Slavery and The Liberating Gospel

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Although the Bible was used in the past by some to justify slavery, it was the true power of the Gospel that led millions of slaves in America to pursue freedom and equality.

"Because of that liberating aspect of the Gospel that they heard and recognized (it) got played out in real form in that they had everything in common," Dr. A.G. Miller said.

Miller, religion professor with Oberlin University, talked with CBN News about the difficulties of reconciling Christianity and its role during slavery.

"Slaves didn't get treated any different than free people, and they all had a say in how this community was going to emerge and evolve. That was the power of Christianity that shook the Roman empire," Miller said.

Issues regarding slavery and the role that religion played conjure up a myriad of feelings for many people. These raw emotions are still very painful -- even in 2008.

"There was the general sentiment that slavery was a sin and people had to respond to this issue of slavery," Miller said. "This is a complicated formula because it's not just only a theological issue, but it's also an economic reality that people are having to struggle with."

In many instances, slaves were taught the Gospel as a way of keeping them in submissive roles.

"They take for instance the passage in Galatians. what the Biblical scholars call the 'household codes' -- children obey your parent, wives obey your husbands, slaves obey your master."

But as Miller explained, many slaves who learned to read and write, also learned the passages in the Bible that talk about liberation.

In 1822, "you had congregations, some say between 2,000 and 3,000 slaves and freed blacks. Worshipping in their own Methodist congregation," Miller said.

That message of liberation continues to this day in many Black churches.

Click the play button above to hear Miller's explanation. Read below:

They began to exegete those passages in the Gospel that talked about the liberating power of the Gospel and then began to exegete out those passages that don't make much sense to them and the way the turned the Gospel text into their own experience… gravitate quickly to Moses.

They find a way, as these stories are told and as they begin to read themselves and they're able to interpret these text for themselves. They begin to find in it that experience which allows them the ability to find their own agency. And so I am convinced that most of the folk who begin to convert, they saw it particularly in the first and second great awakening, that experience of both black and white people being converted together.

There's this notion of brotherhood, this notion of fellowship that drew people together. I think they picked up on all of that and began to incorporate that into their lives. Far more than they incorporated those other things. Those things had to be forced upon them by their white slave masters, but if you left them to their own devices, they picked up other stuff in the Gospel that they found gave them hope. That gave them a vision for the future, that gave them vision for freedom that understood God as a God of liberation

Slaves flocked to this movement, why?

Because of that liberating aspect of the Gospel that they heard and recognized and got played out in real form in that they had everything in common. Slaves didn't get treated any different than free people, and they all had a say in how this community was going to emerge and evolve. That was the power of Christianity that shook the Roman empire.

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Robin Mazyck

Robin Mazyck

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