Some thoughts on Quakerism and abolition.


I was thinking of John Woolman and other Quaker abolitionists really. 

And the thought struck me, that the reason that they were the ones who became the vessels for change  in regards to slavery, is precisely because they believed that the Spirit of Christ within gave them the ability and the authority  to do a new thing on earth through them, even if it meant shaking the foundations of what had always been believed and accepted.

Is it any wonder then that they, of all Christians and other religious groups,  contributed so much to the end of slavery in our World, willing to do and believe what was not done or believed in Old or New Testament? That they were the ones who were willing to abolish what St. Augustine could only lament over, but ultimately tolerate? To eradicate what Bartolome De Las Casas would, at first, only lay on the backs of those he thought could bear the weight?

So many other people saw slavery and were saddened by it. So many came to see it’s negative effect. But only the people who believed that Christ’s Spirit of Love is the ultimate arbiter for what we should do on regards to our neighbor were willing to remove it from our lives. 

Is that not the creed of everyone who wishes to “break every yoke”?


7 thoughts on “Some thoughts on Quakerism and abolition.

  1. “If but one man or woman were raised by his power, to stand and live in the same spirit that the prophets and apostles were in who gave forth the scriptures, that man or woman should shake all the country in their profession for ten miles round.”~ George Fox

    I was thinking something very similar to this blog when I first started becoming involved in Quakerism! I’m definitely interested in the Jesus that is still active and teaching today, and not a Jesus that is dead and locked away in the last page of the New Testament.

    1. This was actually the issue that helped to change my opinion on Gay rights and relationships tbh. I was totally against the concept when I was younger, and the suggestion that the slavery argument had anything to do with the Homosexuality argument seemed borderline racist to me for some strange reason.

      But then, as I began to really study the issue of abolition, slavery and the Church, I realized just how radical the change was from the Law and Paul to what ended up being the general Christian position globally by the end of slavery in Brazil in the late 1880’s. And the thing that pushed that change? The extent of the suffering produced by the Status Quo, and the resulting compassion it generated in peoples hearts. But only people who believed that God gave them the ability and the authority through his Spirit( I didn’t know they were Quakers at the time, just that they must have been very…audacious, from my perspective) to challenge tradition, even scripture, for the sake of answering the suffering of others. And if that could be so on this issue, why not on the issue of Gay relationships and families?

      This was quite liberating for me to realize as a young gay Christian. But it was also infuriating, when you realize that your denomination HAS to know this, but chooses to act as if that it isn’t a factor in how Christian’s live in the world today or on how Christian’s may need to decide on other issues. Even pretending that there is no difference between the view of slavery in the Bible and the one the Church holds today. Which is so totally false!
      Still makes me mad.

  2. One of the paradoxes of Abolition is that some evangelical Christians, devout Bible believers, were heavily involved in its leadership, particularly in Britain. And many Hicksite Friends, for whom the Bible was not central to their faith, refused to become involved in the Abolition movement. History is seldom as simple as we would like it to be!

    1. This very true!
      But the REASONS for Hicksite opposition to the Abolitionist movement (or hicksite leaning, as I’m not sure about whether there were very many self proclaimed hicksites in LYM) in that movements later years is instructive. It mainly had to do with not being in fellowship with evangelicals and other Christians for fear of being tainted, not out of some belief that slavery was permissible.
      It is also telling that by this time (1830-1860), Quakers as a whole had already banned slavery amongst themselves (a process that ended in the 1790’s). A feat that most churches didn’t accomplish until after national bans on slavery came into effect.

      I see little evidence that denominations with a high view of Scripture were prepared as religious organizations to oppose slavery completely. And I think their high view had a lot to do with it. How do you say that what Moses instructed and what Paul allowed are no longer good enough if you hold such a view?
      The only way it has seemed to work is by opposing slavery on what I call highest commandment grounds (Love your Neighbor as yourself), and then retroactively trying to whitewash the biblical record on slavery (point out the slavery laws for Jews, ignore the ones for non-Jews, focus on Galatians 3:28, ignore the context and the rest of Paul on slavery).

  3. I thought I would share some thoughts from the New Testament on slavery and equality:

    In Acts 16 we learn that Paul & Silas lost their freedom and were imprisoned because they set free a slave girl from demon possession.

    In Acts 21 we learn that Paul is imprisoned and sent to Rome because he dared to take a Greek from Ephesus into the Jerusalem Temple.

    Finally, the book of Philemon is a testimony of Paul advocating the forgiveness of a slave, Onesiumus, and his restoration as a “brother” by his former master. The tradition of the Orthodox Church is that Onesimus became the Bishop of the Church of Ephesus and eventually a martyred saint. As Paul wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28, NASB)

    This testimony of the New Testament Church found in Scripture is too often overlooked.

    1. I agree with you that Paul’s position on slavery was not one -dimensional. It could even be argued that his position was for closer to our own today then that which was outlined in the Law regarding slavery.
      But the fact remains that, for Paul, slavery was a part of life. And, though he may have been less comfortable with it then many of his contemporaries, we know that in the end he accepted it as such.
      This is reflected in 1 Corinthians 7:21-24, Ephesians 6:5-9, Colossians 3:22-25, and 1 Timothy 6:1,2.

      This is not the complete and utter repudiation of slavery that Quakers came to hold, and after them the wider Church. And it is precisely because it wasn’t, that Christians (including notable theologians like Augustine)for over 1700 years felt that they had no choice but to accept the institution of slavery as such as a legitimate (though perhaps ultimately temporal) arrangement.

      This is important for us to acknowledge for many reasons. I believe that one of them is so we can appreciate the full significance of concepts like continuing revelation and the leading of the Spirit. When Christ said that his followers would do greater things than he did, I believe that this was one of those things on his mind. And we diminish that witness if we try to say that Paul or the wider biblical community was not actually supportive of the existence of the institution of slavery or that it was not established among them.

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