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Christianity Essay, Research Paper
The belief in some higher presence, other than our own, has existed since man can recollect. Religion was established from this belief, and it can survive and flourish because of this belief. Christianity, one of several forms of religion that exist today, began sometime during the middle of the first century. Christians believe in a higher presence that they call “God.” This belief in God is based on faith, not fact; faith is “unquestioning belief that does not require proof or evidence.” (Webster’s New World College Dictionary, 1996, p. 487). The belief in God exists primarily for two reasons: It answers the question of why we exist, and it is used to exert moral control over society (religion). The reasons for believing in God hold no true validity.
Answering the question of man’s existence is irrelevant; it simply cannot be answered. No one knows when life first began on Earth, nor in what form this life took. We simply exist; as far as we know, we always have existed, and we always will exist. (Wallace, 1994). The church claims God is the reason we exist, and this gives the church cause for exerting unnecessary moral control over society. All societies must have a set of rules, or laws, by which they are governed, to prevent anarchy. We must have some form of government, but our laws must come from the people up, not from God down. The government provides necessary control over society; morals should be left to the individual. The church has always failed to realize this. To suppress individuality is to suppress freedom, and never in our nation’s short history was the power of the church and the suppression of freedom more evident than during the era of slavery. Had the church detached itself from slavery, sl!
aves could have been freed without a civil war. (Barnes, 1969).
There was not enough power outside the church to sustain the institution of slavery. Scotland, Germany, and Great Britain allowed slavery to exist until the church began to speak out against slavery. Only after the church detached itself from slavery, did slavery end in these three nations. (Barnes, 1969). This proves the power of the church in exerting moral control over society! If the churches in America had spoken out against slavery, could slavery have been abolished without war? It is possible, but it must be noted that the Civil War began in hopes of preserving the Union, not abolishing slavery. However, slavery was the biggest problem dividing the North and South. It is possible that had slavery ended before the Civil War, the other problems dividing the nation could have been worked out peacefully. Therefore, the church failed in fulfilling its “moral obligation” to society. This began long before the Civil War took place.
Between 1740-1778, the South went through a period of moral discovery; this is the time when Christianity began to flourish in the South. (Mathews, 1980). During this time, the message of the church was for people to free themselves from whatever enslaved them personally, but not for freeing other people. This was why it was so difficult in coming up with an anti- slavery consensus among the Christian South. (Mathews, 1980). There was a great debate that developed in the South during the last quarter of the 18th century concerning slavery.
In 1780, a Methodist conference ordered all preachers to free whatever slaves they owned; the Wesleyans, in 1784, threatened to expel any member of the church who had been a slaveholder for more than two years. The following year the Baptist General Committee of Virginia claimed slavery was “contrary to the word of God.” During 1786, the Black Creek Baptist Church of Virginia, along with the Presbyterian General Assembly in 1787, declared slavery to be “unrighteous.” (Mathews, 1980, p. 212). Although there was a strong anti-slavery sentiment in the South among some churches at this time, pro-slavery churches were still in the majority. While this debate raged on, economic conditions would finally force a peaceful consensus among the churches concerning slavery, which the South had wanted all along. By the early 19th century, the southern churches were almost completely pro-slavery.
After Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1792, the South became more economically dependant on slave labor; to compete, more preachers became slaveholders themselves, and more slaveholders became preachers. David Barrow, an anti-slavery Baptist preacher from Portsmouth, Virginia, decided to move his family to the North; Barrow complained that he could no longer compete with other Baptists if he did not own slaves himself. (Mathews, 1980). There were still a few Southern preachers who opposed slavery, but by the turn of the century most had become pro-slavery, or they emigrated North as Barrow had done. The South finally had their peaceful consensus on slavery: They were pro-slavery. The North at this time was going through the process of gradual emancipation, which began through the anti-slavery sentiment of the church. This goes to prove again that slavery could not have been sustained had it not been for the power of the church. With the North becoming more ant!
i-slavery and the South becoming more pro- slavery, the great conflict over slavery began, with the South relying heavily on the church for moral justification concerning the ownership of slaves.
