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Trotter, Richard

HIS 337
Spring 2013
The Religious Defense of Slavery
The Bible and Christianity is by far the most popular defense of slavery in American
history. White Southern ministers emerged as the leading defenders of slavery, calling slavery a
Christian institution using the phrase Christian slavery. White Southern evangelicals
believed Christian slavery to be sanctioned by the Word of God (Bible) and regulated by
Christian principles. There are two key elements for the defense of slavery, the biblical defense
and paternalism. Paternalism is the vision whites had of slavery, also known as the master-
slave relationship. Pro-slavery writers believed slavery to be a divinely sanctioned institution
and a normal part of the human society. Along with this came mutual obligations and duties.
The master provided physical care, clothing, and food. Masters often asserted that slavery is
more Christian than free labor. Christian defenders of slavery rejected the chattel principle
(that slavery reduced human beings to things or beasts). They argued that masters only owned
the labor, but not the bodies or souls of their slaves. White ministers reminded masters that they
were the ones responsible for the salvation of their servants. It is the masters duty to provide
their slaves with worship and religious instruction. Ministers used religion to defend slavery, but
they also criticized the abuses of slavery. They often called for the reforming of slavery to
Bible Standards making slavery a truly Christian institution.
Abolitionists (anti-slavery) as well as the pro-slavery defenders used the Bible and
Christianity to support their arguments. Pro-slavery defenders claimed that slavery is not a
moral evil, but rather an innocent and lawful relationship. They believe that God gives
permission to buy, sell, and enslave men for another man to profit. Defenders believe this right
to be founded on the Golden Rule (treat others as you would want to be treated) and
sanctioned by Christ and his apostles. Dr. Shannon of Bacon College, Kentucky I hardly know
which is most unaccountable, the profound ignorance of the Bible, or the sublimity of cool
impudence and infidelity manifested by those who profess to be Christians, and yet dare affirm
that the Book of God gives no sanction to slaveholding. The fact of the matter is that the Bible
serves up several verses that defend slavery in the Christian life. God sanctioned and gave
legality to slavery in Mosaic law and Christ never denounced slavery. Due to this, pro-slavery
defenders asserted that slavery had to be right. In their eyes, if slavery was right then, then it had
to be right still and therefor slavery is right and just. The term servant makes its first
appearance in the Bible in the book of Genesis. Genesis 9:25-26: Cursed be Canaan; a servant
of servants shall he be unto his breathren. And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and
Canaan shall be his servant. White Southern evangelicals view this verse as the beginning of
slavery.
1

In the Old Testament of the Bible, all the patriarchs are slaveholders. Abraham is viewed
as the model for Southern slaveholders. In Genesis 16: 6-9, Abraham gives Sarai the power to
punish her servant how she sees fit. When Sarai deals with Hagar harshly, Hagar runs away.
The Angel of the Lord finds Hagar at a fountain in the wilderness and ask why she is there and
where is she going. Hagar replies that she ran away from Sarai due to harsh treatment. The
Angel of the Lord replies, return to thy mistress and submit thyself under her hands. White
Southern evangelicals used this verse to show how God (through his Angel) dealt with a

1
Allen, Isaac, Is Slavery Sanctioned by the Bible: A Premium Tract Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Library
(Boston: Published by the American Tract Society, 1860): Pages 1,4.
runaway slave. They would use this verse to persuade and convince African American slaves to
not runaway because it is against the Word of God. Abolitionist viewed it as unlawful to send
back a runaway slave that had escaped from their master. Abolitionist used Deuteronomy 23:15
Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escape from his master unto thee: to
defend their belief. Pro-slavery defenders return to Bible passage about Sarai and Hagar, saying
that if God did not want runaway slaves to return to their masters, then why did he order Hagar
to return to Sarai? White Southern evangelicals believe that the Abolitionist do not like the Old
Testament part of the Bible. They believe that Abolitionists have no argument to stand on,
especially since people have read it for themselves and can understand the plain meaning.
They do want to accommodate the Abolitionist by looking to the New Testament to see if they
can recognize its authority.
2

The pro-slavery defenders use Luke 17:7-9 as an example of Christ approving slavery in
the New Testament of the Bible. The first thing we find in these verses is Jesus, who condemns
all sins, justifying the act of slavery by his conduct. White Southern evangelical used this as an
example for the teachings of the New Testament. They state that their Abolition brethren will
have to search some other book to justify their stance against slavery. Pro-slavery defenders
continue to use the New Testament to defend slavery, by turning to Ephesians 6:5-6 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 eye service, as men-pleasers; but as the
servants of Christ, doing the will of God form the heart. After reading this verse, slave masters
expected their slaves to be faithful in their work by doing more than what they expected of them

