Christians, especially fundamentalists, are mounting a campaign for another God film they are behind: Amazing Grace
. The story goes that a British MP, William Wilberforce, gives his heart to Jesus and is saved and abolishes the evil of slavery. See how great Jesus is.
Understand that there is an organized campaign to falsely tie Christianity to the abolition of slavery in ways not justified by history. They have even organized hundreds of churches to sing the song Amazing Grace (
the title of the film) on the Sunday before it’s release. The churches are acting as free advertising agencies for this business venture.
Just as Mel Gibson did with his film the produces of Amazing Grace
are giving special preview tickets to ministers to see the film before it opens to the public. Again it’s advertising for the film. They even have a special web site for churches to register their Sunday promotion of the movie. They are shamelessly calling it “Amazing Grace
Sunday”. Think of this. Thousands of churches openly promoting a business venture. I counted over 100 churches in Georgia alone that were involved in this promotional campaign
. Here is a map showing churches involved in the publicity campaign for this private company.
According to the web site for the film “more than 5,000 churches” have signed up for this publicity stunt. It may be advertising, it may be a publicity stunt but it is given a pious veneer and the Christians are eating it up.
No doubt Wilberforce did oppose slavery. Thomas Jefferson pushed to abolish slavery years before Wilberforce did and Jefferson was no Christian. He failed in light of heavy Christian opposition. And the fact remains that for centuries Christians had no major issues with slavery. Christianity was the official religion of the West since the time of Constantine who made it the official religion in 312. Wilberforce comes along one and half millenniums later.
So exactly what were Christians and God doing for 1,500 years?
Neither were actively involved in any move to abolish the evil of slavery. And the reason for this inactivity is obvious. The Bible condones slavery. The church condoned slavery for most of it’s history. Christianity actively supported slavery for 1,500 years and has only opposed it for 200 years. They have about another 1,300 years to go before they even up the score, so to speak.
The Old Testament didn’t just condone slavery but has God allegedly telling his chosen people to actually enslave others. God actively encouraged slavery. And the New Testament didn’t change a thing. Jesus never had an unkind word to say about slavery.
The closest we come to opposition, and it fails by a long shot, is Paul telling Christian slave owners to remember that slaves, who are Christians, are brothers in Christ. He never thought to tell them to free their brothers in Christ. He never had a word about ending the practice. And he didn’t say the same thing about slaves who weren’t Christians.
That Paul was speaking to Christian slave owners indicates that the early followers of Jesus never thought it wrong to own slaves. As for the slaves Paul told them to obey their masters, Christian or not. In fact Paul told Christian slaves that they should work even harder for their masters “as though you were working for the Lord.” And since that is what he wrote in the New Testament most Christians would say that is God speaking. God wanted hard-working slaves not free men.
Christians were so fond of slavery and servitude that they often used this imagery to describe the relationship between believers and God. And non Christians often spoke out against slavery. Prof. JL Holden said that Paul’s failure to condemn slavery “falls below the human ideals of Stoics of his time like Seneca.” Don’t expect any fundamentalist to finance a film about Seneca. But the church fathers and leading theologians continued to support the practice for centuries.
The first Western nation to free its slaves was not the England of Wilberforce. Even Wilberforce himself mentioned that in the House of Commons, Feb. 18, 1796. What nation represented the forces of godlessness to organized Christianity? It was France, the France that had gone through the French Revolution and was roundly condemned (and often with very good reason I should point out) by the Christians of the West. The godless revolutionaries in France freed slaves in the French colonies decades before Christian England managed to do so.
No one will produce a film about that. They don’t have thousands of French churches across America willing to act as advertising agents to boost movie profits. But on February 4, 1795 the revolutionary First Republic passed a decree which said “the Convention declares the slavery of the Blacks abolished in all the colonies consequently, all men, irrespective of colour, living the colonies are French citizens and will enjoy all the rights provided by the Constitution.”
Revolutionary France did not survive. The forces of Napoleon and order took control and in 1802 they re-established slavery. And over the next few years the cozy relationship between church and state was reinstated. But apparently, in the process, the Christians forgot to tell Napoleon that reinstating slavery was wrong.
Two decades before Revolutionary France had made the first steps to abolish slavery the great American opponent of Christianity, Thomas Paine, wrote his essay about how “Christianized people should approve” the stealing and enslavement of “men by violence and murder for gain”. He was disgusted and called for the end of the practice. The church didn’t listen.
