slavery

Do Africans need to repent for slave trade? This Wall Street Journal piece suggests they should

Do Africans need to repent for slave trade? This Wall Street Journal piece suggests they should

The era of slavery on American shores began 400 years ago this year when the first boatload of slaves landed in Virginia and much has been written about that anniversary. But slave ships from Great Britain, Portugal, France, the Netherlands and other countries didn’t do their work unaided.

There were hundreds if not thousands of African middlemen who procured the slaves for these ships. Are they not just as guilty as the white merchants who put them on their ships? Do these middlemen have descendants and if so, do they feel any shame at what their ancestors did?

Armed with a journalism grant, a Nigerian journalist set out to find those descendants and what she found was published Sept. 20 in the Wall Street Journal headlined “When the Slave Traders Were African.”

Not only that, but many of those descendants are bringing their faith into the question. The segment I am reproducing is long, but the Journal’s paywall makes it harder for people to read it otherwise.

This August marked 400 years since the first documented enslaved Africans arrived in the U.S. In 1619, a ship reached the Jamestown settlement in the colony of Virginia, carrying “some 20 and odd Negroes” who were kidnapped from their villages in present-day Angola. The anniversary coincides with a controversial debate in the U.S. about whether the country owes reparations to the descendants of slaves as compensation for centuries of injustice and inequality. It is a moment for posing questions of historic guilt and responsibility.

But the American side of the story is not the only one. Africans are now also reckoning with their own complicated legacy in the slave trade, and the infamous “Middle Passage” often looks different from across the Atlantic.

Records from the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, directed by historian David Eltis at Emory University, show that the majority of captives brought to the U.S. came from Senegal, Gambia, Congo and eastern Nigeria. Europeans oversaw this brutal traffic in human cargo, but they had many local collaborators. “The organization of the slave trade was structured to have the Europeans stay along the coast lines, relying on African middlemen and merchants to bring the slaves to them,” said Toyin Falola, a Nigerian professor of African studies at the University of Texas at Austin. “The Europeans couldn’t have gone into the interior to get the slaves themselves.

The anguished debate over slavery in the U.S. is often silent on the role that Africans played. That silence is echoed in many African countries, where there is hardly any national discussion or acknowledgment of the issue.

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Friday Five: War in Babylon, Jews and abortion, Crystal Cathedral, slavery series, Fox News theft

Friday Five: War in Babylon, Jews and abortion, Crystal Cathedral, slavery series, Fox News theft

Babylon is at war.

Or something like that.

In a post Thursday, I analyzed Religion News Service’s report on a feud between the Christian satire website the Babylon Bee and internet fact-checker Snopes.

Enter the National Review’s David French with details on Buzzfeed News publishing a misleading story about the controversy.

Meanwhile, let’s dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: It’s not exactly breaking news (unless you count 1990 as breaking news) that major news organizations have a real hard time covering abortion in a fair and impartial manner.

The latest example: Julia Duin highlights a USA Today story on Jewish views on abortion that somehow manages to neglect quoting a single Orthodox source.

“Next time, USA Today, approach the Jews who are out there having the most babies and get their read on abortion,” Duin suggests. “I would have liked to have known their point of view.”

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Friday Five: #ExposeChristianSchools, Trump's Bible, buried lede, tmatt's future, Mariano Rivera

Friday Five: #ExposeChristianSchools, Trump's Bible, buried lede, tmatt's future, Mariano Rivera

“Reporter Trolls Christian Schools” was the headline on a recent Wall Street Journal column after a New York Times reporter asked for feedback from people who had attended Christian schools.

A lot of conservatives saw the request — tied to the viral hashtag #ExposeChristianSchools that emerged after headlines over Vice President Mike Pence’s wife, Karen, teaching at an evangelical school — as a pretense for a looming hit piece.

In fact, the actual New York Times article published drew praise from some, including a Southern Baptist minister who called it “insightful reporting and not one-sided negative.”

Me? I didn’t find the piece terribly insightful, enlightening or revealing of Christian school experiences that I know about.

This will give you an idea of the tone: The Times starts with quotes from those who “struggled with bullying and depression” at Christian schools, moves to quotes from those who “experienced lasting pain and confusion” at Christian schools and finishes with — this must be the “not one-sided negative” part — those who “shared stories of love and acceptance of others” at Christian schools.

Got a different view of the article? Feel free to comment below.

Now, let’s dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: This is one of those weeks when a single story or issue didn’t really stand out. So let’s go with President Donald Trump’s tweet supporting Bible literacy courses in public schools.

I wrote an entire post about this subject earlier this week, and since I see our analytics, I know many of you missed reading it.

So here’s another chance to check it out.

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Frederick Douglass is the ideal topic for this year’s Black History Month features

Frederick Douglass is the ideal topic for this year’s Black History Month features

In the 200th year of American independence, President Gerald Ford officially established February as national Black History Month. The idea grew out of African-Americans’ longstanding heritage week timed with the February birth dates of the white emancipator Abraham Lincoln and the black abolitionist Frederick Douglass.