2
Amor, Patriae, Blasphemy of abolitionism exposed : servitude, and the rights of the South, vindicated : a Bible
argument, together with reflections drawn from the premises ... and the evil consequences that must result to the
northern states in case of division: the legitimate fruits of their unhallowed meddling, in violation of all principle
and good faith--and above all, God's holy word! (New-York: [s.n.], 1850): Pages 5,7.
on Earth. Similar Bible verses are used to defend slavery by white Southern evangelicals, these
verses include; Titus 2:9-10, 1 Timothy 6:1-4, Colossians 3:22, and 1 Peter 2:18. The pro-
slavery defenders believed these verses provided enough testimony to convince (the
convincible), that the Abolitionist show as little knowledge on the institution of slavery as they
do on the treatment of slaves.
3

George Armstrong believes that Christ and his apostles taught that slaveholding is not a
sin and is not viewed as an offence in the eyes of his Church. Slaveholding is not a sin and not
once is it punished in any scripture from the New Testament of the Bible. The books of the New
Testament are all written in slaveholding states and are written to people and churches in those
states. The whole book of Philemon is about St. Paul sending an escaped slave (Onesimus), back
to his master Philemon. The Apostle Paul wrote a Christian and paternal letter to Philemon
explaining the incident. This book justified the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law. Pro-Slavery defenders
pointed out the condition of slaves in Judea, from the time of the Lord as being no better than the
conditions of the slaves in Southern states. They also pointed out that in other countries slavery
conditions were much worse than those in the South. Slavery defenders used these examples to
justify and defend slavery from its critics and the fact that Christ never denounced slavery gave
white Southerners a strong case for the institution. George Armstrong also states, that Christ and
his Apostle frequently referred to and spoke of slavery and its established relation, not in a
negative way, but in a way of acceptance.
4
In the eyes of slave masters, this showed that the
Word of God did not have laws condemning slavery, and they were right in their beliefs.

3
Amor, Patriae, Pages 8-9.
4
Armstrong, George, The Christian Doctrine of Slavery (Philadelphia: Charles Scribner, 1857).
In 1838 Rev. Dr. Richard Furman wrote a letter to the Governor of South Carolina
showing the views of the Baptists, relative to the colored population. He wrote this letter on
behalf of the Baptist Convention, who viewed it to be their duty to God to state the correct moral
and religious views of slavery. He says that the Holy Scripture of the Old Testament clearly
informs the Isrealites to purchase bondmen and bondmaids from the Heathen Nations. Furman
also points to how the Old Testament declares that a person bought is to be the buyers "bond-
men forever;" and an "inheritance for them and their children."(See Leviticus 25:44-46) The
children who are born from slave parents, will be considered slaves just as their parents are. This
mirrors Southern slavery, in that if a child is born from slave parents, then they too will be
slaves. Many slave masters viewed it cheaper to breed slaves than to purchase them. Furman
goes on to compare Southern slavery to that of the Romans and the countries that they occupied.
The Roman Empire was full of slaves, with masters of the Christian faith who went to churches
under the ministry of the Apostles of Christ. Masters and slaves shared equal privileges when it
came to things of a spiritual nature, but when it came to their master and slave relationship things
were different. Masters were not called to emancipate their slaves as Abolitionist would ask all
Christian slave owners to do, but they were told to give just and equal things, without threatening
and above all, to remember they to have a master in Heaven.
5

Later in Furmans letter, he writes about a letter Paul writes to Timothy, saying that if a
slave has a believing master it does not authorize him to demand his emancipation. It also
does not give him the right to use violence to achieve his freedom. The Word of God tells the
slave to honor his master and to not hate him because they are brothers in religion. Furman

5
Furman, Richard, Exposition of The Views of the Baptists, Relative to the Colored Population In the United States
in a Communication to the Governor of South Carolina [Second Edition](Charleston, South Carolina: A.E. Miller
No. 4 Broad-St. 1838) Page 6.
writes that Paul believes the slave should serve his master in Christ. It is the belief of Furman
that Paul and other Apostles give similar directions throughout scripture. This provides support
to the argument, that Paul follows his own directions concerning slavery, by employing Timothy,
as an Evangelist, to teach men to honor this doctrine. Furman writes, that if slavery was morally
evil, then the Apostles who feared only God and who were ready to die to serve the will of God,
would not have tolerated the institution in the Christian church. The Apostles left the
relationship between master and slave untouched, and the viewed it as being just.
6

