THE REPENTANCE PROJECT / AN AMERICAN LENT
Christian Opposition to Slavery
WEEK V / DAY I
Monday, March 12, 2018
Scripture / Read Exodus 3:7-8 & 21:16, Isaiah 1:15-17, and James 5:4-6
Our History and Its Legacy
By the mid-eighteenth century a Christian abolitionist movement began to take shape in America. The Quakers in 1754 renounced the practice of slaveholding, refusing to accept that some of its members owned slaves. In the Epistle of Caution and Advice, the Quakers stated: “Yet, as we have with Sorrow to observe, that their Number is of late increased amongst us, we … earnestly exhort all to avoid, in any manner encouraging that Practice of making Slaves of our Fellow Creatures. Now dear Friends, if we continually bear in Mind the royal Law, or doing to others, as we would be done by, we shall never think of bereaving our Fellow Creatures of that valuable Blessing Liberty; nor endure to grow rich by their Bondage. To live in Ease and Plenty by the Toil of those whom Violence and Cruelty have put in our power, is neither consistent with Christianity, nor common Justice.”
Other churches also spoke out against slavery. Notably, John Wesley, one of the founders of the Methodist religion, was an ardent opponent of slavery and supporter of the abolition movement as were many leaders of early American Methodism. In Thoughts on Slavery, published in 1774, he provided a detailed description of the actual workings and horrors of slavery. Wesley continued to campaign against slavery and supported the abolition movement throughout his life. His views are powerfully expressed in the following quote: “Give liberty to whom liberty is due, that is, to every child of man, to every partaker of human nature. Let none serve you but by his own act and deed, by his own voluntary action. Away with all whips, all chains, all compulsion. Be gentle toward all men; and see that you invariably do with every one as you would he should do unto you.”
The Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States confirmed its opposition to slavery in 1784 and the United Brethren in Christ ruled in 1837 that slave owners could not continue as members. The Methodist church later split between the North and the South over slavery.
Reflection and Response
It has been said that the history of American Christianity is “both tainted with significant and shameful failures and also really beautiful successes.” Reflect on these failures and successes in light of the divisions in the Church over slavery.
The Christian abolition movement rooted its criticism of slavery in Christian values and ideas, such as brotherhood, liberty, benevolence, and judgement of individuals and nations. Are there other grave injustices that we, as Christians, are ignoring?
Written by Robert J. Mackay