Without Christianity, there is no anti-slavery movement in the world. Think about that. It’s only in Western civilization beginning in the early years of the church that we find stirrings of anything resembling anti-slavery thinking and action. Slavery remains to this day a feature of life in many parts of Asia and Africa where Christianity has little impact.
It was Great Britain that led the way in abolishing the slave trade, thanks to William Wilberforce, the Parliamentarian whose life as a passionate follower of Christ, was devoted to the anti-slavery cause. Like so many in America’s Great Awakening, he was deeply influenced by George Whitfield and evangelical Christianity.
Similarly, the Abolitionist Movement in America during its formative years prior to the Civil War was driven primarily by leaders whose roots were in Puritan Christianity and the culture that evolved out of the Great Awakening.
Bill Walton asked me about this during our recent interview:
And of course, it is impossible to conceive of Martin Luther King Jr. leading the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s apart from his roots in Christianity. This is made crystal clear by this passage from his epic “Letter from a Birmingham Jail:”
“I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their ‘thus saith the Lord’ far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.”
As for the pre-Civil War Southerners (perhaps including some of my ancestors in Virginia) who used the Bible to justify slavery, they were reading into it what they wanted it to say for them instead of listening to what it actually said to them at, for example, Galatians 3:28:
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” That statement was, in the context of the ancient world, unheard of and profoundly revolutionary. And it still is.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
“Why Did Some Christians Promote Slavery While Others Condemned It?” – J. Warner Wallace, coldcasechristianity.org
Does the Bible Condone Slavery? – Frank Turek, crossexamined.org