Into Heaven but Not Out of Hell

Visiting Williamsburg, VA during October to foster an academic affiliation, members of the project’s board continuously confronted contradictions that people faced, ignored and rationalized historically to create the United States of America and the New World. Presently several candidates priming to run for the presidential office have continued in that tradition, proudly proclaiming that the United States of America is a country based on Christian ideals blessed by God. In fact, in the spirit of the Monroe Doctrine they would drape that point of view across the entire Western Hemisphere.

However, a major dilemma for Christians that threads itself throughout the development of the New World by Europeans was how to justify enslaving fellow believers. Depending upon the colonizing nation, the manifestation of this problem varies. The Spanish and Portuguese from the beginning partnered with the Catholic Church to increase territory, wealth and “the faithful.” Converting “heathens and savages”  and establishing dominion went hand in glove. Mass baptism of Africans prior to their shipment across the Atlantic was standard procedure. Their expansive approach to conversion allowed a substantial obvious blending and incorporating of African practices and beliefs into Christianity as evidenced particularly in Brazil, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Haiti and throughout Latin America.

In the British colonies it was different. Concern for the religious practices of the Africans and the status of their souls was not a paramount concern. During the first one hundred years, with the exception of those transported by Spanish or Portuguese traders, most continued to practice their traditional beliefs often resisting the imposition of European Christianity.

As the numbers of Christians of African descent naturally increased on the mainland by the early to mid 19th century, and the influx of “salt-water” Africans decreased rationales for enslaving fellow Christians were required. Citing the Old Testament texts such as the story of Hagar and Ham, Euro-Americans explained that slavery was condoned by God, in the Bible. Ignore the fact that Christianity is based on the New Testament. They claimed that Africans as a race were naturally and physically marked by God for enslavement. It was then an easy conclusion for them to state that this marking and distinguishing of Christians by race directed Africans and their progeny to be faithful and obedient servants to their masters and superiors. It was their Christian duty, an obligation. A heavenly reward awaited those who believed and adhered to this rule.

As a result of this philosophy of slavery and salvation by Euro-Christians, Exodus became the favored and chosen book in the Bible for African Americans during this period of US history. No wonder.

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