Skip to content

Evangelicals and the slave trade

A while back I was looking through my father-in-law’s collection of old newspapers and found this little piece in the London Gazette (Monday August 26, 1768, Number 118; Twopence-Farthing). It’s either a letter to the editor or an editorial comment; I’m not sure which! It comes just after the announcement of a soiree to be held by Mrs Grant-Forsdyke and just before a description of a French pirate ship at large:

ABHORENT PRACTICE OF SLAVE TRADING: The hunting of Human Beings for the purpose of making slaves of them is a practice to be much abhored.

It is therefore of great comfort to Englishmen of Christian Ideals to note that the group of Evangelicals continues to be active in condemning the trading of slaves.

It would be approximate to say that some 50,000 Negro slaves are transported a year from the Continent of Africa to the American colonies, in conditions of the most appalling suffering.

We are sure all thinking men will deem the work of the Evangelicals to be of ultimate necessity and will encourage them to continue in it.

Published inChurch HistoryEthics

6 Comments

  1. Hi Lionel, I have ‘Forget the Channel’ in my reader, so I flick over your stuff from time to time.
    I’m interested in what parts of the slave trade this article finds distasteful, and in which order.
    The focus of what is wrong with ‘slavery’ in modern times is usually the lack of equality of master versus slave.
    But here, the complaint is first about hunting slaves, second about trading slaves, and third about slave conditions.
    A different emphasis, do you think?

    • Hi Mike – glad to hear from you! A short article / letter like this is probably not enough to make a definitive statement about the general attitudes of the time, but I think you do have a point. It’s interesting to note that the issues that the article picks up about slavery are the very things that the Bible also condemns – hunting slaves (Exod 21:16), trading slaves (1 Tim 1:10) and unjust treatment of slaves (Col 4:1).

    • Thanks Mike – I’ve checked out your posts and am now subscribing to your blog! I’m probably not thinking enough about Plantinga right now to make any intelligent comments, but thanks for the links. And thanks for your prayers too.

  2. Hey Lionel, back on slavery, what do you think of the idea that modern prisoners in jails are very close to the equivalent of slaves in the Bible – for both ‘Biblical-style slaves’, and modern prisoners:

    (1) they have their liberties taken (including the potential use of force to keep them locked up),
    (2) they can be forced to work on projects at someone else’s direction
    (3) they are provided for
    (4) they have come to this state of affairs because of some sin or infringement on their part (not always in Biblical slavery, but very commonly)

    The main differences would be, in Biblical slavery, owners are individuals, whereas today, the ‘owners’ are the state. Also, slaves were tradeable then but not now, and finally, in Biblical slavery there were more ways to become a slave.

    But overall, I think the similarities are greater than the differences. I think it’s close enough that you could rightly say (oversimplifying) that they had ‘capitalist slavery’, while we have ‘communist slavery’

    • Hi Mike, I once preached on Col 3:22-4:1. In working out how to apply the passage, I thought (and still do think) that “slavery” in the ancient world was a form of “legal economic limitation,” and thus that the passage can also be applied, to varying degrees, to the various forms of legal economic limitation today: for example, being in the armed forces, bankruptcy, being locked into a sporting contract, etc. I reckon prisoners fit into this category, so I think your parallel has some merit!

Comments are closed.

Publications by Lionel Windsor:

