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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!

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