Gerbner, “Christian Slavery”

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Earlier this week, I posted a book on the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and commented on the large role religion played in the civil rights movement. Of course, Christianity had a lot to do with that movement, historically, and a common appeal to Christian conscience had much to do with the movement’s success. But candor compels the recognition that Christianity’s record with regard to racial justice in America is mixed. A forthcoming book from the University of Pennsylvania Press, Christian Slavery: Conversion and Race in the Protestant Atlantic World, by University of Minnesota historian Katharine Gerbner, recounts some of the story. The publisher’s description follows:

Could slaves become Christian? If so, did their conversion lead to freedom? If not, then how could perpetual enslavement be justified? In Christian Slavery, Katharine Gerbner contends that religion was fundamental to the development of both slavery and race in the Protestant Atlantic world. Slave owners in the Caribbean and elsewhere established governments and legal codes based on an ideology of “Protestant Supremacy,” which excluded the majority of enslaved men and women from Christian communities. For slaveholders, Christianity was a sign of freedom, and most believed that slaves should not be eligible for conversion.

When Protestant missionaries arrived in the plantation colonies intending to convert enslaved Africans to Christianity in the 1670s, they were appalled that most slave owners rejected the prospect of slave conversion. Slaveholders regularly attacked missionaries, both verbally and physically, and blamed the evangelizing newcomers for slave rebellions. In response, Quaker, Anglican, and Moravian missionaries articulated a vision of “Christian Slavery,” arguing that Christianity would make slaves hardworking and loyal.

Over time, missionaries increasingly used the language of race to support their arguments for slave conversion. Enslaved Christians, meanwhile, developed an alternate vision of Protestantism that linked religious conversion to literacy and freedom. Christian Slavery shows how the contentions between slave owners, enslaved people, and missionaries transformed the practice of Protestantism and the language of race in the early modern Atlantic world.

de Wet, “The Unbound God”

In June, Routledge will release The Unbound God: Slavery and the Formation of Early Christian Thought by Chris L. de Wet (University of South Africa). The publisher’s description follows:

The Unbound GodThis volume examines the prevalence, function, and socio-political effects of slavery discourse in the major theological formulations of the late third to early fifth centuries AD, arguably the most formative period of early Christian doctrine. The question the book poses is this: in what way did the Christian theologians of the third, fourth, and early fifth centuries appropriate the discourse of slavery in their theological formulations, and what could the effect of this appropriation have been for actual physical slaves? This fascinating study is crucial reading for anyone with an interest in early Christianity or Late Antiquity, and slavery more generally.

Ramelli, “Social Justice and the Legitimacy of Slavery”

In January, Oxford University Press will release Social Justice and the Legitimacy of Slavery: The Role of Philosophical Asceticism from Ancient Judaism to Late Antiquity by Ilaria L.E. Ramelli (Thomas Aquinas University). The publisher’s description follows:

social-justice-and-the-legitimacy-of-slaveryWere slavery and social injustice leading to dire poverty in antiquity and late antiquity only regarded as normal, “natural” (Aristotle), or at best something morally “indifferent” (the Stoics), or, in the Christian milieu, a sad but inevitable consequence of the Fall, or even an expression of God’s unquestionable will? Social Justice and the Legitimacy of Slavery shows that there were also definitive condemnations of slavery and social injustice as iniquitous and even impious, and that these came especially from ascetics, both in Judaism and in Christianity, and occasionally also in Greco-Roman (“pagan”) philosophy. Ilaria L. E. Ramelli argues that this depends on a link not only between asceticism and renunciation, but also between asceticism and justice, at least in ancient and late antique philosophical asceticism.

