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This Far by Faith

Journeys

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1526-1775: from AFRICA to AMERICA1776-1865: from BONDAGE to HOLY WAR1866-1945: from EMANCIPATION to JIM CROW1946-1966: from CIVIL RIGHTS to BLACK POWER1967-TODAY: from CRISIS, A SEARCH FOR MEANINGTODAY: The Journey Continues
1526-1775: from AFRICA to AMERICA
Next Journey
A Religious Justification for Slavery



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Timeline: 1526-1775 View Detailed Timeline
1776-1865: from BONDAGE to HOLY WAR1866-1945: from EMANCIPATION to JIM CROW1946-1966: from CIVIL RIGHTS to BLACK POWER1967-TODAY: from CRISIS, A SEARCH FOR MEANINGTODAY: The Journey Continues



1526-1775: from AFRICA to AMERICA
A Religious Justification for Slavery



"As for your male and female slaves whom you may have - you may acquire male and female slaves from pagan nations that are around you. Then, too, it is out of the sons of sojourners who live as aliens among you that you may gain acquisition, and out of their families who are with you, whom they will have produced in your land; they also may become your possession. You may even bequeath them to your sons after you, to receive as a possession; you can use them as permanent slaves. But in respect to your countrymen, the sons of Israel, you shall not rule with severity over one another." --Leviticus 25:44-46

Although today we see slavery in moral terms, during the early years of the slave trade up until the Civil War, most Americans saw slaves as property, like a car or a computer. Owning slaves was an inalienable right for those who had the money to afford them.

During the eighteenth century, slavery itself became inextricably bound up with consumerism. By mid-century, a third of the British merchant fleet was engaged in transporting 50,000 Africans a year to the New World. American ship owners, farmers, and fisherman also profited from slavery. Proponents of slavery needed to look no further than the Bible to justify "the peculiar institution."

A common argument for slavery was found in the book of Genesis, chapter 9, in which Noah's youngest son Ham saw the nakedness of his father and had his brothers cover him. Noah then cursed Ham to be a servant to his brothers forever: "Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers" (Genesis 9:25-26). Many interpreted Ham's curse as placed upon people of darker skin color - specifically, Africans. The argument's circular logic stated that since Ham's descendants were to be slaves forever, and Africans were already slaves and inferior, then they should remain in slavery. Proponents also pointed to the New Testament where, they argued, Christ never condemned slavery.


"...Jesus Christ recognized this institution as one that was lawful among men, and regulated its relative duties... I affirm then, first, (and no man denies,) that Jesus Christ has not abolished slavery by a prohibitory command." --Reverend Thorton Stringfellow, a Baptist minister of Culpeper County, Virginia, author of the extensively distributed "A Scriptural View" (1856)

Some argued that, far from being an evil or a human institution merely permitted by God, slavery was in fact a "positive good" because it exposed "heathens" to Christianity. The plausibility of this argument would survive in the "Bible Belt" beyond the end of slavery, and would be used into the mid-twentieth century as a defense of the subjugation of Blacks as part of God's continuing plan for their progress from African savagery to civilized Americans.

Faced with the inherent paradox of this logic, the enslaved themselves reacted in a variety of ways. Some, by force of logic and painful personal experience, became atheists who scoffed at the religion of masters who prayed with them on Sunday, then beat them on Monday. Others sought to distinguish between slaveholding religion and Christianity proper. Still others held onto their African beliefs, mixing them into the potpourri of traditions found in the "bush arbors," the secret meeting places that became the invisible churches for those early African-Americans.

To read more, go to http://smith2.sewanee.edu/gsmith/Courses/Religion391/DocsMilitantSouth/1853-GovHammond.html




People of Faith


 Olaudah Equiano
Olaudah Equiano


Did You Know?



Enslaved Africans built "an Invisible Church."
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