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Philemon and Slavery

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American abolitionist, editor, orator, author, statesman, and reformer, Frederick Douglass, himself a former slave, was invited to deliver a speech in 1852 (eight years before the Civil War) to a women’s anti-slavery society in Rochester, New York. His assigned subject? “What, to the Slave, is the Fourth of July?” His remarks demonstrate forcefully that the Bible and the Christian religion were not to be blamed for the existence or perpetuation of slavery. In his brilliant oration, Douglass demonstrated that those “Christians” and churches in America at the time that used the Bible to sanction slavery were misinterpreting and misrepresenting it. He stated:

But the church of this country is not only indifferent to the wrongs of the slave, it actually takes sides with the oppressors. It has made itself the bulwark of American slavery, and the shield of American slave-hunters. Many of its most eloquent Divines [preachers—DM], who stand as the very lights of the church, have shamelessly given the sanction of religion and the Bible to the whole slave system. They have taught that man may, properly, be a slave; that the relation of master and slave is ordained of God; that to send back an escaped bondman to his master is clearly the duty of all the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ; and this horrible blasphemy is palmed off upon the world for Christianity…. Fellow-citizens! I will not enlarge further on your national inconsistencies. The existence of slavery in this country brands your republicanism as a sham, your humanity as a base pretence, and your Christianity as a lie…. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the constitution and the Bible, which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery—the great sin and shame of America! (1852, emp. added).

Douglass was insistent and adamant: to propagate the form of slavery in America at that time was to disregard and trample upon the Bible (and the Constitution!), and to misrepresent and deny the very essence of Christianity and the will of Christ….

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  • PaulN

    I am delighted to see this article especially in light of recent discussions here on slavery. This should go a long way toward settling that discussion. Sadly, I am afraid that many hearts cannot be turned to reflect Christ’s TRUE love of all humanity. God does NOT hate any humans, he only hates their actions!

  • Buck

    Of course Frederick Douglas was right in his condemnation of slavery and its evils . But their emancipation did not free the hate from the hearts of neither the white nor the black man , only time could do that . however , historically , the demonrats ( democrats ) with the lies and divisivness down through the years , have stretched , and are still stretching this timeline of healing for no other reason than political power . The black race is just starting to awaken to this hypocracy and I sincerely hope this awakening keeps increasing exponentionaly .

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