Hawley exemplifies white Christian nationalist attitudes on slavery

Hawley Tweet

U.S. Rep. Josh Hawley of Missouri has embarrassed himself and the nation with his offensive tweet about Juneteenth.

“Today is a good day to remember: Christianity is the faith and America is the place slavery came to die,” Hawley tweeted on Juneteenth (June 19).

In fact, America is the place where chattel slavery found a home for 400 years, in part thanks to Christianity’s approving and barbaric teachings about slavery right out of the bible.

PRRI has found that white evangelical Protestants are less likely than members of other religious groups to acknowledge the lasting repercussions that slavery and discrimination have had on Black Americans.

Here’s what Hawley’s “holy book” says about slavery (just a representative sampling):

Genesis 9:25: “And he [Noah] said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.”

Leviticus 25:45–46: Moreover of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, . . . and they shall be your possession . . . they shall be your bondmen forever.”

Exodus 21:2,7: “If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing. . . . And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the manservants do.”

Joel 3:8: “And I will sell your sons and your daughters into the hand of the children of Judah, and they shall sell them to the Sabeans, to a people far off: for the Lord hath spoken it.”

Luke 12:47–48: “And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes.”

Colossians 3:22 Servants, obey in all things your masters.

Jesus tells a parable in Luke 17:7–10 about a master and his slaves, saying the servant toiling in the field should first feed his master before sitting down himself to eat and drink and should not expect to be thanked for waiting upon the master. The (immoral) moral is that when someone has done what God expects, he is doing his duty.

And remember, the commandment in Exodus 20:17 — which is traditionally identified as the 10th commandment — reads: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor’s.” Manservant and maidservant are bible-speak for slaves. The 10th commandment is not just an affront to all women, who are treated like property, but all Black Americans whose ancestors were once enslaved with the blessing of Christianity.

Religion’s role in slavery has been whitewashed (literally). The Doctrine of Discovery, a 15th-century Catholic teaching adopted in 1493 that declared that any land not inhabited by Christians was available to be “discovered,” set the stage for imperialism, chattel slavery and the mistreatment of Indigenous peoples. Churches are so often given the credit for fighting slavery when in fact they were very late to jump on the abolition bandwagon, if they jumped at all. The earliest abolitionists were almost all heretics, unbelievers and nonconformists (encompassing Quakers), who were vilified for their ungodly posture.

The Southern Baptist Convention split off explicitly over its support of slavery and its four founders together owned more than 50 slaves. Likewise Presbyterians and Methodists were split into pro-slaver and abolitionist sects in the 1850s. Abolitionist Sojourner Truth was once enslaved by an Episcopal diocese in New York.

“While Baptists in the South played the most vocal role in defending the institution of slavery before the Civil War, other denominations — including the Presbyterian Church, the Episcopal Church, the Lutheran Church and the Catholic Church — and other religious educational institutions all benefited from enslaved labor in some way,” reports NBC News. “Whether it was members of the clergy or the churches themselves owning enslaved people, or the churches receiving taxes from congregants in the form of tobacco farmed by enslaved people, the wealth of the churches was deeply intertwined with the slave trade.”

Revelations that the Jesuit Georgetown University enslaved 272 Black persons continue to shock the nation. Other universities, including Brown, Columbia, Harvard and the University of Virginia, had ties to the slave trade, but “the 1838 slave sale organized by the Jesuits, who founded and ran Georgetown, stands out for its sheer size,” reports the New York Times. Children were separated from parents, the enslaved were “dragged off by force to the ship.” The Catholic school, which was struggling, organized a slave sale that took in what would be $3.3 million today, paying off its debts and enabling its success.

“It is incorrect that slavery came to America to die,” the Kansas City Star editorialized, in condemning Hawley’s statement. “That was no thanks to Southern secessionists who fought to preserve their dominance over Black people. More than 620,000 lives from both sides were lost as a result. The institution didn’t ‘die’ because of American goodness. It was killed, belatedly, and with horrific violence.”

That war may not have been necessary — and centuries of horror endured by enslaved Black people may not have been experienced — had the bible and its barbaric teachings about slavery not been there providing “holy” justification for slavery.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 40,000 members across the country. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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