Frederick Douglass believed that slavery took refuge in the churches of the United States. (Ritchie, 1968). William Andrew Smith, a Southern Methodist minister and president of Randolph-Macon College, defined slavery as “submission or subjection to control by the will of another human being.” (Lewis, 1973, p. 31). Smith felt that all men were slaves, with both the government and the family containing elements of slavery. Smith thus felt that slavery could be identified with good order in society. (Lewis, 1973). Frederick Augustus Ross, who was a pastor of the Presbyterian church of Huntsville, Alabama, used a quotation from the Bible in showing his support for slavery: “The powers that be are ordained of God.” (Romans 13:1, 1965, p. 137). Ross then concluded that “slavery is of God, and to continue for the good of the slave, the good of the master, the good of the whole American family, until another and better destiny may be unfolded.” (Ross, 1969, p. 5). It was !
common practice for the preachers to quote from the Bible in showing their support for slavery.
The Lord told Moses, “Now these are the judgements which thou shalt set before them. If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing. If he came in by himself, he shall go out by himself: if he were married, then his wife shall go out with him.” (Exodus 21:1-3, 1965, p. 61). The Lord then continues to tell Moses the various conditions allowable under slavery, which continues through the rest of chapter 21 in Exodus. The preachers would use the quotation from Exodus in saying that slavery was permissible under certain conditions. These preachers would argue that slavery was a patriarchal institution; the relationship of master to servant was no different then that of husband to wife, parent to child, or landlord to tenant. (Barnes, 1969). The Bible even gives reference to the fact that we are all servants (slaves) of God.
“Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; Not with eyeservice as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men: Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same he shall receive of the Lord, whether he is bond or free.” (Ephesians 6:5-8, 1965, pp. 165-6). The Lord, through Moses, freed the Hebrews from Egyptian enslavement. The Lord said, “For unto me the children of Israel are servants; they are my servants whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 25:55, 1965, p. 105). So whether or not a person is enslaved by man, we all are enslaved by God. While the Southern preachers were using the Bible to show their support for slavery, the abolitionist movement was growing in the North.
The abolitionist movement rose up through the churches of the North. Unfortunately, by the mid-1830’s, the church had distanced itself from the abolitionists. The church branded the abolitionists as “infidels,” or nonbelievers, and they called them radicals. Many abolitionists remained faithful to their belief in God, though they were no longer accepted by the church. The abolitionists believed themselves to be the “righteous remnant” of the evangelical tradition; abolitionism became a surrogate religion. (Mathews, 1980, p. 209). Two radical abolitionists, William Lloyd Garrison and Theodore Dwight Weld, considered slavery a sin.
Garrison and Weld felt that slavery was a rebellion against God, and all men were accountable to God. Both men thought that man was competing with God for control if he were to own another man. (Lewis, 1973). Garrison spoke about his beliefs in Thoughts on African Colonization, which he wrote in 1832. Garrison writes:
Man is created a rational being; and therefore he is subject of moral government, and accountable. Being rational and accountable, he is bound to improve his mind and intellect…. The slaves are men; they were born, then as free as their masters; they cannot be property; and he who denies them an opportunity to improve their faculties, comes into collusion with Jehovah, and incurs a fearful responsibility. But we know they are not treated like rational beings, and that oppression almost entirely obliterates their sense of moral obligation to God or man. (Lewis, 1973, p. 49).
Unfortunately, the abolitionists were small in numbers, and they never could get most of the Northern churches to agree with them. Although the Northern churches claimed to be anti- slavery, their opposition to the abolitionists, along with their actions or inactions toward slavery, would prove otherwise.
The Northern churches were just as guilty as the Southern churches in keeping slavery alive. Some Northern church members made money by selling the South Negro-clothing, handcuffs, and cowhides, to be used on the slaves. Most Northern church members purchased and used cotton, rice, sugar, tobacco, and other goods produced by slave labor. (Ross, 1969). While the Northern church members were claiming to be anti-slavery, their actions gave the South economic justification in allowing slavery to persist. The Northern churches were nothing more than hypocrites! A few Northern church members even married Southern slaveholders, thus becoming slaveholders themselves. (Ross, 1969). Frederick Douglass also had problems with Northern churches, who were hypocritical in their treatment of black members.
Douglass decided to attend communion one Sunday at a Northern Methodist church in 1841. Douglass was surprised to see that all of the white members were served first, while the black members had to wait by the door. After serving all the white members, the minister then turned to the black members and said, “Come up, colored friends, come up! For you know God is no respecter of persons!” (Ritchie, 1968, p. 39). Douglass never went back, but he did not give up his faith.
