Faith and Justice
SLAVES’ OPEN SCORN for white religion is one of the most consistent and vehement themes in their narratives. The idea of a “good Christian slaveholder” was a moral impossibility.
The enslaved black Christians were especially critical of white preachers, many of whom were hired by plantation owners to preach a religion that sanctioned slavery. The southern white evangelical defense of slavery on biblical grounds was a joke. No elaborate polemics or moral arguments were required to convince black Christians to unmask the evils of slavery and racial prejudice.
The most important lesson for black Christians today is to discern that our enslaved spiritual ancestors maintained the vital link between spiritual formation and social ethical transformation in the quest for justice and freedom.
The most important lesson for white Christians is to acknowledge the error and futility of trying to separate spirituality from social ethics, based on wrongful interpretations of the Bible and contrived to preserve racial privilege and deny responsibility for the pursuit of racial justice in both church and society.
By Cheryl Sanders
[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #62 in 1999]Cheryl Sanders is professor of Christian ethics at Howard University School of Divinity, senior pastor of Third Street Church of God, Washington, D.C., and author of Empowerment Ethics for a Liberated People (Fortress, 1995).
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