Christianity and slavery

Christianity does not have a clear position regarding slavery, in favour or against. As a religion, it neither promotes slavery nor condemns it. In the early years of Christianity, slavery was a normal feature of the economy and society in the Roman Empire and well into the Middle Ages and beyond. Well into the modern era, groups who advocated abolition of slavery invoked Christian teachings in support of their positions, and those opposed to abolition invoked their own interpretation of Christian teachings in support of their positions.

Early attitudes

The early Christian perspectives of slavery were formed in the contexts of Christianity's roots in Judaism, and as part of the wider culture of the Roman Empire.

Both the Old and New Testaments recognise the institution of slavery. The earliest surviving teachings about slavery are from Paul the Apostle, who frequently referred to himself as a "Slave of Christ." Paul did not renounce the institution of slavery; conversely, he taught that Christian slaves ought to serve their masters wholeheartedly (Ephesians 6:5-8). At the same time, he taught slave owners to treat their slaves fairly. The entire epistle of Philemon is devoted to Onesimus, a runaway slave and convert whom Paul returns to his master, to be seen as "not just a slave, but much more than a slave; he is a dear brother in Christ."(verse 16)

Within the church itself, Paul called for a desegregation of the congregations in verses such as Galatians 3:28, ("there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus"). Perhaps Paul's strongest language appears in a letter to his protégé in 1 Timothy 1:8-11, which places the slave trade in a list among other cruel and inhuman sins. [ [ Lewis. Race and Slavery in the Middle East ] ] Paul's letters formed a large part of the Christian canon, although Christians would disagree over the issue of slavery for centuries.

In Christian cemeteries, when slaves were buried, the grave seldom included any indication that the person buried had been a slave.] which specifically compares that relationship with the relationship between a believer and a deity, and indeed, "endorses" slavery [ [ Bernard Lewis] ] .

Curse of Ham

"See Curse of Ham"

The Judeo-Christian narrative from Genesis 9:20-27, provided one of the "moral pretext" upon which the Atlantic slave trade grew and flourished. According to Jewish Talmud scholars, and then later other religious groups, Ham was the progenitor of the African race and subsequent translations were stirred to reflect the biases and prejudice of the era. The most profound manifestation occurred in imagery, which constantly portrayed white as God, and black as the Devil.

Many pre-modern Christian scholars and sources provide a wealth of data on the subject of the connection between the curse of Ham, race and slavery:

Origen (circa 185-c. 254): “For the Egyptians are prone to a degenerate life and quickly sink to every slavery of the vices. Look at the origin of the race and you will discover that their father Cham, who had laughed at his father’s nakedness, deserved a judgment of this kind, that his son Chanaan should be a servant to his brothers, in which case the condition of bondage would prove the wickedness of his conduct. Not without merit, therefore, does the discolored posterity imitate the ignobility of the race [Non ergo immerito ignobilitatem decolor posteritas imitatur] .” Homilies on Genesis 16.1

“Mar Ephrem the Syrian said: When Noah awoke and was told what Canaan did. . .Noah said, ‘Cursed be Canaan and may God make his face black,’ and immediately the face of Canaan changed; so did of his father Ham, and their white faces became black and dark and their color changed.” Paul de Lagarde, Materialien zur Kritik und Geschichte des Pentateuchs (Leipzig, 1867), part II

St. Jerome: “Chus in Hebrew means Ethiopian, that is, black and dark, one who has a soul as black as his body.” (The Homilies of Saint Jerome, vol. 1, trans. Marie Liguori Ewald, Homily 3, 28).