Ramelli provides a careful investigation through all of Ancient Philosophy (not only Aristotle and the Stoics, but also the Sophists, Socrates, Plato, the Neoplatonists, and much more), Ancient to Rabbinic Judaism, Hellenistic Jewish ascetic groups such as the Essenes and the Therapeutae, all of the New Testament, with special focus on Paul and Jesus, and Greek, Latin, and Syriac Patristic, from Clement and Origen to the Cappadocians, from John Chrysostom to Theodoret to Byzantine monastics, from Ambrose to Augustine, from Bardaisan to Aphrahat, without neglecting the Christianized Sentences of Sextus. In particular, Ramelli considers Gregory of Nyssa and the interrelation between theory and practice in all of these ancient and patristic philosophers, as well as to the parallels that emerge in their arguments against slavery and against social injustice.

“Faith and Slavery in the Presbyterian Diaspora” (Taylor & Messer, eds.)

In January, Lehigh University Press released “Faith and Slavery in the Presbyterian Diaspora,” edited by William Harrison Taylor (Alabama State University) and Peter C. Messer (Mississippi State University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Faith and Slavery in the Presbyterian Diaspora considers how, in areas as diverse as the New Hebrides, Scotland, the United States, and East Central Africa, men’s 1611462010and women’s shared Presbyterian faith conditioned their interpretations of and interactions with the institution of chattel slavery. The chapters highlight how Presbyterians’ reactions to slavery –which ranged from abolitionism, to indifference, to support—reflected their considered application of the principles of the Reformed Tradition to the institution. Consequently, this collection reveals how the particular ways in which Presbyterians framed the Reformed Tradition made slavery an especially problematic and fraught issue for adherents to the faith.

Faith and Slavery, by situating slavery at the nexus of Presbyterian theology and practice, offers a fresh perspective on the relationship between religion and slavery. It reverses the all too common assumption that religion primarily served to buttress existing views on slavery, by illustrating how groups’ and individuals reactions to slavery emerged from their understanding of the Presbyterian faith. The collection’s geographic reach—encompassing the experiences of people from Europe, Africa, America, and the Pacific—filtered through the lens of Presbyterianism also highlights the global dimensions of slavery and the debates surrounding it. The institution and the challenges it presented, Faith and Slavery stresses, reflected less the peculiar conditions of a particular place and time, than the broader human condition as people attempt to understand and shape their world.

New Edition of the Grimke Sisters’ Writings

This month, Random House releases On Slavery and Abolitionism, a newgruimke collection of writings by the Grimké Sisters, Sarah and Angelica, with an introduction by Mark Perry. The publisher’s description follows:

Sarah and Angelina Grimké’s portrayal in Sue Monk Kidd’s latest novel, The Invention of Wings, has brought much-deserved new attention to these inspiring Americans. The first female agents for the American Anti-Slavery Society, the sisters originally rose to prominence after Angelina wrote a rousing letter of support to renowned abolitionist William Garrison in the wake of Philadelphia’s pro-slavery riots in 1935.  Born into Southern aristocracy, the Grimkés grew up in a slave-holding family. Hetty, a young house servant, whom Sarah secretly taught to read, deeply influenced Sarah Grimké’s life, sparking her commitment to anti-slavery activism.  As adults, the sisters embraced Quakerism and dedicated their lives to the abolitionist and women’s rights movements. Their appeals and epistles were some of the most eloquent and emotional arguments against slavery made by any abolitionists. Their words, greeted with trepidation and threats in their own time, speak to us now as enduring examples of triumph and hope.

A Little Political Theology Courtesy of Benjamin Franklin

From his “Petition of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery,” presented in the House of Representatives on February 12, 1790:

The memorial respectfully showeth,

That from a regard for the happiness of mankind, as association was formed several years since in this State, by a number of her citizens, of various religious denominations, for promoting the abolition of slavery, and for the relief of those unlawfully held in bondage. A just and acute conception of the true principles of liberty, as it spread through the land, produced accessions to their numbers, many friends to their cause, and a Legislative cooperation with their views, which, by the blessing of Divine Providence, have been successfully directed to the relieving from bondage a large number of their fellow-creatures of the African race. They have also the satisfaction to observe, that in consequence of that spirit of philanthropy and genuine liberty which is generally diffusing its beneficial influence, similar institutions are forming at home and abroad.

