Freedom from Slavery: Adventist Anti-Slave Movement
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.