American Christianity has long struggled to be on the right side of racial justice


Source: Vox

People of faith aren’t exempt from facing each generation’s political and ideological battles.

When Michelle Obama addressed the significance of the first black First Family living in the White House, a house built by slaves, she was unintentionally giving a history lesson to many who didn’t know this to be the case — and some who would wish to prove parts of her statement false.

But it was the truth, even if conservative pundits like Bill O’Reilly, for multiple nights in a row, argued that the slaves who built the presidential palace were, at the very least, “well-fed,” ate “meat, bread and other staples,” and had decent lodging. At no point has O’Reilly recognized that the racist, dehumanizing institution of slavery is the fundamental issue at hand.

Christian author and columnist Rachel Held Evans called these responses “disheartening” in a Facebook post Thursday morning, especially since O’Reilly’s sentiments seemed to resonate with her fellow faith practitioners:

Some Christians in particular have so idealized our country’s “Christian heritage” that they shrug off American slavery as “not that bad” or an “unfortunate incident.” But we cannot hope to move toward racial justice and reconciliation in this country if white Americans refuse to grasp the severity of the sin of slavery and the continued prevalence of racism.

Contemporary Christians, Evans contends, are too willing to forget one of America’s original sins rather than face how America’s past transgressions are inextricably tied to the country America has become. But today’s Christians are not unique.

In fact, a look at the history of American Christianity shows that people of faith aren’t exempt from facing each generation’s political and ideological battles. More often, those battles are waged among faith leaders themselves.

Not all Christians saw eye-to-eye on slavery

As the story goes, America was initially forged as a safe haven by European colonialists fleeing religious persecution. And while their experiences precipitated “the separation of church and state,” the line between religion and politics was often blurred when people of faith had to figure out where they stood on slavery.

Pennsylvania, for instance, was originally founded in 1681 by William Penn, a Quaker, as a “holy experiment” in which religious tolerance was the law on the condition that the state’s government reflect the spiritual values of its inhabitants. And while Quakers heeded women’s calls for equality — at least, better than most denominations of the time — it would take a century and a half for the state to transform from being a major hub for the slave trade among the colonies into a leader in abolishing slavery.

“Is there any that would be…sold or made a slave for all the time of his life?” read apetition penned by four members of the Society of Friends and sent to the Quakers’ 1688 general meeting. They aimed to appeal to the morality of fellow Quakers through the golden rule. Instead the petition was tucked away. At the time, those at the meeting believed slavery was “so weighty that we think it not expedient for us to meddle with it here.”

That lasted until the nineteenth century, when a Christian case began to be made forslavery. With the advent of Protestant Evangelicalism, slaves were being converted to Christianity in large numbers. And in the South, Protestant clergy used Christianity to justify slaves’ obedience to slave owners.

So in 1844, as the national conversation on slavery intensified, the 17th-century Quaker petition was finally published, and helped pivot Quakers toward being the leaders against slavery they are known as today.

Although the Quakers remained relatively intact while their stance on slavery shifted, some denominations fractured to keep slavery in place.

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1 reply

  1. “American Christianity’ is, in fact, ignorance of Christianity. The clerics were/are under pressure to overlook the flaws, example: Matthew Chapter 15 second half – the truth about the jews differing from the Gentiles plus, JC is ‘not who he appears to be’.

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