What I find a bit odd is that across the American South, the Bible Belt, churches are joining this publicity campaign. Yet many are affiliated with denominations that came into existence because of their support for slavery. When abolitionism finally came to America it was the godless North that embraced the cause. The good Christian people of the South consistently defended the practice as Biblical. As pressure from the North mounted Southern churches severed their ties with their denominations and formed their own groupings in defense of slavery. (Much as you have Episcopal churches rushing off to embrace an authoritarian bishop in Africa because some of their fellow churches won’t bash gays anymore.)
The fundamentalists of the past were advocates of slavery for the most part and it is no coincidence that today's American fundamentalist movement is strongest in those states that were slave states. Slavery and Bible-believing Christianity went hand in hand.
James Gillispie Birney, in 1842 wrote his pamphlet on American slavery
. It was entitled: The American Churches: The Bulwarks of American Slavery
. He told his English audience: “The extent to which most of the Churches in America are involved in the guilt of supporting the slave system is known to but a few in this country.”
Four years later another report was written: American Slavery: Report of a Public Meeting held at Finsbury Chapel, Moorefields to receive Frederick Douglas, the American Slave, on Friday, May 22, 1846
. It contained a transcript of a speech given by Douglas that day. He said:
“I have to inform you that the religion of the southern states, at this time, is the great supporter, the great sanctioner of the bloody atrocities to which I have referred. While America is printing tracts and Bibles; sending missionaries abroad to convert the heathen; expending her money in various ways for the promotion of the Gospel in foreign lands, the slave not only lies forgotten--uncared for, but is trampled under foot by the very churches of the land. What have we in America? Why we have slavery made part of the religion of the land. Yes, the pulpit there stands up as the great defender of this cursed institution, as it is called.”
Douglas said the most difficult obstacle to end slavery was how closely Christians had connected it to their religion.
“This I conceive to be the darkest feature of slavery and the most difficult to attack, because it is identified with religion, and exposes those who denounce it to the charge of infidelity. Yes, those with whom I have been labouring, namely, the old organization Anti-Slavery Society of America, have been again and again stigmatized as infidels, and for what reason? Why, solely in consequence of the faithfulness of their attacks upon the slave-holding religion of the southern states, and the northern religion that sympathizes with it.”
That being an abolitionist caused one to be labeled an “infidel” ought to be a badge of honor to infidels the world over.
People pleaded with Douglas to mention some instances of the church standing up against slavery. He replied:
“The church and the slave prison stand next to each other; the groans and cries of the heartbroken slave are often drowned in the pious devotions of his religious master. The church-going bell and the auctioneer’s bell chime in with each other; the pulpit and the auctioneers’s block stand in the same neighbourhood; while the blood-stained gold goes to support the pulpit covers the infernal business with the garb of Christianity. We have men sold to build churches, women sold to support missionaries, and babies sold to buy Bibles and communion services for the churches.”
A voice cried out that this couldn’t be true. Douglas lifted the Birney booklet and quoted an advertisement announce the sale of “field negroes” being sold by the church that owned them. He read another account of a woman’s estate, where a quarter of slaves were given to the church so that it could sell them “for the purpose of sending the Gospel to the heathen and particularly to the Indians of this continent.” Douglas says in that case the church turned down the bequest but would have been happy to accept the money directly had the slaves been sold first.
Wilberforce did speak out agaisnt slavery. As did many agnostics, deists and freethinkers who history forgets. But as Charles Bradlaugh put it, for Wilberforce to condemn slavery he had to have become an unbeliever as to some passages from the Scriptures. And even as he campaigned for freedom he failed for decades because of the opposition from his fellow believers. Bradlaugh said
When William Lloyd Garrison, the pure-minded and most earnest abolitionist, delivered his first anti-slavery address in Boston, Massachusetts, the only building he could obtain, in which to speak, was the infidel hall owned by Abner Kneeland, the "infidel" editor of the 'Boston investigator,' who had been sent to gaol for blasphemy. Every Christian sect had in turn refused Mr. Lloyd Garrison the use of the buildings they severally controlled. Lloyd Garrison told me himself how honored deacons of a Christian Church joined in an actual attempt to hang him.
