The Real Theology of Slave Owners

16. April 2016 11:28 by Edward L. Smith in   //  Tags:   //   Comments (0)

The Real Theology of Slave Owners

The God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.

Ephesians 1:17-18

 

Recently I received a YouTube video called, “The Remnants of a Slave Religion in today's African American Churches” (https://youtu.be/06mD6HZUgGY) that in my opinion was horrifically in error. The video was The Defining moment with host Brett Moss interviewing Bishop Keith Russell Lee who was at that time of the video a pastor and author. Bishop Lee was to give his perspective on the supposedly slave Christianity in the African American Churches. Lee shares a view that many people hold today. Lee also took the opportunity to lay some of the burden of this view at the feet of Calvinism as to say it played a roll in the oppression. 

I want to examine this video and the claims that it makes and seek to get to the root of exactly what was the “The Real Theology of Slave Owners”.
 
First, who is Bishop Keith Russell Lee? Bishop Lee is the former pastor of Destiny Church just outside of Chicago. He is also the author of, at least one book, “Power Faith and Living”. Lee also for a brief stent did a BlogTalk radio broadcast (http://www.blogtalkradio.com/krl). After doing a bit of research on Bishop Lee I began to realize why he held the bent he had in the video. Bishop Lee was a word of faith prosperity preacher which would explain his view towards Calvinism. After watching the video and listening to some Bishop Lee material I began to realize that the gentleman who sent me the video wasn’t seeking truth about Calvinism or the religious ideology of slave owners but searching for a opportunity to smear a systematic theology because of his ignorance and a opportunity to demonized it by falsely connecting it to the awful sin of the slave era. Let's search for the truth by examining this video. 
 
Before examining the content of the video itself there are two points of classification that I want to address first.
 
First, Bishop Lee inserts the famous and infamous Willie Lynch letter. It is said that in 1712 a slave owner named Willie Lynch wrote a letter to other slave owners on how to control their negro slaves. Sadly none of this is true. Well the letter does exist but written in 1712 by a man named Lynch is highly unlikely. According to Prof. Manu Ampim, “This is very curious because both free and enslaved African Americans  wrote and spoke about the tactics and practices of white slave masters.  Frederick Douglass, Nat Turner, Olaudah Equino, David Walker, Maria Stewart, Martin Delaney, Henry Highland Garnet, Richard Allen, Absolom Jones, Frances Harper, William Wells Brown, and Robert Purvis were African Americans who initiated various efforts to rise up against the slave system, yet none cited the alleged Lynch speech.  Also, there is not a single reference to the Lynch speech by any white abolitionists, including John Brown, William Lloyd Garrison, and Wendell Phillips.  Similarly, there has been no evidence found of slave masters or pro-slavery advocates referring to (not to mention utilizing) the specific divide and rule information given in the Lynch speech.”
 
This was a long and extended quote but a necessary one to point out why I think it is suspect on the part of Bishop Lee to use the Lynch letter knowing the story is a fraudulent story made up only to infuriate Blacks.
 
Second, What exactly was the religion of slave owners? Was it Christianity? Was it the Calvinistic view of Christianity? By the way I'm only going to say this once. Slavery is & was sin. It wasn’t just wrong it was sin. Now let's talk…
 
What did colonial whites believe? Well Puritan Cotton Mather, who, in his tract The Negro Christianized, pleaded with owners to treat their "servants" as men, not brutes: "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thy self. Man, thy Negro is thy neighbor." It is no secret that many Puritan’s owned slaves as were their practice from across the Atlantic. But please take note Mather called them servants not slaves. Mather also said to the slave owners that you ought to love the negro as yourself. Am I excusing slavery? ABSOLUTELY NOT!!! I'm simply making the point that these Puritan Calvinist were not promoting chattel slavery, beating and torturing as it was done I the south. 
Some slave owners also had a very skewed view. Many masters believed conversion would make slaves "saucy," since they would begin to think of themselves equal to whites. According to John Bragg, a Virginia minister, slave owners agreed that conversion would result in the slaves "being and becoming worse slaves when Christians." Some even believed "A slave is ten times worse when a Christian than in his state of paganism." What's my point? The slave owners didn't want them being Christians especially having a robust Calvinist view of Christianity. Why? They probably would rebel and demand freedom!
 
These slave owners also had some legal reasons not to desire African slaves to be Christians. You see there were some interesting legal complications as well. “Many masters in colonial America believed if a slave was baptized that, "according to the laws of the British nation, and the canons of the church," he must be freed. Colonial legislatures sought to clear up this matter, and by 1706 at least six had passed acts denying that baptism altered the condition of a slave "as to his bondage or freedom." It wasn't just economics but a twinge of Christian conscience that prompted the legislation. As Virginia's law put it, it was passed so that masters, "freed from this doubt, may more carefully endeavor the propagation of Christianity." So I would love to ask Bishop Lee and others why would slave owners introduce Calvinism to slaves knowing they might get saved and filled with the Spirit of God thus giving them freedom, spiritual freedom and physical freedom? This wasn’t Christianity at all.
 