Richard Furman concludes that slavery is justified by Holy Bible, and is Christian, both
in sentiment and conduct. Pro-slavery defenders share the views of Furman, who believes it to
be the rights of the American Citizens to purchase African slaves and own them, based on the
principles in the Bible. Slavery that is humane and just becomes a state of happiness that is
equal to that and in some cases superior to what the poor enjoy in other countries. He says that
masters have the right by scripture to govern his slaves in a way to keep them as subjects. The
master is to demand and should receive all reasonable services, and is to correct laziness. He is
not to ask for any unreasonable services to be completed or to inflict any cruel punishment on his
slave. Furman states that the master has no scriptural or moral right to do so. Divine Law,
requires the master to provide protection, necessaries and conveniences of life, that are proper for
a servant. The necessaries and conveniences are enabled based on the service of the slaves.
7

William S. Jenkins writes that Christ came to fulfill and not destroy. Therefore, He
sanctioned the institution and the relationships existing at His time which he did not expressly
condemn. Jenkins believes that the master and slave relationship could not be one of sin,

6
Furman, Richard, pages 7-8.
7
Furman, Richard, page 24.
because the Bible approves it. Jenkins and the South believe that the morality of the African
American slave is tied in with the curse of Canaan. This is what the South uses to justify
slavery. In his passage Jenkins states that the moral depravity in man leads God to ordain
bondage as a punishment and a remedy. This is the view of Jenkins and most in the South, but a
few did disagree. John Fletcher uses a different theory, he believed that a long continued
disregard of any of the moral laws of God by a race would sufficiently deprave them to require
the curative fore of the slavery restraint. In other words, Fletcher believed that if someone or a
group of people ignored God for long enough, then he would use slavery to correct them. The
Bible argument, used by Jenkins, is the oldest form of pro-slavery defense and is the cornerstone
that the South built its moral defense of slavery. Jenkins believes the pro-slavery defense, based
on the Bible, is strong and follows the Word of God. He believes slavery to be a righteous and
just institution and one that should be left alone and in the hands of the Southern States.
8

Anne Loveland believes that during the early stages of Christianity in the South that
whites and slaves often attended the same churches, without segregation. This proved, in the
eyes of Southerners, that they were following the Word of God and that all things in the spiritual
world are equal between master and slave. She later shows that the slave masters did not just
simply use religion as a tool for their benefits. In her eyes, the White Southern Evangelicals
sought to provide the African American slave with the opportunity to achieve something that
they greatly valued. White Southern Evangelicals viewed the African American slave as a
fellow being also known as a brother in Christ, when it came time for religious instruction.
Loveland strikes a tricky balance as she shows these ministers had real religious sentiment
behind their support for an evil system. These ministers preached obedience to the slaves and

8
Jenkins, William S., Pro-Slavery Thought in the Old South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1935) pages
204-207.
told them that the Word of God approved slavery and that running away from their master is
wrong. White minister used the religious defense to prove that they were good southerners
who supported slavery completely, so they could ease the suspicions of the masters in order to
preach salvation to the slaves.
9

White southerners viewed slavery as the relationship between a superior and an inferior
being. Pro-slavery defenders, defended slavery as what they called a Providential Mission
God put bondage in place to bring heathen Africans to a Christian country, to convert them to
Christianity. This is similar to the arguments of the American Colonization Society, but most if
not all slaves stayed slaves in America. Slavery did succeed in saving hundreds of thousands of
souls that would have been damned without the institution. One of the most successful missions
in world history was the institution of slavery. Pro-slavery defenders assert that without the
guidance of whites, starvation, misery, disease, crime and vice would eventually kill of the freed
African Americans. They state that only under slavery can Africans flourish.
Slavery is a heinous institution and in the years leading up to the Civil War the South
turned to the Bible and Christianity to defend it. They had a strong defense, and the Bible clearly
defends slavery, but in what context. Should we take the Bible at its literal meaning or should
we look to the spirit of the Bible as per the Abolitionist? That is not for this writer to decide.
Taking the Bible for its plain meaning or the literal meaning clearly shows that God supported
slavery, not only in the Old Testament of the Bible, but also in the New Testament, through
Christ and His Apostles. Abolitionist were smart in their use of the Golden Rule it is hard to
imagine anyone wanting to be treated as the slaves were treated in the South. The Golden Rule

9
Loveland, Anne C., Southern Evangelicals and the Social Order, 1800-1860 (Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana
State University Press, 1980) 253-256.
stands the test of time as does the religious defense of slavery. As long as there is a Bible to
read, there will always be a religious defense for slavery.