That mankind are all formed by the same Almighty Being, alike objects of his care, and equally designed for the enjoyment of happiness, the Christian religion teaches us to believe, and the political creed of Americans fully coincides with the position.

Harlow, “Religion, Race, and the Making of Confederate Kentucky, 1830-1880”

Next month, Cambridge University Press will publish Religion, Race, and the Making of Confederate Kentucky, 1830-1880 by Luke Harlow (University of Tennessee, Knoxville). The publisher’s description follows.Religion, Race, and the Making of Confederate Kentucky, 1830–1880

This book sheds new light on the role of religion in the nineteenth-century slavery debates. In it, Luke E. Harlow argues that ongoing conflict over the meaning of Christian ‘orthodoxy’ constrained the political and cultural horizons available for defenders and opponents of American slavery. The central locus of these debates was Kentucky, a border slave state with a long-standing antislavery presence. Although white Kentuckians famously cast themselves as moderates in the period and remained with the Union during the Civil War, their religious values showed no moderation on the slavery question. When the war ultimately brought emancipation, white Kentuckians found themselves in lockstep with the rest of the Confederate South. Racist religion thus paved the way for the making of Kentucky’s Confederate memory of the war, as well as a deeply entrenched white Democratic Party in the state.

Law and Religion in Justice Thomas’s Fisher Concurrence

As Supreme Court followers will already know, the Court issued decisions in several cases today, including an employment discrimination case, a case about the reach of the Necessary and Proper Clause (take note, my old students!), and, of course, a case dealing with affirmative action in public universities.

There isn’t much involving law and religion in any of these cases. But not nothing either. I am still digesting Fisher v. University of Texas, but the upshot seems to be a clarification of sorts by the Court that, in applying a strict scrutiny standard in this context, while deference is due to a university’s belief in the importance of “the educational benefits flowing from student body diversity,” deference is not due to the manner in which the university attempts to achieve the asserted interest in diversity (where narrow tailoring of the means to the end is necessary). Good faith efforts by the university to achieve narrow tailoring are not sufficient to satisfy the narrow tailoring element of strict scrutiny. Justice Kennedy, writing for the Court, offered this: “Strict scrutiny must not be ‘strict in theory but fatal in fact.’….But the opposite is also true. Strict scrutiny must not be strict in theory but feeble in fact.” The case was vacated and remanded to the Fifth Circuit for reconsideration in light of the Court’s clarification of the applicable standard.

In a sizable and strongly worded concurrence, Justice Thomas agreed that the Fifth Circuit did not apply strict scrutiny but also argued that the Court should have overruled Grutter v. Bollinger, where the Court offered its fullest statement about educational diversity. Justice Thomas’s concurrence is framed in large part as a series of comparisons between arguments made by segregationists and arguments made by proponents of what he calls “race discrimination” in admissions, among which is the following:

Slaveholders argued that slavery was a “positive good” that civilized blacks and elevated them in every dimension of life. See, e.g., Calhoun, Speech in the U. S. Senate, 1837, in P. Finkelman, Defending Slavery 54, 58–59 (2003) (“Never before has the black race of Central Africa, from the dawn of history to the present day, attained a condition so civilized and so improved, not only physically, but morally and intellectually. . . . [T]he relation now existing in the slaveholding States between the two [races], is, instead of an evil, a good—a positive good”); Harper, Memoir on Slavery, in The Ideology of Slavery 78, 115–116 (D. Faust ed. 1981) (“Slavery, as it is said in an eloquent article published in a Southern periodical work . . . ‘has done more to elevate a degraded race in the scale of humanity; to tame the savage; to civilize the barbarous; to soften the ferocious; to enlighten the ignorant, and to spread the blessings of [C]hristianity among the heathen, than all the missionaries that philanthropy and religion have ever sent forth’”); Hammond, The Mudsill Speech, 1858, in Defending Slavery, supra, at 80, 87 (“They are elevated from the condition in which God first created them, by being made our slaves”) . . . .

