The most striking divide in the readings for this week was the controversy between those that focused purely on the obstacles to spreading a religious education to the slaves and those that considered it an important duty to do so, despite the problems facing the task. The three chapters that we read in Sernett’s African American Religious History: A Documentary Witness were written about or by leaders of different churches that sought to convert as many people as possible. Each seemed to find the task of spreading religion not one to fear or neglect, but one that was extremely important and worthwhile. They listed the obstacles, just as the reading from Raboteau’s “Cathechesis and Conversion” did, but the three chapters seemed to be focused more on the need for conversion than on excusing the lack of it. Jupiter Hammon in chapter four of Sernett’s work, in particular, seems to sense the need for religion. In his letter, he encourages his brethren to seek religion and describes to them the importance of following the Bible.
In contrast, Albert Raboteau’s “Cathechesis and Conversion” seems to focus entirely on the obstacles and reasonings given for the limited number of conversions, and imparts none of the sense of honor and duty that the accounts in Sernett’s work contain. It lists the various problems faced by the religious groups that attempted to spread religion to as many as possible, as well as the many excuses and complaints given by the owners of slaves. Raboteau speaks also of the adaptations the religious groups had to make to appease the slave owners even when they did make progress, due to the reluctance of the slave owners (Raboteau 103).
The contrasting perspectives are most apparent when one compares the hope and sense of importance that one can feel in Jupiter Hammon’s advice written in his letter with the extensive account of problems given by Raboteau. Raboteau lists problems such as distance between churches and lack of cooperation from slave owners (Raboteau 105), but Jupiter Hammon advises his audience to work towards finding religion despite problems presented by their situation (Sernett 40). This contrast helps readers to see how difficult progress was to make, despite the best attempts of those who wished to further it.