Do Slaveholders Believe Their Right To Have Slaves Is God-Given?

For this post, I decided to look at the more religious side of slavery, primarily focusing on the religious views of the slaveholders. Many slaveholders were religious but did they truly believe that God approved of the fact that they owned slaves? I opened a text by William H. Robinson and examined pages 84 to 89, where he describes the sermon that is typically given to slaves by a pastor (who is white). Any reader can tell that the pastor is trying to be respectful, but from an objective standpoint, the text is actually very demeaning. The pastor has fully accepted the fact that the people he is preaching to are lower than him. He believes that being a slave is a good thing and a God-given blessing. To quote page 85:  “The text declares positively that you shall all be slaves during your natural lives. What a great blessing God has brought to you, my colored friends, through the economy of His divine grace.” He compares their lives to the free lives of the people in the land of Canaan, where freedom causes trouble. He also says that people who own them are “kind people” who clothe them and feed them in sickness and in health. This makes slaveholders seem like some kind of saints, but we know from countless historical accounts that many slaveholders were abusive and did not treat their people kindly. I feel disgusted reading this, and it makes me wonder if the pastor is being serious when he says all this. The two most commonly used words in this text are “god” and “said,” which declares that God is delivering all this information. As a person who lives in today’s society, where slavery is no longer allowed, hearing all this information just feels so wrong.

One thought on “Do Slaveholders Believe Their Right To Have Slaves Is God-Given?

  1. These are excellent visualizations that illustrate some important themes and questions about enslavers using religion to justify slavery. I also really appreciate your “close reading” of the source which accompanies the “distant” reading of text analysis. It is absolutely disturbing that the pastor is using the Bible to render the experiences of enslaved people as equal to be “saved.” For people who relied on the Bible and Christianity to justify slavery, they search for examples that confirmed their beliefs. In many ways, it is a good example of confirmation bias– seeking information that confirms what one wants to believe is true. It is deeply concerning, morally wrong, and hypocritical. This type of language was all too common throughout the South, and it carried a long legacy of oppression. At the same time, I think it would be interesting to compare a source like this with a something from the African Methodist Episcopal denomination which has a long history of creating a space for African Americans in Christianity. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and insight on this!

Leave a Reply