Wednesday, December 9, 2020

December 9 The Spectacular and Single-Handed Abolition of Slavery by Christianity

 Reason #9 The Spectacular and Single-Handed Abolition of Slavery by Christianity

The facts of history strongly indicate that the Christian faith should receive credit for being the true impetus behind the abolition of slavery around the world.

By a truly masterful act of misdirection, the U.S., and Christians in particular, have somehow been blamed for the practice of slavery on planet Earth. This may be the verdict of twenty-first century anti-Christian bias, but it’s certainly not the verdict of history or truth.

The historical record clearly indicates that cruel slave-trading was not the unique fault of any one particular nation or race. Slavery was practiced from very ancient times on every continent (except Antarctica), by even Native Americans against other Native Americans, and Africans against other Africans. In fact, African-American historian Thomas Sowell reports that “Africans retained more slaves for themselves than they sent to the Western Hemisphere.”

There was an unchallenged acceptance of slavery in the ancient Roman Empire. It is even commonly estimated that an astonishing one-third of all the people in Italy, the heartland of the Empire, were slaves, mostly from European nations. Josephus estimated that 97,000 Jewish people were made slaves as a result of the Jewish Wars of his generation, and that these slaves could be purchased for the price of a horse.

Arabs (Muslims) began their practice of slave-trading in Africa in the 800s A.D.—a very long time before the Americas were colonized.  Tens of thousands of African slaves were kidnapped every year by Arab slavers and sold to Arab masters. Arab slave-trading continued until 1960, and legal slave ownership in Arab lands continued until 1980. Even today, some Muslim Mauritanians in northwestern Africa own slaves. In light of these realities, it is more than a little ironic to see certain African-Americans choosing to take on Arab names in an apparent protest against the history of white slave-trading.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., himself an African-American, and a professor of African and African-American studies at Harvard University estimates that far less than half a million Africans were brought to North America as slaves between 1525 and 1866 (approximately 388,000), but more than 10 million went directly to other places in the world. Brazil alone received almost 5 million African slaves.

We Americans must take full blame and responsibility for our less-than-half-a-million kidnapped African slaves, but someone else will have to take full blame and responsibility for the other more-than-ten-million sufferers trafficked from Africa.

And we Christian Americans rightly hang our heads in deep shame for our participation in this barbarous cruelty on any level—and certainly for our heinous level of participation in slave trading—but history clearly shows that America was nowhere near the first or the greatest offender in this ancient crime against humanity.

What is truly remarkable in history, however, is not the practice of global slavery from time immemorial, but the recent abolishing of slavery. Again, as the black historian Thomas Sowell has said, “While slavery was common to all civilizations…only one civilization developed a moral revulsion against it, very late in its history—Western civilization….Not even the leading moralists in other civilizations rejected slavery.” And this deep revulsion to slavery eventually led to the Civil War, the bloodiest war in our nation’s history, a war that was fought for the benefit of slaves, and fought mostly by concerned Caucasian people who had never themselves been slaves.

And while the blame for slavery cannot be fixed on any one particular party, the credit for abolition certainly can be. That credit belongs to the Christian faith. In fact, as even atheists will admit, abolition was an overwhelmingly Christian movement. The campaign against slavery was invented by Christians, led by Christians, taught, funded, staffed, and populated by Christians. Virtually all the nationwide chapters of the American Anti-Slavery Society were affiliated with churches. And virtually all the well-known abolitionists were Christians.

Evangelical pastor John Newton, evangelical parliamentarian William Wilberforce, and evangelical activists Thomas Clarkson and Granville Sharp successfully led the campaign against slavery in Britain.

In the U.S., the Puritan magistrates in Massachusetts (1646) and Rhode Island (1648), along with all Americans in the Quaker denomination, forbade slavery.

William Garrison began publishing America’s most influential antislavery newspaper in 1831 after reading a Presbyterian minister’s book on abolition.  

Charles Finney, America’s foremost Christian leader in the early 1800s, established the New York Anti-Slavery Society in his own church in 1833. He forbade slaveholders from being members of his church, and he established Oberlin College in 1833, the first college to welcome African-American students. In 1852, he said, “Christian men of the North are all agreed that Slavery is a great sin.”

Abolition leader Theodore Weld, “the most mobbed man in America,” was a convert of Finney.

Arthur and Lewis Tappan, leaders in the Congregationalist denomination, used their wealth to campaign against slavery.

The author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), Harriet Beecher Stowe, was the wife of a Christian seminary professor.

African-American abolitionist Frederick Douglass was a licensed minister who required his own children to read the Bible each day.

Harriet Tubman was famous for her devout Christian faith. And the list goes on.

The American Christian population, it is true, was shamefully slow to follow their Founder’s commands to love their neighbors and to treat others as they themselves would like to be treated. And a very small fraction of Christians treat people of color unkindly even today. For all of this, we who follow Jesus are deeply embarrassed and sorry.  

Of course, the anti-Christian voices of our day are very quick to remind us that most early American Christians were in favor of slavery. What these same voices fail to acknowledge, however, is that most Christians were no longer in favor of slavery by the time of the Civil War, and neither were most Americans, and this is precisely because Christians, almost single-handedly, pulled off the magnificent miracle of changing the world by abolishing slavery.

The facts of history strongly indicate that the Christian faith should receive credit for being the true impetus behind the abolition of slavery around the world.

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