Douglass, the most powerful black orator and agitator during the campaign to end slavery, is the ideal topic for a religion feature this February. That’s due to a magisterial new biography that enjoys universal acclaim from critics, “Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom” (Simon & Schuster).

The Guy recommends the book itself — 888 pages! — and interviews with author David W. Blight, a Yale University history professor who specializes in slavery, abolitionism and the Reconstruction period (Contacts: david.blight@yale.edu or 203-432-8521 or 203-432-3339). Notably, Blight portrays this heroic American with warts-and-all exposure of problematic aspects in public and private life. One example was Douglass’s typically Protestant assertion that Catholic belief in the papacy was a “stupendous and most arrogant lie.”

The touring Douglass moved audiences with addresses, often in churches, that were de facto sermons and made continual use of the Bible. Favorite themes were the Exodus of God’s children from Egypt and the moral denunciations from the Hebrew prophets. This was not a matter of tactical artifice, Blight observes, but an authentic expression of profound spiritual devotion.

In 1831, as a 13-year-old household slave in Baltimore, Douglass experienced a thoroughgoing conversion to — in his own words — “faith in Jesus Christ as the Redeemer, Friend, and Savior of those who diligently seek him.” He was chiefly influenced by sermons of two white Methodists and especially black lay preacher Charles Johnson. Blight says Douglass quickly developed a hunger for Bible reading, saw the world around him “in a new light,” and gained “new hopes and desire” that laid the foundation of his career.

As is frequently the case for Protestants, his faith was further deepened by a fellow layman, Charles Lawson, a semi-literate black laborer. The two would spend endless hours “singing, praying, and glorifying God,” Blight says.

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Theology of Baptist seminary's lament: Slavery is the headline, but a few media reports mention sin

Theology of Baptist seminary's lament: Slavery is the headline, but a few media reports mention sin

In inside-the-Beltway speak, by releasing an extensive report on its racist past, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., decided to “hang a lantern” on its problem. (It’s a term that readers of Chris Matthews’ “Hardball” will understand.)

In other words, Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s oldest educational institution, wanted part of the story to be about how blunt and candid the seminary was in acknowledging its historic sins.

The basic point is that when something is really bad, you want to be the person who tells the public that it's really bad. 

Mohler did that Wednesday in releasing a report that has drawn — and rightly so — extensive national media coverage.

The lede from the New York Times:

The first and oldest educational institution of the Southern Baptist Convention disclosed in a report Wednesday that its four founders together owned more than 50 slaves, part of a reckoning over racism in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.

The 71-page report released by the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is a recitation of decades of bigotry, directed first at African slaves and later at African-Americans. Beginning with the founding of the seminary in Greenville, S.C., in 1859, the report found that the school, with few exceptions, backed a white supremacist ideology.

“The moral burden of history requires a more direct and far more candid acknowledgment of the legacy of this school in the horrifying realities of American slavery, Jim Crow segregation, racism, and even the avowal of white racial supremacy,” wrote R. Albert Mohler Jr., the president of the seminary, which is now in Louisville, Ky.

Over at the American Conservative, blogger Rod Dreher praised Mohler for the release of the report:

I have an immense amount of respect for Albert Mohler and the institution he leads, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, for having commissioned a hard-hitting report looking into the seminary’s racist past. This is a profoundly Christian act of historical reflection and repentance. Read the report and Mohler’s cover letter here. 

But the Times’ coverage — like that of most other mainstream news reports that I saw — lacked any mention of the theological angle.

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New York Times digs into fried fish, all the fixings and, oh, then there's some kind of church thing

New York Times digs into fried fish, all the fixings and, oh, then there's some kind of church thing

Growing up Baptist in East Texas, I learned a whole lot about fried catfish. Mostly, I learned that this was an important, even symbolic, food in rural communities and in black churches.

Later, when I married into a Baptist family in Georgia, that meant spending time in a region in which I learned, once again, that catfish was a part of life — in some parts of the community. The same thing’s true here in East Tennessee (along with barbecue, of course).

Even in Baltimore, we lived near a catfish joint that was jammed on the weekends — with African-Americans picking up stacks of take-out boxes for home and for church get-togethers.

So my eyes lit up when I saw this evocative double-decker headline in The New York Times, of all places:

Celebrating the Fish Fry, a Late-Summer Black Tradition

Catfish, hot sauce, a few sides: For many African-American families, these are makings of a time-honored gathering that feeds a sense of community.

Oh yeah, fried catfish, but also tilapia, snapper and “whitefish” — with lots of hot sauce. Then you had hushpuppies, of of course, with potato salad, coleslaw, black-eyed peas, greens and, maybe, french fries. And underneath the fish, to soak up some of the hot oil, there’s usually a slice or two of white sandwich bread.

