How Religion Was Affected with Slaves before the Civil War
At the beginning of American slavery, before the Civil War, either Christianity was forced upon the African slaves or it was denied completely. The white man's religion gave purpose to American domestic religious missionaries in their intent to Christianize the earliest of slaves predominantly in the southern states.
Numbers of the white slave masters believed allowing slaves any type of religion gave them, unwanted ideas about autonomy and thus, made them troublesome, lazy, and therefore, the slave masters would beat any slave professing their Christian beliefs. Holding secret gatherings to practice their religion – Christian or the numerous types brought to America on the slave ships caused these enslaved African Americans more danger than any white masters' beatings. At the same time, some efforts white missionaries to the slaves, attempts meant to define the slaves' role to the master proved fruitless, because this only incensed their bondage, causing the master more problems and turned many slaves away from the Christian teachings.
Andrews and Gates explain in one narrative:
This is where they have no Sabbath Schools; no one to read the Bible to them; no one to preach the gospel who is competent to expound the Scriptures, except slaveholders. And the slaves, with but few exceptions, have no confidence at all in their preaching, because they preach a proslavery doctrine. They say, "Servants be obedient to your masters;-- and he that knoweth his master's will and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes;--means that God will send them to hell, if they disobey their masters. This kind of preaching has driven thousands into infidelity. They view themselves as suffering unjustly under the lash, without friends, without protection of law or gospel, and the green-eyed monster tyranny staring them in the face. They know that they are destined to die in that wretched condition, unless they are delivered by the arm of Omnipotence. And they cannot believe or trust in such a religion, as above named.
Religious roots of the slaves often adapted to the new Christian religion they adopted. In this academic exploration, the root religions of African slaves in America remain fundamental to the discourse of this topic providing a backdrop to testimonies of slaves about their new Christian faith. Much of the historical record of Christian roots among the slaves prior to the Civil War comes from diaries of domestic Christian missionaries to the slaves in the southern slave-holding states also provide a testament to the effect of religion on slaves and America before the Civil War presented in this academic endeavor
Religions Brought to America
Roots of Justification of Slavery by Missionaries to the Slaves
During the time of the Enlightened Age, slave conversion among the Protestant Christians looked at the belief in God in other ways than religious. Philosophically, John Locke offered people another way of looking at God and faith generating questions about the existence of an innate presence of God in every human. This idea led many of the Christians set on converting American slaves to Christianity. The underpinnings of these missionaries to bring the flock of slaves to the fold of the Christian God intent on saving their souls nonetheless remained fraught with attitudes of superiority.
The framework of appropriateness of slavery of non-whites lay in the beliefs of the Western civilizations. Darwinism evolved into social aspects including its application to people during the 19th century. The distortion of Darwin's theory of natural selection looks at its influence beginning 150 years ago.
According to Noren's explanation:
The most influential of these thinkers was Charles Darwin. Charles Darwin (1809-1882), however, was certainly not the first scientific thinker to develop a theory that shaped people’s social and political perspectives. Darwin’s concept of biological evolution aligned with the theories of Jean Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829) and Thomas R. Malthus (1766-1834) from the early part of the nineteenth century. Lamarck, a botanist, argued that in certain living conditions environmentally influenced traits could be transmitted to descendants with only the strongest traits surviving. Noting that different living conditions created modifications of a species, Lamarck‘s inheritance theory considered environmental conditions a primary aspect of genetic mutation.
There exists the need to understand how slavery in America was unlike slavery anywhere else in the world with different life experiences. Along with white preachers, black converts and later preachers all sermonized, "Obey, your Master." This resulted in varied reactions from the slaves as already discussed. "The majority of slaves may have internally questioned (but seldom verbally did so) whether the reference was to the God of Christianity or to the mortal white master who owned, beat, and killed them at will." Putting this in context, when review of slavery during the same time in West Africa where they continued practicing religious and cultural traditions on their own soil in the presence of Christian missionaries, this was not the case among American slaves. Between the master and the missionary, the American slave who confronted religion in America became the further victim of its intention to de-Africanize every part of the individual and the collective presence of those non-whites in bondage (referring to the European indentured servants in America).
Jules Ferry formulated a "colonial theory", declaring, "The superior races have a right because they have a duty. They have the duty to civilize the inferior races." Thus, when white Christians (missionary or other) remarked about the childlike nature of the slave they viewed as creatures, in essence they expressed the view of most Western ideology that the non-white was the least of the humanoids walking the earth according to their interpretation of Darwinism.
Missionaries and Slaves
Slave and Christian convert George Sharp gives testimony of his Christian salvation arising from the understanding of the word of God presented him by white ministers, caused Jupiter Hammon (former slave) to wonder what converted slaves felt about Jesus' sacrifice for everyone's sins meant to them. The underpinnings of the Protestant missionaries to the slave also meant conversion to Protestantism of those Catholic converted slaves as well. The story of Le Jau and other anti-Catholic Protestants found the Catholic converted slaves of the Portuguese sold to American slavers difficult to convince about the evils of their conversion.
