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The Bible and slavery

From a review of a pro-slavery pamphlet by ‘Evangelicus’ in the Boston Emancipator in 1843.

The second part of the essay is occupied in proving that the slavery in the Roman world, at the time of our Saviour, was similar in all essential features to American slavery at the present day; and the third and concluding part is devoted to an examination of the apostolical directions to slaves and masters, as applicable to the same classes in the United States. He thinks the command to give to servants that which is just and equal means simply that the masters should treat their slaves with equity, and that while the servant is to be profitable to the master, the latter is bound in ‘a fair and equitable manner to provide for the slave’s subsistence and happiness.’ Although he professes to believe that a faithful adherence to Scriptural injunctions on this point would eventually terminate in the emancipation of the slaves, he thinks it not necessary to inquire whether the New Testament does or does not ‘tolerate slavery as a permanent institution’!

From the foregoing synopsis it will be seen at once that whatever may have been the motives of the writer, the effect of his publication, so far as it is at all felt, will be to strengthen the oppressor in his guilt, and hold him back from the performance of his immediate duty in respect to his slaves, and to shield his conscience from the reproofs of that class who, according to ‘Evangelicus,’ have ‘no personal acquaintance with the actual domestic state or the social and political connections of their Southern fellow-citizens.’ We look upon it only as another vain attempt to strike a balance between Christian duty and criminal policy, to reconcile Christ and Belial, the holy philanthropy of Him who went about doing good with the most abhorrent manifestation of human selfishness, lust, and hatred which ever provoked the divine displeasure. There is a grave-stone coldness about it. The author manifests as little feeling as if he were solving a question in algebra. No sigh of sympathy breathes through its frozen pages for the dumb, chained millions, no evidence of a feeling akin to that of Him who at the grave of Lazarus
Wept, and forgot His power to save; no outburst of that indignant reproof with which the Divine Master rebuked the devourers of widows’ houses and the oppressors of the poor is called forth by the writer’s stoical contemplation of the tyranny of his ‘Christian brethren’ at the South.

‘It is not necessary,’ says Evangelicus, ‘to inquire whether the New Testament does not tolerate slavery as a permanent institution.’ And this is said when the entire slave-holding church has sheltered its abominations under the pretended sanction of the gospel; when slavery, including within itself a violation of every command uttered amidst the thunders of Sinai, a system which has filled the whole South with the oppression of Egypt and the pollutions of Sodom, is declared to be an institution of the Most High. With all due deference to the author, we tell him, and we tell the church, North and South, that this question must be met. Once more we repeat the solemn inquiry which has been already made in our columns, ‘Is the Bible to enslave the world’ Has it been but a vain dream of ours that the mission of the Author of the gospel was to undo the heavy burdens, to open the prison doors, and to break the yoke of the captive? Let Andover and Princeton answer. If the gospel does sanction the vilest wrong which man can inflict upon his fellow-man, if it does rivet the chains which humanity, left to itself, would otherwise cast off, then, in humanity’s name, let it perish forever from the face of the earth. Let the Bible societies dissolve; let not another sheet issue from their presses. Scatter not its leaves abroad over the dark places of the earth; they are not for the healing of the nations. Leave rather to the Persian his Zendavesta, to the Mussulman his Koran. We repeat it, this question must be met. Already we have heard infidelity exulting over the astute discoveries of bespectacled theological professors, that the great Head of the Christian Church tolerated the horrible atrocities of Roman slavery, and that His most favored apostle combined slave-catching with his missionary labors. And why should it not exult? Fouler blasphemy than this was never uttered. A more monstrous libel upon the Divine Author of Christianity was never propagated by Paine or Voltaire, Kneeland or Owen; and we are constrained to regard the professor of theology or the doctor of divinity who tasks his sophistry and learning in an attempt to show that the Divine Mind looks with complacency upon chattel slavery as the most dangerous enemy with which Christianity has to contend. The friends of pure and undefiled religion must awake to this danger. The Northern church must shake itself clean from its present connection with blasphemers and slave-holders, or perish with them.