Black churches also embrace a literal reading of the scripture because of its unique history, says Blum, author of “W.E.B. DuBois, American Prophet.”
During slavery and segregation, many blacks saw the Bible as the one document they could trust. The Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, state and local laws—all found some way to ignore their humanity, Blum says.
The Bible, though, was one book that told them that they weren’t slaves or three-fifths of a person, Blum says.
It said they were children of God.
“Throughout the 18th and 19th century, what document could they trust?” Blum says. “When the Bible says it’s so, it’s something that black people believed they could trust.”
Their enemies, though, used that same veneration of the Bible against them. Slaveholders had a simple but powerful argument when critics challenged them: Trust the Bible.
They cited scriptures such as Ephesians 6:5. (“Slaves, be obedient to those who are your earthly masters, with fear and trembling. …”) And they said Jesus preached against many sins, but never against slavery.
Since the Bible is infallible, and scripture sanctions slavery, it must be part of God’s order, slaveholders concluded.
“Slavery is everywhere in the Bible,” Blum says. “When Americans who were in favor of slavery defended it with the Bible, they had a treasure trove of clear biblical passages that accepted enslavement.”
Blum says abolitionists found it difficult to mount an effective counterargument. They couldn’t just say trust the Bible. They preached another approach to scriptures.
They said you couldn’t enslave people based on the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do to you. (Obama cited the Golden Rule and his Christian faith in supporting same-sex marriage).
“The abolitionist turned to the ethics and spirit of the Bible,” Blum says. “They were theological modernists before modernism.”
~ John Blake (May 12, 2012)