St. Paulinus of Nola (354-431): “The peoples of Ethiopia...are black with vice, sin giving them the color of night.” Carmina 28.249-51

The Eastern Christian work, the Cave of Treasures (4th century), explicitly connects slavery with dark-skinned people: “When Noah awoke. . .he cursed him and said: ‘Cursed be Ham and may he be slave to his brothers’. . .and he became a slave, he and his lineage, namely the Egyptians, the Abyssinians, and the Indians. Indeed, Ham lost all sense of shame and he became black and was called shameless all the days of his life, forever.” La caverne des trésors: version Géorgienne, ed. Ciala Kourcikidzé, trans. Jean-Pierre Mahé, Corpus scriptorium Christianorum orientalium 526-27, Scriptores Iberici 23-24 (Louvain, 1992-93), ch. 21, 38-39 (translation).

John Philoponus, Greek Christian philosopher (6th century): “The Scythians and Ethiopians are distinguished from each other by black and white color, or by long and snubbed nose, or by slave and master, by ruler and ruled,” and again, “The Ethiopian and Scythian. . .one is black, the other white; similarly slave and master.” A. Sanda, Oposcula Monophysitica Johannes Philoponi (Beirut, 1930), pp. 66,96 (Sanda’s Latin translation). Ishodad of Merv (Syrian Christian bishop of Hedhatha, 9th century): When Noah cursed Canaan, “instantly, by the force of the curse. . .his face and entire body became black [ukmotha] . This is the black color which has persisted in his descendents.” C. Van Den Eynde, Corpus scriptorium Christianorum orientalium 156, Scriptores Syri 75 (Louvain, 1955), p. 139.

Eutychius, Alexandrian Melkite patriarch (d. 940): “Cursed be Ham and may he be a servant to his brothers… He himself and his descendants, who are the Egyptians, the Negroes, the Ethiopians and (it is said) the Barbari.” Patrologiae cursus completes…series Graeca, ed. J.P. Migne (Paris, 1857-66), Pococke’s (1658-59) translation of the Annales, 111.917B (sec. 41-43)

Ibn al-Tayyib (Arabic Christian scholar, Baghdad, d. 1043): “The curse of Noah affected the posterity of Canaan who were killed by Joshua son of Nun. At the moment of the curse, Canaan’s body became black and the blackness spread out among them.” Joannes C.J. Sanders, Commentaire sur la Genèse, Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium 274-275, Scriptores Arabici 24-25 (Louvain, 1967), 1:56 (text), 2:52-55 (translation).

Bar Hebraeus (Syrian Christian scholar, 1226-86): “‘And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and showed [it] to his two brothers.’ That is…that Canaan was cursed and not Ham, and with the very curse he became black and the blackness was transmitted to his descendents…. And he said, ‘Cursed be Canaan! A servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.’” Sprengling and Graham, Barhebraeus’ Scholia on the Old Testament, pp. 40-41, to Gen 9:22.

lavery in the Americas

In introduction of Catholic Spanish colonies to the Americas brought forced conversions and slavery to the indigenous peoples living there. Some priests, such as Father Bartolomé de las Casas worked to protect Americans from slavery, although Casas' works may have helped to inspire the African slave trade.

Although many abolitionists opposed slavery on purely philosophical reasons, anti-slavery movements attracted strong religious elements. Notable Christian abolitionists include William Wilberforce in England, and Henry Ward Beecher in the United States. A more radical abolitionist, John Brown, was considered to have been either a martyr or a , depending on one's point of view.

Christianity and Indigenous African Religions

Slavery witnessed the lack of synchronization of Christian belief with Folk religion of African origin . African-American slaves did not have any organized spirituality other than what they were taught. Slavery in the United States devastated traditional culture and religion among Africans. Slaves in the eighteenth century came from various African societies, cultures and nations, such as the Ibo, Ashanti and Yoruba on the West African Coast. Consequently, slaves from differing ethnic groups displayed little commonalities. Africans were black, but did not experience a homogenous existence they shared little of their traditional cultures and religions.Slaveholders and whites feared individual and group consciousness. Traditional African beliefs, cultures, and religions, were suppressed to prohibit cultural unity among slaves. It was the practice of ‘Divide and Rule’. Ibo, Yoruba, and Ashanti religions did not survive the Middle Passage. The Institution of slavery, and the influx of forced Christian conversions, eliminated traditional African religions in the United States. No Ibo, Ashanti, or Yoruba traditional culture and religion survived.

