Letters to the Editor

D.G. Mathews: The Bible and slavery

Regarding the Nov. 11 letter “ Liberal hysteria”: The writer seemed to think that conservative Christians opposed slavery; they did not. The pro-slavery argument in the United States could be a very sophisticated statement of ideology, but Southern white Christians defended slavery by appealing to the Christian Bible, both Old and New Testaments.

As a Southern theologian, James Furman, wrote: “We who own slaves honor God’s law in the exercise of our authority.” Conservative Christians defended the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, for example, with an appeal to the book of Philemon, which was actually a tortured exegesis. Some liberal Christians argued the opposite.

Conservative Christians denounced liberal and liberal evangelical (new school) opponents of slavery by appealing to the Bible: God, wrote one partisan, is actually a slaveholder. They cited references throughout the Old Testament and especially Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

African-American Christianity resisted slavery; conservative white Christians embraced it.

D.G. Mathews


The writer is a professor of history emeritus at UNC-CH and author of “Religion in the Old South.”