry, I posted this accidentally in the wrong place. It is supposed to refer to Ken's next post re penal substitution.

  5. Have you read Douglas Wilson's Southern Slavery As It Was" pamphlet? It has been a while since I read it, but as I recall it attempts to clear up what the authors perceive as misconceptions over slavery, recognizing moral failings, but also trying to make the point that slavery in the US was not as bad as people today make it out to have been.

    Which leaves me with the question, why would Wilson want to make that point, other than to show that abolition of slavery is not taught in the bible. It is surprising that such a teaching today can come from a person of such high regard in certain Reformed circles.

    Here is a link to the pamphlet online:

  6. atimetorend,

    No, I haven't read it. Thank for the link. I think Wilson realizes as the other Reformed men I have discussed realized, namely that the Bible endorses slavery and if one wants to hold on to it as divinely inspired, then one better find a way to defend it. Wilson does this by saying that the slavery in the Old South really wasn't all that bad. Its interesting that the co-author is associated with the League of the South, a group advocating "a free and independent South."

    1. Thanks - that is exactly the truth. As well as murdering infidels - and those in the nation who disobey God - with stones and fire.

  7. The bond between the Reformed theologians and such a rigid set of doctrines of inerrancy always seems odd to me. Fundamentalism at its heart.

    "Its interesting that the co-author is associated with the League of the South, a group advocating "a free and independent South.""

    It is interesting! I wonder if Wilson regrets his connections there now. Or maybe he himself supports a Christian theocracy rising from the ashes of the former Confederacy. That would not shock me too much. :^(

  8. Ken - Thanks for the post. The blew off evangelicalism years ago - recognizing the trinity and the deity of Christ were BS. However, knowing Christ was very separate. Likewise recognizing issues in the Bible - and more so as I get to know it better even after 35 years. However, again, knowing Christ is very different. I think it is a mistake to equate Jesus to the Bible - Jesus simply used the OT because it was the reference of those He ministered to. I do the same...