Following in these inauspicious footsteps, the University would have us believe that its discrimination is likewise benign. I think the lesson of history is clear enough: Racial discrimination is never benign. “‘[B]enign’ carries with it no independent meaning, but reflects only acceptance of the current generation’s conclusion that a politically acceptable burden, imposed on particular citizens on the basis of race, is reasonable.” See Metro Broadcasting, 497 U. S., at 610 (O’Connor, J., dissenting). It is for this reason that the Court has repeatedly held that strict scrutiny applies to all racial classifications, regardless of whether the government has benevolent motives. See, e.g., Johnson, 543 U. S., at 505 (“We have insisted on strict scrutiny in every context, even for so-called ‘benign’ racial classifications”); Adarand, 515 U. S., at 227 (“[A]ll racial classifications, imposed by whatever federal, state,or local governmental actor, must be analyzed by a reviewing court under strict scrutiny”); J. A. Croson, 488 U. S., at 500 (“Racial classifications are suspect, and that means that simple legislative assurances of good intention cannot suffice”). The University’s professed good intentions cannot excuse its outright racial discrimination any more than such intentions justified the now denounced arguments of slaveholders and segregationists.

Dyer, “Natural Law and the Antislavery Constitutional Tradition”

A very interesting looking book by Justin Buckley Dyer (Missouri), which in part defends the traditional view of the relationship between natural law and opposition to slavery against recent revisionist attacks: Natural Law and the Antislavery Constitutional Tradition (CUP 2012).  The publisher’s description follows.

In Natural Law and the Antislavery Constitutional Tradition, Justin Buckley Dyer provides a succinct account of the development of American antislavery constitutionalism in the years preceding the Civil War. Within the context of recent revisionist scholarship, Dyer argues that the theoretical foundations of American constitutionalism – which he identifies with principles of natural law – were antagonistic to slavery. Still, the continued existence of slavery in the nineteenth century created a tension between practice and principle. In a series of case studies, Dyer reconstructs the constitutional arguments of prominent antislavery thinkers such as John Quincy Adams, John McLean, Abraham Lincoln, and Frederick Douglass, who collectively sought to overcome the legacy of slavery by emphasizing the natural law foundations of American constitutionalism. What emerges is an understanding of American constitutional development that challenges traditional narratives of linear progress while highlighting the centrality of natural law to America’s greatest constitutional crisis.

Oshatz, “Slavery and Sin”

Here is a historical work connecting the anti-slavery movement in early America to liberal Protestant theology, Slavery and Sin: The Fight Against Slavery and the Rise of Liberal Protestant (OUP 2011), by Molly Oshatz (San Francisco State University).  The publisher’s description follows.

In this groundbreaking examination of the antislavery origins of liberal Protestantism, Molly Oshatz contends that the antebellum slavery debates forced antislavery Protestants to adopt an historicist understanding of truth and morality.

Unlike earlier debates over slavery, in antebellum America the key question was whether slavery was a sin in the abstract. Unable to use the letter of the Bible to answer the claim that slavery was not a sin in and of itself, antislavery Protestants argued that biblical principles required opposition to slavery and that God revealed slavery’s sinfulness through the gradual unfolding of these principles. Although they believed that slavery was a sin, antislavery Protestants’ sympathy for individual slaveholders and their knowledge of the Bible made them reluctant to denounce all slaveholders as sinners. In order to reconcile slavery’s sinfulness with their commitments to the Bible and to the Union, antislavery Protestants defined slavery as a social rather than an individual sin. Oshatz demonstrates that the antislavery notions of progressive revelation and social sin had radical implications for Protestant theology.

Oshatz carries her study through the Civil War to reveal how emancipation confirmed for northern Protestants the notion that God revealed His will through history. She reveals how, after the war, a new generation of liberal theologians drew on this experience to respond to evolution and historical biblical criticism. Slavery and Sin provides critical insight into how the theological innovations rooted in the slavery debates came to fruition in liberal Protestantism’s acceptance of the historical and evolutionary nature of religious truth.

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