I could continue showing errors of this thought process but I don't want to extend this too long. One final point is only to point out that many slave owners had their preachers for hire and these men weren't Calvinist or Christians. They simply gave the message the slave owners wanted them to give. Their message was a perversion of Christianity a different gospel if you will. Yet people are going to continue telling people this lie that slave masters introduce Calvinist Christianity to Africans to control them. It's a lie and prayerfully you won't believe it.
 
Now I've carved out some sections of this video I want to address. Let's begin I'll try to remain brief.
 
The Remnants of a Slave Religion in today's African American Churches. 
In my opinion as a summary thought this is the perversion of Christianity that was taught; 1) don't fight for justice, 2) be content as slaves, 3) be happy with salvation, 4) twisting Paul’s words of slaves being obedient should be followed because that's what God would want, & 5) don't have a concept of freedom…this life of slavery is your lot in life. This is neither Christianity nor a Calvinist view of Christianity. What they introduce to slaves was a perverted lie from Hell.
 
Bishop Lee for the first five minutes begins with this twisted view. At 3:45 mark Lee claims that slave masters introduced Christianity to their slaves. Well I've debunked that theory and have plenty more evidence. Often Jonathan Edwards is used as a example. Edwards did own slaves their no dispute there. Edwards however didn't see them as property but as servants to care after his wife, children, & land. I've never read where Edwards abused his slaves; that doesn’t excuse him but Edwards was a man of his day.
 
The hand picked preachers of slave owners preached a message that their was a good and gracious God and He wanted them to be content as slaves. That's not the message of Scripture that's the message of Satan.
 
Bishop Lee also suggested (4:30) their message was about “how evil and wicked they were. We are poor wretched sinners, our righteousness is as filthy rags”. (5:05) “We are sinners that's that Calvinist message.” This was driven and “hammered into slaves so that they would not believe they were heirs and joint heirs with Jesus Christ.” No lie would be good if not sprinkled with a little truth. This is ultimately a attack on the Calvinist doctrine of Total Depravity. Does the Bible teach the depravity of men? The Calvinist position is simple in that after Adam sinned he then produce “after his own kind". Every person produce from Adam and Eve were born sinners or as David wrote, Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me (Psalms 51:5). The prophet Jeremiah wrote, "The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9). Other texts as well make this point clear. What the slave owners preachers wouldn't do is, again, give the full gospel. They didn't included the grace aspect that yes you are sinners but Jesus came to forgive you of that sin and cleanse you of all unrighteousness. This is the Calvinist Gospel. I would hate to assume why Bishop Lee would bare false witness as he did.
 
Bishop Lee also gave a description of John Calvin. He called Calvin a conservative man, one who believe in the depravity of the human soul. Lee said Calvin believed that man's only cure was Jesus Christ (isn't that the Gospel message?) & then Lee allowed his true colors to show. Lee lamented that “Calvin over emphasized election (false), that only the elect would be saved (this much is true)”. This is a common ignorant false characterization of Calvin. If you read Calvin’s Institute's of Christian Religion, his sermons, or commentaries what you find is Calvin is very pastoral and devotional and yes also being doctrinal. Most people would just rather attack him then actually study his works. Lee also said that (8:45) “Everyone would continue to live not knowing if they were elect”. This to is incorrect. Calvin would have believed in what is called the preservation of the saints which teaches you Biblically the assurance of your faith. What Lee probably was making reference to was that Calvin did believe that no-one knew who the elect where and since no-one knows then Calvin taught you preach the Gospel to everyone and the elect will respond. Hopefully you see the difference.
 
I am already over spaced in this blog so I'll present one other false narrative. Bishop Lee was asked a question; (12:48) Q) How is God typically portrayed in the African American Churches today? His response, A) “As much as he was in the days of slavery. A angry God, a vengeful God, a judgment God, & a wrath filled God...Then their is he's a God of love.” I honestly believe Bishop Lee had no intentions of being fair about his assertions. What Lee is describing may be the perverted message that the slave preachers preached but it isn't the message within the Black Church today. If you preach the whole counsel of God your going to come across passages where God expresses His wrath, anger, & even vengeance but it’s always toward the wicked i.e. God is a righteous judge, And a God who has indignation every day. If a man does not repent, He will sharpen His sword; He has bent His bow and made it ready. (Psalms 7:11-12). But the Gospel also declares If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9). This is what the slave preachers didn't teach therefore they taught a different gospel and not true Christianity and definitely not Calvinism.
 
In conclusion it's interesting that Bishop Lee closed on the note of supply and demand. So I'm going to conclude with one of the must Calvinistic passages that teach Adam supplied sin and God demanded Jesus as the only propitiation for sin.
 
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned- for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.  But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. 
(Romans 5:12-15)
 
This is not the message that slave owners wanted slaves to hear but it is the Calvinist Gospel.
 
Blessings SDG
ELS

About Edward L. Smith

My ministry philosophy would consist of these essentials—a High View of God, the absolute authority of Scripture, Expository Preaching, Sound Doctrine, Personal Holiness, and a Biblical view of spiritual authority. All ministries must be God-Honoring, Christ-Centered, & Gospel Saturated. (1 Corinthians 10:31)

 

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