Much of the inspiration for abolitionism in the United States came from the pen of Thomas Jefferson. His stirring words in the Declaration of Independence
preached a different gospel, where “all men are created equal” and endowed with rights. And the good Christians of the south recognized this. At the Second Presbyterian Church of Charleston, on November 21, 1861 a minister rose to preach against the Declaration of Independence
. H. Shelton Smith summarized the argument:
“It was this very atheistic Declaration which had inspired the “higher law” doctrine of the radical antislavery men. If the mischievous abolitionists had only followed the Bible instead of the godless Declaration, they would have been bound to acknowledge that human bondage was divinely ordained. The mission of southerners was therefore clear; they must defend the word of God against abolitionist infidels.”
Bishop Stephen Elliott of Georgia preached in 1862 that the libertarian revolution of 1776 was against the Bible.
“Carried away by our opposition to monarchy and an established Church, we declared war against all authority and against all form. The reason of man was exalted to an impious degree and in the face not only of experience, but of the revealed word of God, all men were declared equal, and man was pronounced capable of self-government.”
At the First Presbyterian Church of New Orleans, in 1860, Rev. Benjamin Palmer told the gathered faithful that:
“The Abolition spirit is undeniably atheistic, The demon which erected its throne upon the guillotine in the days of Robespierre and Marat, which abolished the Sabbath and worshipped reason in the person of a harlot, yet survives to work other horrors, of which those of the French Revolution are but the type. Among a people so generally religious as the American, a disguise must be worn; but it is the same old threadbare disguise of the advocacy of human rights. From a thousand Jacobin Clubs here, as in France, the decree has gone forth which strikes at God by striking at all subordination and law. . . . This spirit of atheism, which knows no God who tolerates evil, no Bible which sanctions law, and no conscience that can be bound by oaths and covenants, has selected us for its victims, and slavery for its issue. Its banner-cry rings out already upon the air: “liberty, equality, fraternity,” which simply interpreted, means bondage, confiscation, and massacre. With its tricolor waving in the breeze—it waits to inaugurate its reign of terror. To the South the high position is assigned of defending, before all nations, the cause of all religions and of all truths. In this trust, we are resisting the power which wars against constitutions and laws and compacts, against Sabbaths and sanctuaries, against the family, the state, and the church, which blasphemously invades the prerogatives of God, and rebukes the Most High for the errors of his administration. . . .”
The preachers of the day knew from whence came the spirit of abolitionism. It came from Englightenment thinking not from Scripture. Susan Jacoby, author of Freethinker, says: “"The religiously correct version of American history has never given proper credit to the central importance of the Enlightenment concept of natural rights--or to the anticlerical abolitionists who advanced that concept before the public--in building the case against slavery"
The Jeffersonian concept of natural rights was not Biblical in origin. And it permeated the American abolitionist movment. In opposition to that campaign was the church. That the church eventually surrendered to the spirit of Enlightenment is now being held up as a victory for God.
Christians are celebrating the emancipation of slaves as if their faith had not condoned the practice for millenniums. Their Bible, to this very day condones the practice for it is God’s word and can’t be rewritten by sinful man. They ignore the non-believers who laboured against slavery. They equally ignore the theologians, the ministers, the pastors and church elders who not only condoned the practice but owned human beings a pieces of property themselves.
Churches in denominations founded to defend the inhumanity of man owning man spent a few minutes singing a song promoting a film about one of their own. Instead they should have been on their knees begging forgiveness for the thousands of others who defended the atrocity of slavery. But Hollywood knows that if you want to promote a film and make a profit you want people to feel good. It Hollywood were being honest it would make hundreds of films showing the church advocating slavery for each one showing it opposing the practice.
It is no coincidence that after the liberal values of the Enlightenment spread throughout the Western world that nations began abolishing slavery. Christianity had been there for centuries and nothing changed. But as liberalism spread so too spread the shame of owning slaves. Eventually even the Christians started to feel condemned for their immoral practice. But they stood condemned, not by their Holy Bible, but by the spirit of their age, a spirit that had not come from Christianity and which was repeatedly condemned by the church.
Eventually the church succumbed to liberal temptation. Eventually it recognized rights which their own Bible denied. And now you have Christian after Christian using this movie to tell the story how Evangelical Christianity freed the slaves. Pardon me while I throw up.
Photo: Map of churches in this campaign. Photo of Frederick Douglas.
Labels: Christianity, slavery, Wilberforce