I received an email yesterday concerning an article I wrote some time ago. The person asked me so many interesting and thought-provoking questions in that email. In this follow-up post, I will try to answer some of those questions to the best of my knowledge.
What role did the church play in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade? What exactly does the Bible say about slavery? Is Christianity a “slave religion”? Why so many black people love the church and the Bible?
According to Jomo Kenyatta, the founding father and first president of Kenya, “When the missionaries arrived, the Africans had the land and the missionaries had the Bible. They taught us how to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bible”.
That was the beginning of the European colonization of Africa. As I said in my other post, the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade was introduced by the coming of the Europeans. The Europeans came with the Bible the same way the Arab raiders and traders from the Middle East and North Africa introduced Islam and the Quran through the Trans-Saharan Slave Trade. So yes, the church did play a major role in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. In fact, the church was the backbone of the slave trade.
In other words, most of the slave traders and slave ship captains were very “good” Christians. For example, Sir John Hawkins, the first slave ship captain to bring African slaves to the Americas, was a religious gentleman who insisted that his crew “serve God daily” and “love another”. His ship, ironically called “the good ship Jesus,” left the shores of his native England for Africa in October 1562.
The church, especially the Roman Catholic and the Anglican Churches, had plantations with slaves working on them. For example, the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (USPG) – the world's oldest Anglican mission agency, owned several acres of slave plantations. It has been documented that the 800 acre Codrington slave plantation in Barbados was owned and operated by the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (USPG) during the 18th and 19th centuries.
One may ask, why would the church condone such barbaric acts as slavery? Well, the answer lies in the Bible the same way the answer for extremist Islamic terrorism in the world today lies in the Quran. Yes, slavery isn't just "normal" in the Bible. It is perfectly OK (or can be interpreted so) according to the scriptures. There are several chapters and verses supporting slavery in both the old and new testaments of the Bible.
Exodus 21 of the old testament of the Bible for example, gives clear instructions on how to treat a slave. Both Deuteronomy 20:10-14 and Leviticus 25:44-46 also give clear instructions on who should be slaves, how and where to buy slaves, etc.
Some Christians argue those chapters and verses are in the old testament and therefore don’t count but that is heresy. Also, there are several chapters and verses supporting slavery even in the New testament of the Bible. For example, the book of Ephesians 6:5 of the New Testament clearly states “Slaves, Obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ”. Not just that, 1 Timothy 6:1 of the New Testament also clearly states “Christians who are slaves should give their masters full respect so that the name of God and his teaching will not be shamed”. I can go on and on.
Slavery existed during the time of Jesus and continued after Jesus. Slavery got abolished nearly 2000 years after the death of Jesus. Jesus had every chance to speak against slavery. The question is, did he do it? And if Jesus did speak against slavery then why did his followers twist his words? If Jesus did speak against slavery then why does the New Testament of the Bible support slavery? And if the Bible got twisted along the way then does it make much sense for us to put our trust in it?
Now back to the question, "Is Christianity a slave religion?" Well, I am not that great with the Bible so I will leave that to the experts to answer.
Reverend Richard Furman, President of the South Carolina Baptist convention 1823 said, “The right of holding slaves is clearly established in the holy scriptures, both by precepts and by example”.
In a letter to the Emancipator in 1839, the Reverend Thomas Witherspoon of the Presbyterian church of Alabama in the USA wrote, “I draw my warrant from the scriptures of the old and new testaments to hold the slave in bondage”.
"The extracts from Holy Writ unequivocally assert the right of property in slaves"--Rev. E.D. Simms, professor, Randolph-Macon College. I can go on and on.
So as we can see, the church and the early Christians saw nothing wrong with slavery and fully engaged themselves. Most churches and cathedrals owned several acres of slave plantations and owned several slaves. Even when slavery was abolished, most churches had to be compensated for setting their slaves free.
Yes, one of the ironies of the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act was that, it was slave owners, not the slaves, who were compensated at the emancipation of slaves. The Anglican Church received 8,823 pound sterling in compensation for its loss of over 400 slaves. The Bishop of Exeter, along with three of his colleagues received some 13,000 pounds in compensation for over 660 slaves. All these have been documented and I can go on and on.
Why so many black people love the church and the Bible? Well, that is a question I cannot answer all alone.