Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Slavery is a Black & White Issue by Gail Purath

Air holes in the church floor.
They could breathe in the dark underbelly of the church only because there were holes in the Georgian pinewood floor above them. Some would die before they reached northern safety, but these runaway slaves thought freedom was worth the risk.

The First African Baptist Church in Savannah, Georgia has a pattern of air holes in their basement floor above an historic secret tunnel of the Underground Railroad. Before slavery was abolished, slaves purchased the church property with money they'd saved to buy their children's freedom. (Some masters paid slaves small stipends for work done after their unpaid workday.) Working nights, the slaves rebuilt the church, creating a secret tunnel in the process.

A white church (still in existence today) accepted the slave's freedom money for a property they no longer needed. Like other "Christian" slave owners, they justified slavery with out-of-context Bible passages while ignoring in-context passages.(1)

From Stephen's Cornerstone Speech
Sarah Grimke, one of a tiny minority of white southern abolitionists, described the beating of a runaway slave woman: “[A] finger could not be laid between the cuts…a heavy iron collar with three prongs projecting from it, was placed around her neck, and a strong and sound front tooth was extracted, to serve as a mark to describe her, in case of escape…These outrages were committed in a family where the mistress daily read the Scriptures, and assembled her children for family worship.”(2) Accounts like these are common.

I’m not a Southerner—I didn't grow up hearing the “state’s rights” justification for the Civil War(3), and I’m sad to see anyone fly the Confederate flag. But my ancestors were not innocent. Slavery couldn’t have survived for over two hundred years if northern and western Christians had united against it.

From Texas Secession Papers
Slavery isn't a morally gray area--it's a black and white issue, and most of our ancestors have some culpability. The worst part is that we haven’t fully repented. Less than fifty years ago, southern white “Christians” insisted on segregated seating at Billy Graham Crusades until Graham refused to put up with it any longer! And the poison that caused slavery is still with us in the form of bigotry, half-truth justifications for the Civil War, and ignorant or deliberate honor for the Confederate flag.(3)

I'm ashamed to say that sometimes when I hear uninformed remarks about the war, slavery, and the Confederate flag from white Christians, I say nothing...just like many of my ancestors said nothing during the days of slavery.

From SC Secession Papers
 In 1995, 150 years after they broke from northern Baptists, the Southern Baptist Church officially repented of their pro-slavery and anti-civil rights sins.(4) What about the rest of us? Are we ready, like the slaves beneath the church floor, to take a risk for freedom? There is only one escape from sin's dark underbelly where we huddle. It is through honesty and repentance--"Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” John 8:32.(5)

(1) During the Confederacy, most 'Christian' slave owners had convinced themselves that slavery was Biblical. To read how ridiculous this claim is read:  Does the Bible Support Slavery?
(2)  From Sea to Shining Sea, Peter Marshall and David Manuel, (Fleming H. Revell), 1986, page 246.
(3)  The main “state’s right” that caused secession was the right to own slaves. Alexander Stephens, Confederate vice-president, said the foundation of the Confederacy rested "upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.” (from Stephen's Cornerstone Speech).  
(5) Even if you have done what is right, consider Daniel's confession in Daniel 9.

Gail writes one-minute devotions for Bible Love Notes.  Gail's bio.

Read a one-minute devotion about this subject: The Freedom of a Slave


  1. Amen, and well said, Gail!

  2. Wonderful and so true. Why is it all taking so long? Keep up the awesome writing. You always touch me.

  3. Gail, thank you for addressing this issue with thought-provoking insight. Your excellent writing magnifies the truths you express. My prayer after reading this is "God, help me be awake and alert to Your Spirit's call to action in my life."

  4. A great followup to some of our discussions when we were together last week. It isn't easy to accept responsibility for actions that were taken before we were alive, but it is important to ask ourselves the question, "Would I have stood up and tried to protect another human being in that situation?" Thanks for the thought provoking article, Gail.

  5. Thank you for this article. I too had biased opinions until the Lord had me serve on a Benevolence Committee and taught me many truths about myself in relation to my african brothers and sisters. I can now look back and see his beautiful "hand" in all this.

  6. I do not support or condone slavery. Some see the Confederate flag as a symbol of slavery. I see it as not a racial symbol, but as my southern heritage for which I am proud. I am tired of people trying to take that away from me.

  7. I cringe when I see a confederate flag in the back of a pick up truck. For me it represents a way of life that was reprehensible. Granted it is part of our southern states' history but I don't think it is appropriate to display it outside of it's historic context.

  8. Gail, I thank you for sharing about slavery in this devotional. I am an African American and I live with the remnants of slavery daily in ways that you can only imagine. As we approach Memorial Day I am reminded of a recent trip to Italy and visiting the Florence American Memorial Cemetery. An official there who is white, told us how the black soldiers died defending the city because their lives were not worth sending in troops to help. He acknowledged how wrong this was with tears in his eyes and apologized to us. The Buffalo Soldiers were buried there because their families did not have the money to bring them home. As he spoke tears rolled drown my cheeks then as now and I think, if only Christians knew. I walked through that cemetery and cried as I prayed for each family. The confederate flag can only symbolize slavery to me for it continues to keep the spirit of slavery alive. I do not expect everyone to agree or understand so I pray that you try to walk a mile in my shoes.

  9. Gail, very powerful and thought provoking.
    May God continue to bless you with your writings.

  10. The Confederate flag only flew "officially" over the South for 4 years. It represented those who believed they had rights to own other people and wanted to leave the USA when that "right" was being threatened. It seems that the only reason to fly this flag 146 years after the CSA dissolved would be lack of acceptance for the loss of the war and the loss of the right to own other human beings for forced labor. This is a heritage---but not a proud one.


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