  • Lift Your Eyes: Reflections on Ephesians

Recent blog posts

  • The Shambles, York, UKBuilt together (Ephesians 2:20–22)
    Is every church on its own? How are Christian believers connected with other believers with whom we don’t meet regularly: in our region, nation, and world?
  • “Do not weep for me, weep for yourselves…” (Luke 23:28)
    Why do Christians lament? Sometimes we lament out of sympathy, but sometimes we weep for ourselves. This is the kind of lament that Jesus calls for here.
  • Busts in Vatican Museum, RomeNo second-class Christians (Ephesians 2:19)
    Even if we don’t say it out loud, we can often act as if there are different classes of Christians. But the gospel teaches us there are no second-class Christians.
  • Photo by Larm Rmah on UnsplashChrist the missionary (Ephesians 2:17–18)
    Christ is a missionary. Christ does stranger evangelism. Christ preaches to the choir. Christ crosses cultures. Christ brings peace. So says the Apostle Paul. What does he mean?
  • Fragment of the Berlin WallChrist the wall breaker (Ephesians 2:14–16)
    In this broken and rebellious world, our healthy boundaries often become hostile walls. But the cross of Christ breaks down walls and brings reconciliation.
  • Photo by John Tyson on UnsplashThe blood that brings us close (Ephesians 2:11–13)
    Despite our best desires and efforts, we humans are not very good at living up close with others. This has become devastatingly obvious in the recent Christchurch shootings. Yet in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul talks about a conflict that really was healed. This passage is about a real closeness that all believers in Christ must remember: a closeness that is fundamental to our identity.
  • Photo by foundinbklyn on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)Good works and salvation: What’s the connection? (Ephesians 2:8–10)
    A joke letter from an Australian church offering its financial donors priority access to heaven raises questions for all of us. Do our good deeds give us access to heaven? Or are our good deeds irrelevant? Where do our good deeds fit when it comes to salvation?
  • Security Threat. Photo by Andrew Neel on UnsplashA question of security (Ephesians 2:6–7)
    As I write this, New Zealand is shocked and grieving. My own nation Australia is shocked and grieving too, along with them. But news stories about terror attacks and shootings in our world are far too common, aren’t they? And whenever we hear of them, they bring to mind all sorts of questions. One of them is the question of security. As we grieve for the victims, we also think a little about ourselves. We wonder whether some day we too might be in the wrong place at the wrong time when a seemingly random attack happens. It’s unsettling. It’s not just a matter of national security; it’s also a matter of our own personal security. Paul is talking in Ephesians 2:6–7 about a security that belongs to everyone who believes in Jesus Christ. It’s not a guarantee of perfect national security or job security or financial security or security in relationships and health. Nor is it a guarantee that we will always feel perfectly secure. But it is still a real security, more unshakeable and deep-rooted than any other kind of security could be. So what is this security, and where does it come from?
  • Walking past a telephone booth in OxfordThis love (Ephesians 2:4–5)
    “God loves you”: if I say just those three words, you may not hear what I want you to hear. This is because of a communication problem that arises whenever Christians try to talk about biblical concept of God’s “love”. When we say “love” we mean one thing—something wonderful and life-changing. But the word means quite different things to many English speakers. For example, the word “love” often means “strong desire”. So if I say “God loves you” then it might sound like I’m saying “God has strong feelings for you”. Another, increasingly common, understanding of “love” is the idea of “unconditional approval”. In this view, the way to “love” somebody is to affirm and approve of everything they do. So if I don’t approve of your actions and actively affirm everything you do, then by definition I’m not “loving” you (in fact, by definition I’m “hating” you). On this common definition of “love”, if I say “God loves you” then it might sound like I’m saying “God affirms everything about you and your actions”. But that’s not what the Bible means by God’s “love” either. Given this communication problem, how can I best explain the idea of God’s “love”? Well, it’s not actually that hard. The best way is to see how the word works when the Bible uses it. In Ephesians 2:4–5, Paul uses the word “love”. But he doesn’t just say “God loves you”. He explains and spells out what that love means. And he helps us to see what God’s love really means, and how amazing it is.
  • Entering a tomb in PompeiiWe too: the offenders (Ephesians 2:3)
    Judgmentalism. It’s a bigger problem than we think. Judgmentalism is certainly a danger for God’s people. That’s because God’s people have God’s word. God’s word helps God’s people to see how wonderful God is, and how terrible humanity is in comparison. But Ephesians 2:3 contains two highly significant, emphatic words: “we too”. We too, says Paul, were the offenders. We, too, were the disobedient. These words aren’t talking about all those horrible people “out there”. They’re talking about God’s people. And it’s something we, too, need to hear. These words tell us something incredibly important—something that we ignore at our peril.

On this site

All content copyright Lionel Windsor