Douglass decided to attend another church in New Bedford. There was a young, black girl who drank from the cup representing Christ’s blood. The next in line to drink from the cup was a young, white girl. After this white girl was passed the cup, she refused to drink from the same cup that a black girl had just drank from; she got up and left the church. Another white girl- -after witnessing the black girl drink from the cup–fell into a trance. After she awoke, she claimed she had been to heaven. One lady asked her if there were any blacks in heaven; she replied, “Oh! I didn’t go into the kitchen!” (Ritchie, 1968, p. 40). In other words, it was all right to go to heaven, as long as there were not any blacks there. Discrimination is a denial of freedom, and any denial of freedom is a form of slavery. The blatant hypocrisy of the Northern churches is obvious, but the South was also hypocritical in defending slavery. The Roman Empire was defeated by their Christian sl!
aves, but still the Southern church members owned slaves. Reverend Ross summarized the attitude of the Southern churches best.
Ross delivered a speech concerning slavery in the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Buffalo, on May 27, 1853. Ross said:
Let us then, North and South, bring our minds to comprehend two ideas, and submit to their irresistible power. Let the Northern philanthropist learn from the Bible that the relation of master and slave is not sin per se. Let him learn that God says nowhere it is sin. Let him learn that sin is the transgression of the law; and when there is no law there is no sin, and that the Golden Rule may exist in the relations of slavery. Let him learn that slavery is simply an evil in certain circumstances. Let him learn that equality is only the highest form of social life; that subjection to authority, even slavery, may, in given conditions, be for a time better than freedom to the slave of any complexion. Let him learn that slavery, like all evils, has its corresponding and greater good; that the Southern slave, though degraded with his master, is elevated and ennobled compared with his brethren in Africa. Let the Northern man learn these things, and be wise to cultivate the s!
pirit that will harmonize with his brethren of the South, who are lovers of liberty as truly as himself: And let the Southern Christian–nay, the Southern man of every grade– comprehend that God never intended the relation of master and slave to be perpetual… Let him know that slavery is to pass away in the fullness of Providence. Let the South believe this, and prepare to obey the hand that moves their destiny. (Ross, 1969, pp. 6-7).
Either way you look at it, both the Southern and Northern churches were guilty in showing their support for slavery; they just did it in different ways.
The church–not just the Southern churches–allowed for slavery to exist. There is no data available that shows exactly how many church members were slaveholders, or which denominations were more pro-slavery than others. (Barnes, 1969). There was very little information from slaves themselves, except Frederick Douglass, since most died before they could read and write. However, the information contained here within must not be taken lightly! There is overwhelming evidence that suggests that the church had the power to end slavery; instead, the church was guilty of prolonging slavery! First we robbed the Indians of their land, and then we robbed the blacks of their dignity and freedom; the church has always made great human tragedies justifiable in the name of God. God–What God?
Do you think a real God would have allowed slavery to exist? Do you think a real God would have allowed mass-murdering dictators like Hitler and Pol Pot to terrorize people–God’s people? Look at how many people have been killed in Holy Wars! Where was God then, or did these wars take place on God’s day of rest? How many more people are going to be persecuted, discriminated against, enslaved, and murdered–all in the name of God–before we begin to put our faith in each other, and not this mythical God concept? My own theory is that we continue to believe in the God concept because of our fear of death. We have this idealistic belief in God and heaven to “prove” that we do not die; no, we “pass on” to continue living in heaven, alongside God. Anyone who believes this has a God complex; they simply cannot accept their own immortality! Maybe one day we can overcome this belief in God, and maybe then the world will be a better place in which to live. This may be stretch!
ing things a bit, but look at what the belief in God has done for us so far–look at what it did for the slaves!
Barnes, A. (1969). The church and slavery. New York: Negro Universities Press. (Original work published in 1857)
Lewis, P. (1973). Slavery and anarchy. Radical abolitionism: Anarchy and the government of
god in anti-slavery thought (pp.18-54). Ithica: Cornell University Press.
Mathews, D. (1980). Religion and slavery: The case of the American south. In C. Bolt & S. Drescher (eds.), Anti-slavery, religion, & reform (pp. 207-230). Hamden, CT: Archon Books.
Ritchie, B. (1968). The mind and heart of frederick douglass: Excerpts from speeches of the
great negro orator. (pp. 37-63). New York: Thomas Y. Crowell.
Ross, F. (1969). Slavery ordained by god. New York: Negro Universities Press. (Original work published in 1859)
The holy bible: King james version. (1965). Chicago: Good Counsel.
Wallace, F. (1994). The neo-tech dicovery. (p. 32). Neo-Tech Worldwide.
Webster’s new world college dictionary. (1996). (p. 487). New York: MacMillan USA.
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