United States

Opposition to slavery in the United States predates the nation's independence. As early as 1688, congregations of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) actively protested slavery. The Quaker Testimony of Equality would have an influence on slavery in Pennsylvania.

The rise of abolitionism in nineteenth century politics was mirrored in religious debate; slavery among Christians was generally dependent on the attitudes of the community the lived in. This was true in Protestant and Catholic churches. [Nevins, V.2 p.145] Religious integrity affected the white slave-holding Christian population. The Bible was manipulated to support the institution of slavery and its inhumane practices. Crimes such as murder were justifiable if it was inflicted upon African-Americans. Christianity was used to suppress and conform a people. Slaveholders, priests, and those tied to the Church undermined the beliefs of the millions of African-American converts.

The issue of slavery in the United States came to a conclusion with the American Civil War. Although the war began as a political struggle over the preservation of the nation, it took on religious overtones as southern preachers called for a defense of their homeland and northern abolitionists preached the good news of liberation for slaves. Gerrit Smith and William Lloyd Garrison abandoned pacifism, and Garrison changed the motto of "The Liberator" to Leviticus 25:10, "Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land, and to all the inhabitants thereof." The YMCA joined with other societies to found the "United States Christian Commission," with the goal of supporting Union soldiers, and churches collected $6 million for their cause. [Lossing, Chapter 26]

Harriet Tubman, considered by many to be a prophet due to her success as a liberator with the Underground Railroad, warned "God won't let master Lincoln beat the South till he does the "right thing" by emancipating slaves. Popular songs such as John Brown's Body (later The Battle Hymn of the Republic) contained verses which painted the northern war effort as a religious struggle to end slavery. Even Abraham Lincoln appealed to religious sentiments, suggesting in various speeches that God had brought on the war as punishment for slavery, [Several examples appear in [ Wikiquote] , such as ] while acknowledging in his [|second Inaugural Address] that both sides "read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other."

With the Union victory in the war and a constitutional ban on slavery, abolitionist Christians also declared a religious victory over their slave-holding brethren in the South. Southern religious leaders who had preached a message of divine protection were now left to reconsider their theology.


By the 1830s, tension had began to mount between Northern and Southern Baptist churches. The support of Baptists in the South for slavery can be ascribed to economic and social reasons. However, Baptists in the North claimed that God would not "condone treating one race as superior to another". Southerners, on the other hand, held that God intended the races to be separate. Finally, around 1835, Southern states began complaining that they were being slighted in the allocation of funds for missionary work.

The break was triggered in 1844, when the Home Mission Society announced that a person could not be a missionary and still keep his slaves as property. Faced with this challenge, the Baptists in the south assembled in May 1845 in Augusta, Georgia, and organized the Southern Baptist Convention.


Methodists believed that the institution of slavery contradicted their strict morality and abolitionist principles. Methodists were long at the forefront of slavery opposition movements. The Christian denomination attempted to help slaves and subsequently freed blacks through philanthropic agencies such as the American Colonization Society and the Mission to the Slaves. It was during the 1780s that American Methodist preachers and religious leaders formally denounced African-American Slavery. The founder of Methodism, the Anglican priest John Wesley, believed that “slavery was one of the greatest evils that a Christian should fight”. Eighteenth and early nineteenth century Methodists had anti-slavery sentiments, as well as the moral responsibility to bring an end to African-American Slavery.

