Free­dom from Slav­ery: Ad­ven­tist Anti-Slave Move­ment

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Free­dom is the op­po­site of slav­ery, the ab­sence of forced sub­jec­tion, whether phys­i­cal or ma­te­rial.118 It is the happy state of cap­tives or slaves set free from op­pres­sion (Lev 25:10; Isa 61:1).119 Be­sides be­ing free from slav­ery, those who are free are also ex­empt from forced la­bor.120 Slav­ery, be­ing so an­tag­o­nis­tic to free­dom, has been abol­ished by many coun­tries.

Ac­cord­ing to the Uni­ver­sal Dec­la­ra­tion of Hu­man Rights, Ar­ti­cle 4: “no one shall be held in slav­ery or servi­tude; slav­ery and the slave trade shall be pro­hib­ited in all their forms.” 121

The ex­is­tence of slav­ery in its early years has been a con­tro­ver­sial is­sue in Amer­i­can so­ci­ety. Even to­day the is­sue arises in var­i­ous sec­tors of so­ci­ety. Dur­ing eigh­teen cen­tury, Charles Gran­di­son Fin­ney was a pop­u­lar ad­vo­cate, who dra­ma­tized and said to Chris­tians, “preached not only sal­va­tion but re­form.” Many who were con­verted un­der his preach­ing be­came ac­tive in an­ti­slav­ery and tem­per­ance so­ci­eties.122

At the time, the Mil­lerite lead­ers Joseph Bates (later the founder of Ad­ven­tist church) and Joshua Himes also helped to or­ga­nize an an­ti­slav­ery move­ment.

Although the Mil­lerites ap­posed an­ti­slav­ery, most of them were not re­ally able to im­ple­ment their ideals.123

In 1860, when the Sev­enth-day Ad­ven­tist church was be­gin­ning to or­ga­nize of­fi­cially, the long de­bate over slav­ery came to a cli­max. When Abra­ham Lin­coln, who had pledged to stop the ex­pan­sion of slav­ery into the ter­ri­to­ries, was elected Pres­i­dent by a free-state ma­jor­ity.124 Many Ad­ven­tists had voted in sup­port of Lin­coln; as they de­tested slav­ery.125

How­ever this pledge was po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated; but E. G. White didn’t be­lieve this was re­ally abol­ish­ing slav­ery. Sub­se­quently, the states of the Deep South fol­lowed South Carolina in se­ced­ing from the Union. The re­sult was civil war.126 Another fac­tor is “the pre­oc­cu­pa­tion of the im­mi­nence of the Ad­vent made it dif­fi­cult for Ad­ven­tists to de­vote time to abo­li­tion or other so­cial re­forms. Cer­tain that Christ was com­ing soon, they be­lieved that dis­card­ing slav­ery, in­tem­per­ance, and other sins was part of be­com­ing ready for that event. Yet they had no hope of erad­i­cat­ing sin prior to the Ad­vent, and so ex­pected slav­ery to ex­ist right down to the end.”127

Ac­cord­ing to Chris­tian be­liefs a slave is not the prop­erty of any man. God is his right­ful master, and man has no right to take God's work­man­ship into his hands,

and claim him as his own.” 128 Sim­i­larly, E. G. White stood firmly against slav­ery, which she saw as a moral is­sue.129

As a re­sult of the an­ti­slav­ery move­ment, be­tween 1865 and 1870 the United States amended its Con­sti­tu­tion to abol­ish slav­ery (the Thir­teenth Amend­ment), ex­tended cit­i­zen­ship to blacks (the Four­teenth Amend­ment), and gave them the right to vote (the Fif­teenth Amend­ment).130

Although the ev­i­dence shows that the Ad­ven­tist Church agreed with, and par­tic­i­pated in, the an­ti­slav­ery in its early pe­riod, much work re­mains un­done in the area of racial equal­ity and civil right. Racial dis­crim­i­na­tion still ex­ists in the Ad­ven­tist Church, as in South Africa and the south­ern part of the United States, where the blacks and whites have dif­fer­ent churches in the same com­mu­ni­ties. Racial ten­sion ex­ists be­tween blacks and whites, as well as be­tween other eth­nic groups; this poses a big chal­lenge for the church.

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