This expose', by Le Jau of his conviction about the white slave masters' shows he believed it an unbearable cruelty to the slaves. In Le Jau's opinion those masters or plantation overseers attending church on Sunday then the inhuman and inhumane treatment of slaves particularly reveals their hypocrisy and lack of Christian charity. One particular incident Le Jau describes of the cruelty of such an overseer resulted in the suicides of a number of slaves the man had put through incredibly terrible tortures. Some whites of this era looked at paradox of the white man's religion in relation to the conversion of slaves. Consequently, the Christian slaves made known to some of the white masters received worse punishments than for other punishments. This understanding by some whites proved an insightful dichotomy.
African slaves converted to Christianity and who become ministers such as Nat Turner and Henry Bibb explain the converted slave efforts to emancipation (as Turner proved with the Northern abolitionists) centering around their understanding of Christian precepts. On the other hand, slave converts to Christianity as Sister Kelly proves a spirit-filled dedication to her newfound faith and reveals in the end conversion is a spiritual personal choice.
Frederick Douglas had no love of the white man's religion. He never converted, believing this was a tool of imperialism meant to keep the African American down. He would not trust a religion brutalizing other human beings. His view of those slaves embracing and converting to the white man's religion meant there lacked any opportunity for unifying the black American slave under any other ideology. Douglas understood the long struggle before the emancipation of American slaves and their journey to equality ironically still going on in the 21st century.
Even baptizing slaves called for a particular white minister "declaration" aligned to the individual's slavery status revealing both a profundity and profanity. This reading says it all about the absurdity of religion and slavery. The fact this account of baptizing slaves meant the preacher had to write a special “declaration” accommodating their slavery and being baptized is profound and profane.
Jupiter Hammon explains:
You declare in the Presence of Goad and before this Congregation that you do not ask for the holy baptism out of any design to free yourself from the Duty and Obedience you owe your Master while you live, but meerly for the good of Your Soul and to partake of the Graces and Blessings promised to the Members of the Church of Jesus Christ.
Others reference the Book of Job as providing a spiritual logic to the issue of religion and slavery in America. Former slave and later preacher, James Pennington not only preached this story to his assemblage of slave converts but also, preached about the day the righteousness of God and the Lord Jesus would bring freedom to all His people. For some, as told in Jerena Lee's narrative, she found equality in her religion. As a slave, and female preacher for the African Methodists in America, Lee deftly expresses the freedom her religion and spirituality provided. Nowhere is the issue of slavery and religion as compelling as the case of George Leile and Andrew Bryon ordained the first African American Baptist preachers in the late 1700s intent on preaching to their fellow slaves. Review of their narrative as pioneering black Baptists among the slaves show their obvious contentment preaching to slaves – some of whom were blood relatives. Religion for the slaves proved an assimilation process such as these two meant understanding that Christianity brought acculturation to white man's slavery, how it brought them respect in their community, and eventually a part of free enterprise.
Freed from slavery, after serving as an African American patriot during the American Revolutionary War, Lemuel Haynes, the son of a white woman became the preacher of a predominantly white following in Rutland, Vermont as an ordained Congregational Church minist4er. After serving 30 years as the spiritual leader of the congregation, Haynes' conviction to leave a community he felt so much a part lay in the awakening of how race was a part of his sense of self.
Both sociology and anthropology explain the influence of environment nurturing the developing human being. In the case of Hynes, his first identity drew on his position as the son of his parents. His identity as a child of God, then a spiritual leader of his community where he led for three decades, reveals the depth of his conviction about his race spurring his decision to leave the Connecticut church he loved so much. While religion proved the foundation of his existence nonetheless the hypocrisy he came to understand with the slavery issue in America fed his conscious and consciousness about the wrongness and hypocrisy of the Christian faith he believed.
As posited in the introduction of this academic investigation, at the beginning of American slavery, before the Civil War, either Christianity was forced upon the African slaves or it was denied completely. Christianity's relationship to the American African slave from 1700 until the Emancipation Proclamation cover the colonial, provincial into the revolutionary and civil wars as the underpinnings of the influence on American religion in general. Speaking of the deeds of the white Christian leaders during this time and the attitudes toward the African American slave proves an example of the mindset of Western civilizations toward non-whites as already explained in this academic investigation.
American and European Christians were of the same mind-set on the issue of imperialistic colonization intent on exploiting and ruling the natives (in America Native Americans were also enslaved). In the case of America, African slave trade extended to the colonies by the practice of the British slavers. "It must also be kept in mind that in the age of colonization, nearly all Christians assumed that religious institutions had to be closely tied to political, economic, and social ones."
Problematic for the student of Christianity during the colonial period, the fact remains not all of the colonials' behavior expressed the fundamental precepts of brotherly love of the Lord Jesus' teachings. This paper, through the narratives of slaves and former slaves and white missionaries to the slaves provides the underpinnings of the effect of religion on the enslaved and the whites and the roots of ending slavery in America. There remains a hard bitterness how Christian ethics took such a side road of particularly heinous actions in the treatment of American slaves. Belief in the precepts of Christian ethics, nonetheless comes back to acknowledging the "ways of the Lord are a mystery" and indeed the story of religion and slavery in America before 1861 proves this tenet one of truth/Truth.
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