Now, lots of good info about the food and black-family traditions made it into the Times piece, with the help of “food historian” Adrian Miller. And there’s a hint at deeper ties that bind in this key passage about this legacy of frying fish on weekends:

… The tradition took on a different meaning in the South during the era of slavery. “The work schedule on the plantation would slow down by noon on Saturday, so enslaved people had the rest of that day to do what they wanted,” Mr. Miller said.

Those who finished work early could go fishing and bring back their catch to be fried that night; plantation owners didn’t mind, Mr. Miller said, because it was one less meal they had to provide. “So the fish fry started as a Saturday-night thing on plantations, and it was like an impromptu get-together,” he said.

In the decades after Emancipation, the tradition became a business for many African-Americans, who brought fish fries with them as they migrated from the South to other parts of the country. … The fish fry was also used as a popular tool to raise money for churches.

Food for raising money? That’s all there is to it?

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Inside Higher Ed does best job of explaining a college president and a controversial meal

Inside Higher Ed does best job of explaining a college president and a controversial meal

When I was in Tennessee two weeks ago, one of the fun things my daughter and I did was wade among some cotton plants, which we had not seen since we'd moved to the Pacific Northwest three years ago. You see them all the time in the Volunteer State this time of year. They’re kind of pretty, actually, if you don’t cut yourself on the sharp bracts that result when the boll has burst open and dried.

Even so, they can serve as an inexpensive table centerpiece were you trying to entertain a crowd, which is what drew me to the news about the president of a Christian college in Nashville who did just that.

But the black students who were his guests one night felt the cotton arrangements were a racist statement, according to the New York Daily News.

But note: If you look for any hints of the religious background of this Nashville college in this story, you will find none:

A dinner intended to give African-American students at a Tennessee university the opportunity to discuss their experience at the private liberal arts school left attendees shocked after tables were decorated with cotton stalk centerpieces.
Lipscomb University president Randy Lowry invited black students to his Nashville home Friday night for a dinner, but many of the students deemed the tableware and menu offensive.

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Say WHAT?!? Did Jesus really teach that slaves should be abused?

Say WHAT?!? Did Jesus really teach that slaves should be abused?

REX’S QUESTION (Paraphrased):

How can anyone believe in Jesus when he was a liar who preached “liberty” yet instructed people to beat slaves?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Rex, and any folks who appear to have influenced his thinking, seriously misread Jesus’ teaching, so it’s worth unpacking why and glimpse how experts advise us to understand the Bible.

Here’s the full question, as posted:

“How is it possible to believe in Jesus when he claimed to ‘set at liberty them that are bruised’ (Luke 4:18) but also gave bruising instructions on how to flog slaves? (Luke 12:47-48)  His first claim is clearly dishonest! His instruction to flog slaves for not knowing what they’re doing is malicious. After all, he also said “God forgive them for they know not what they do’! How can anyone trust a man who lies and contradicts his own instructions?”

If Jesus was deceitful, confused and advocated physical abuse of helpless slaves, yes, he’d be a flawed moral teacher, much less someone for billions to worship as the Son of God. When a passage like this seems puzzling or contradictory, it’s advisable to seek guidance from a couple Bible commentaries in your local library written by solid scholars familiar with the ancient idiom and context.

Rex’s interpretation follows a wooden literalism that makes Fundamentalists look liberal.

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Why didn’t the Bible abolish slavery? So, which form of slavery are we talking about?

Why didn’t the Bible abolish slavery? So, which form of slavery are we talking about?

THE QUESTION:

If the Bible is a revered guide to morality, why didn’t it abolish slavery? The Guy poses this issue that was raised in many comments posted after our Oct. 17, 2016, Q&A about people who abhor Jewish and Christian Scripture.

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Toleration of slavery, in which some people own and control others as property, is a favorite Internet attack skeptics level against the Bible. Greg Carey of Lancaster Theological Seminary says slavery is “the single most contested issue in the history of biblical interpretation in the United States.” Indeed, the U.S. Civil War demonstrated how ingrained this economic practice was and how difficult to eliminate — think 600,000-plus war dead.

Evangelical historian Mark Noll says Christians’ pre-war debate on this undercut scriptural authority because the two opposite sides employed the Bible for support. Supporters of the South’s plantation economy argued that the Bible never required abolition of slavery, while abolitionists believed biblical principles mandate freedom and respect for each person created by God. Bible believers in that second group were largely responsible for achieving abolition of this unmitigated evil on a global scale.

Slavery existed as far back as human history can be traced, and the dimensions became staggering. The Encyclopaedia Britannica says slaves were once half the population in sectors of Asia, an estimated 18 million east Africans were subjected to the Muslim slave trade from the time of the Quran through 1900, while the west African trade involved 7 to 10 million enslaved people until British and American abolition.

Defenders of the Bible note that thousands of years ago holy writ did not require slavery but accommodated it as an unavoidable reality, and mitigated it with relatively enlightened and humane provisions.

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