Following Emancipation, African-Americans believed that true freedom was to be found through the communal and nurturing aspects of the Church. The Methodist Church was at the forefront of freed-slave agency in the South. Denominations into the southern states included the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) and African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AMEZ) churches. These institutions were led by blacks that explicitly resisted white charity, believing it would have displayed white supremacy to the black congregations. The AME, AMEZ, and African-American churches throughout the South provided social services such as ordained marriages, baptisms, funerals, communal support, and educational services. Education was highly regarded. Methodists taught former slaves how to read and write, consequently enriching a literate African-American society. Blacks were instructed through Biblical stories and passages. Church buildings became schoolhouses, and funds were raised for teachers and students.


Mormon scripture condemns slavery, teaching "it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another."() and the enslavement of the Hebrews in Egypt and their liberation by the hand of God in the Exodus, led by Moses, who was himself born a Hebrew slave.

New Testament

Christian slaves enjoined to obedience

:"Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh." (1 Peter 2:18)

:"Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free. And you, masters, do the same things to them, giving up threatening, knowing that your own Master also is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him" (Ephesians 6:5-9)

:"Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive." (Titus 2:9-10)

:"Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism." (Colossians 3:22-25)

:"Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed." (1 Timothy 6:1)

piritual slavery

Christian writers from Biblical times onwards have used the image of the slave to represent the Christian spiritual view. In many Christian views all people are 'slaves to sin'; they are unable to free themselves from a way of life where they do evil. However God 'redeems' those whom He calls; they are "bought with a price", removing them from the control of sin and become God's "slaves", who then loves and protects them.

God the Father:

:"Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven." (Colossians 4:1)

:"Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God's slaves."(1 Peter 2:16)::'Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.'(NIV):'Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God.'(New American Standard Bible)

The Holy Spirit:

: "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body." (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)


:"For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord's freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ's slave." (1 Corinthians 7:22) "Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ" (Romans 1:1).

:"Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But if that slave says in his heart, 'My master will be a long time in coming,' and begins to beat the slaves, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk; the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and assign him a place with the unbelievers... And that slave who knew his master's will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more. (Luke 12:43-48, NASB)

Against the keeping of slaves

Old Testament

Against forced Hebrew enslavement::"Anyone who kidnaps another and either sells him or still has him when he is caught must be put to death." (Exodus 21:16)Against returning escaped slaves::"You shall not give back to his master the slave who has escaped from his master to you. He may dwell with you in your midst, in the place which he chooses within one of your gates, where it seems best to him; you shall not oppress him." (Deuteronomy 23:15-16)Against a specific incident by foreigners enslaving and selling Hebrews::"This is what the LORD says: For three sins of Gaza, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath. Because she took captive whole communities and sold them to Edom, I will send fire upon the walls of Gaza that will consume her fortresses." (Amos 1:6-7)

Apostle Paul on slavery in the Roman Empire

Slaves should "not care" for their slavery, but seek freedom if lawfully possible: :"Were you a slave when you were called? Don't let it trouble you — although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For those who were slaves when called to faith in the Lord are the Lord's freed people; similarly, those who were free when called are Christ's slaves. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings." (I Corinthians 7:21-23, NIV)Christianity makes no distinctions in the worthiness of all Christians, including slaves::"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28):"...there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all." (Colossians 3:11)


*Lossing, Benson J., LL.D. "Matthew Brady's Illustrated History of the Civil War 1861-65 and the Causes That Led Up To the Great Conflict." Random House. ISBN 0-517-20974-8.

* Lewis, Bernard (1992). Race and Slavery in the Middle East. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-505326-5.

* Nevins, Allan. "The Emergence of Lincoln: Prologue to Civil War 1859-1861." ©1950, Charles Scribner's Sons. SBN 684-10416-4.

External links

* [ Louis W. Cable - SLAVERY and the BIBLE]
* [ African Holocaust]
* [ Christianity and Slavery]
*"DeBow's Review" (September 1850): [ "Slavery and the Bible"]
* [ Passages from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and from the Christian Scriptures (New Testament)]
* [ Christianity and slavery] on
* [ Texas Baptists Committed]

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