Christian view of slavery

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Based upon different interpretations of the Bible and their own moral views, Christians of the 18th century were divided on their opinions of slavery.

There is a passage in the Bible which describes Abraham keeping slaves. Many Christians saw this as meaning that slavery was morally acceptable.

A Methodist preacher George Whitfield said, As for the lawfulness of keeping slaves, I have no doubt, since I hear of some that were bought with Abraham's money, and some that were born in his house. George Whitfield himself owned slaves and campaigned for slavery to be reinstated in the American state of Georgia after it was abolished there in 1751.

Many also argued at this time that one of the advantages of slavery was that slaves received Christianity and the benefits of civilization.

Opposition

Christian emancipators (people who wanted slaves to be set free) feared the anger of God over the sin of slavery. They saw slavery as unjust and evil and campaigned to have it abolished.

The video below describes the influence of religion on the abolitionist movement.

Christian groups opposed to slavery found various ways of showing their opposition:

  • Quakers were early leaders in abolitionism (the campaign to ban slavery). By 1727 British Quakers had expressed their official disapproval of the slave trade. In June 1783 a petition from the London Yearly Meeting, signed by over 300 Quakers, was presented to Parliament, protesting against the slave trade.
  • Methodist founder John Wesley denounced slavery as, the sum of all villainies and detailed its abuses in a pamphlet published in 1774.
  • At a sermon held in Dundee's Steeple Church in 1832, a public meeting was led by two members of the Baptist Missionary Society, Messrs. Carey and Knibb. Mr Knibb told the packed congregation about the appalling treatment of slaves in Jamaica - at the end of the meeting the Anti-Slavery Society was set up.
  • The Catholic Church also became increasingly critical of slavery during this time. In 1741 Pope Benedict XIV condemned slavery in general.