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Modern Voices
Betty Wood on Christianity and slavery
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Q: How was the denial of Christianity used to justify slavery?
Betty Wood

A: The Anglican Church was confronted, certainly in the plantation colonies and indeed in some other colonies of the New World, with a longstanding question: Once the colonial governments began to enact laws that defined West Africans as slaves, as pieces of property, what happened if the enslaved person became a Christian? Could one Christian hold another Christian in bondage, in perpetual servitude? If the answer to that was no, then of course West Africans had every reason to, whether sincere or not, to adopt the religious beliefs of their masters and mistresses, in the hope of securing their freedom. The possibility that conversion to Christianity might result in the freedom of their enslaved people meant that the majority of rice planters, indigo planters, [and] sugar planters were absolutely opposed to any and all attempts to Christianize their slaves.
Betty Wood
Professor of History
Oxford University

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