Planters, Missionaries, and Slaves

A part of Raboteau’s reading was quite thought-provoking. He wrote that the “history of religious instruction of slaves involved three parties: planters, missionaries, and slaves” (Raboteau, 120). The missionaries seem explanatory enough, though later in the same paragraph he remarked that “pagan slaves” were brought to “Christian disciples,” an unusual change from the traditional “disciple sent out with the gospel to the pagans.” While Christians had been instructed to spread the Word to all by Jesus in Mark 16:15, these New World, American Christians put their fear of “different” people over their fear of God. Some would consider that a failure. Cotton Mather, famed Puritan theologian, claimed that people who didn’t see Africans and African-Americans as neighbors and brothers were ignorant. Africans and African-Americans had humanity, and he daringly said they had an “equal right with other men” (Raboteau, 101). Mather authored The Negro Christianized.

I suppose the part that strikes me is the idea that the planter–essentially a slave’s master and boss–had such a role in the religious life of a slave. Today a boss having a say in what religion you practice, or how you practice, is almost unheard of. It goes against the United States Constitution and the First Amendment. I understand that in this era of American history, Africans and African-Americans were not seen as citizens, and in some parts, not even considered human beings. But a majority of the colonists had left Europe to escape religious persecution and the overbearing hands of kings and queens who were considered to be forcing their religious beliefs onto their subjects. But white slave-owning planters had turned around and were doing the same thing, in a country espousing religious toleration and pluralism (on paper, at least).

So how can, ethically, someone who feared persecution of their own religious beliefs, attack the beliefs of another? Someone who didn’t want to be forced to follow the religion of their socio-politic-economic leader (the king) force a religion onto another? Or even yet, as a Christian tasked with spreading the Word of Jesus, deny someone the Word based on their appearance, race, or gender? All of these questions have answers just as complicated, and eventually the Great Awakening created a new era of conversion and a new interpretation and translation of Christianity (Raboteau, 127). Africans and African-Americans, slave or free, began to have more influence in their religious lives. They were learning about Jesus, the Bible, and organizing themselves into congregations. But some congregations were still controlled by those in power, as the emphasis was placed on conversion, not on explaining doctrines. It just seems as though people became too caught up in the politics of religion, and forgot about the theology they claimed to believe.

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