Most of the enslaved people saw church and God as their only foundations of comfort and employed their religious beliefs as a basis through which they anchored their purpose in life. Methodism was the main religion in the course of the early 1900s. It began in England via the inventive dedication of John Wesley, an Anglican priest, and his close allies (Stephens, 2015). Their desire was to transform the country with the help of the church, which would ensure that godliness spreads far and wide. Such transformation centered on the avoidance of evil, propagation of good works, and pursuance of the ordinances of the England Church. The founders of Methodism introduced a guide to Christian values in the general regulations. On this note, the followers demonstrated their salvation through avoiding alcohol consumption, the slave trade, involvement in wars, purchase of illegitimate items, and self-indulgence, to mention a few. Methodists were expected to follow the biblical directions of clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, and visiting the ill and imprisoned.
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The position of the masters regarding the church was simple though internally conflicting. Many of the slave owners detached the slave trade from their faith. Most of them just followed the teachings of the church that involved their private family matters, which made them treasure and complied with the word of God in their household issues. On the contrary, slave owners did not practice godly values away from their household and were convinced that slaves were just like property that ought to be treated in any manner (Avent & Cashwell, 2015). In most instances, slave owners treated slaves worse than their livestock as the conviction that the regulations and requirements of being good to others were not applicable to slaves warranted their cruelty. Nevertheless, some masters had a feeling that treating slaves in a cruel manner was against the church doctrines. In this regard, they prohibited their slaves from going to church as a way of preventing them from getting enlightened. Moreover, whenever a priest visited such masters, the slaves were instructed to deny their abuse, neglect, and unjust treatment.
Unlike their masters, slaves did not separate their faith between their tasks and personal life. They took the Biblical concepts in their daily tasks, which reinforced their conviction that slavery was inhumane and unfair. Slaves adored and praised God during the good and bad times. The strength of the slaves’ religious belief was so immense that sometimes their masters scorned their devotion to God, and at times it led to greater acts of animosity towards the slaves that were found to have powerful religious convictions. For most slaves, Biblical teachings in the church acted as their primary introduction to learning. The majority of them ignited their pursuit of knowledge in churches or private readings with the assistance of elders in society (Watson & Stepteau-Watson, 2015). Slaves mainly depended on the approach to learning with the help of God’s word to improve the literacy of the black community. The leisure activities of most slaves were anchored in spiritual rituals. While some slaves were trained the catechism, others learned how to read and write from the clergymen.
In the church, slaves found optimism and temporary relief from the cruelty of the daily actions of their masters. Most slaves acquired knowledge regarding religion at religious camps when they had the privilege of accompanying their masters. Slaves took pleasure in the social gathering and were given the task of selling whiskey and food to the Whites and their Black counterparts (Cooper, Holt, & Scott, 2014). Slave priests usually imitated the moving sermons offered by the White preachers, which made the services of the slaves comparable to those of the Whites in numerous ways. For instance, both fostered unity, provided forums for the meeting of friends and lovers, facilitated approaches to exercising authority and leadership, and enhanced socialization.
The slave preachers were instrumental in teaching religious doctrines even to the slaves that were prohibited by their masters from going to church. They were clever and creative, many of them could read and write, and were outstanding men of noble character and personality. Slave preachers did everything possible to unify the blacks, comfort the sick, weary, discouraged, and fearful while uplifting their religious beliefs and inspiring them. Since they were also suffering at the hands of their masters, the slave preachers understood the pain and problems facing slaves and normally operated as counselors and arbitrators in the quarters (Hempton, 2013). From the sermons of slave preachers, the slaves usually found the power of God, bringing them freedom and vengeance against their oppressive masters. Nonetheless, since the slave preachers were also enslaved, most of the time, they had to make excruciating compromises to address the needs of their people. The religious ideologies of the slaves were reinforced by their yearning for freedom and were usually rooted in the half-comprehended sermons in the White churches, readings of the Bible, the vision of looming freedom, and rebuke of sin.
Attributable to the teachings of the church, slaves generated a special connection with the creator. On this note, they often articulated their love for God through music and prayer. Contrary to the occurrences in the White churches, a meeting of the slaves involved constant dancing and singing. When singing, they kept to the tune of the music by moving their bodies and clapping, and this would happen for nearly one hour. The sentiments of the slaves were normally evident in the spirituals, songs sang to express sadness, hope, rebellion, suffering, and joy. The spirituals were based on Biblical knowledge and acted as a means of articulating emotions in a hostile setting. Attributable to their rebellious quality, spirituals had some direct references to slavery. Slaves also created spirituals in search of their friends who had been sold or with the intention of mourning the ones that had been killed by their masters (Avent & Cashwell, 2015). Spirituals could also function as a secret means of communication. The moment that slaves decided to gather for sermons, prayers, or prohibited social ceremonies, they would use songs that had hidden implications and that their masters and other Whites would not understand.
Church and religious activities offered slaves relief and welcome reprieves from suffering and ceaseless labor. The church not only provided slaves with joy, encouragement, and companionship but also enabled them to regain hope and develop their relationship with God. While taking part in religious services, slaves could, for some time, take their minds away from unjust treatment and unfavorable circumstances in which they resided. Regardless of their personal weaknesses, the church made slaves gain spiritual strength, feel safe as a group, and believe in God’s protection.
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Avent, J. R., & Cashwell, C. S. (2015). The Black church: Theology and implications for counseling African Americans. The Professional Counselor, 5(1), 81-90.
Cooper, F., Holt, T. C., & Scott, R. J. (2014). Beyond slavery: Explorations of race, labor, and citizenship in postemancipation societies. Chapel Hill, NC: UNC Press Books.
Hempton, D. (2013). Religion of the people: Methodism and popular religion 1750-1900. London, United Kingdom: Routledge.
Stephens, R. J. (2015). From abolitionists to fundamentalists: The transformation of the Wesleyan Methodists in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. American Nineteenth Century History, 16(2), 159-191.
Watson, J., & Stepteau-Watson, D. (2015). Troubled waters: The Black church in Mississippi, a single subject case study. Social Work and Christianity, 42(3), 369-373.