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#Blacklivesmatter: Slavery and the church

09 Aug 2020 at 10:04hrs | Views
SLAVERY can be defined as a form humanto-human captivity to extract some servitude of one kind or another. A human thus becomes the property of another. Since time immemorial, slavery has existed for various purposes. Some of these forms are debt slavery, slavery for prostitution, criminal slavery and many others.

Domestic slavery later superceded all other forms of slavery after the colonial explorations began, which gave a sharp rise to the need for plantation slavery on a large scale.

Genesis 37:26-28 tells us the story of Jacob's son, Joseph, who was sold to passing merchants out of jealousy. The same scriptures also highlight the Lord our God's interventions on the subject of slavery. Exodus 20-21, also sees the Lord putting some commandments for those engaging in the practice.

In Exodus 21:16, He also pronounced a judgement and sentence by declaring: "Whoever steals (captures a man for slavery) a man, whether he sells him or is found in possession of him, shall be put to death."

The severity of the sentence reflects God's attitude towards slavery. Then, there was no discrimination according to skin colour.

Commercial slave trade in Africa was started by the Arabs as early as the 7th century and grew into what was then referred to as the Trans-Sahara slave trade, covering East Africa, the Horn of Africa, into the Sahara and across the Red Sea. It is estimated that between 600AD and 1600AD, the Arabs transported +6 million black Africans for trade into the Middle East. More died during the slave raids in Africa and the forced marches to ports of shipment. About 1,5 million died aboard ships.

After Christianity was incorporated into the Roman Empire by Emperor Constantine as early as 312AD, the church was gradually incorporated into the corridors of political power. The Church continued to grow both in stature and in the political arena such that its influence began to determine world affairs with time. Its power base was eventually moved to Rome with the Pope as its head. Christianity became the dominant religion headed by the Roman Catholic Church, but also very active in politics and international issues.

Fast-track to the 15th Century, to find the Roman Catholic Church dividing the world in half by granting Portugal a monopoly on trade in West Africa, and giving Spain the right to colonise the New World in its quest for land and gold. Pope Nicholas V boosted Portuguese efforts and issued the Roman Pontifex of 1455, which granted and supported Portugal's exclusive rights to territories it claimed along the West African Coast and the trade rights from these areas. It also granted Portugal the "right to invade, plunder and reduce their persons (indigenous inhabitants) to perpetual slavery". The Church thus sanctioned the Europeans to execute the capture and trade in the enslavement of the black people of Africa.

It was Christopher Columbus' explorations and discoveries of the Americas that propelled African slavery. Spain had also been granted world exploration rights and support by the Church. The expeditions by Columbus, the Spaniard, were sponsored by the state. The reigning Queen Isabella invested in Columbus' explorations to increase her wealth. However, she rejected the enslavement of the Native Americans in colonised territories, claiming that they were Spanish subjects. Henceforth, colonial and plantation labour was to be extracted from the black people of Africa, through their enslavement.

Spain then established an insiento, or contract, that authorised the direct shipment of captive Africans for trade as human commodities in the Spanish colonies in the Americas. Eventually other European nations like the Netherlands, France, Denmark and England also began to seek similar economic and political power. They began to compete to secure the contracts and colonise the New World. With these efforts, a new form of slavery came into being. It was endorsed by the European nation-states with the usual accompanying support of the Church and based on race (skin colour). This subsequently resulted in the largest forced migration in the world of black Africans. Almost a total of 20 million "negroes" were forced into the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, from Africa across the Atlantic into the Americas. Close to 6 million "negroes" died during slave capturing raids or on ships in the oceans en-route to destinations, and the bodies just thrown overboard. Europeans employed some African native leaders to also capture their fellow black people in exchange for goods.

In the colonies, status began to be defined by race and class. However, it was Spanish traders who took the first African captives to the Americas from Europe as early as 1505AD. By 1518AD the first captives were shipped directly from Africa to America from coasts of West Africa. The first 20 or so slaves to arrive into what would become the United States docked at what was then known as Port Comfort (now Fort Hampton) in a Dutch ship in 1619. The same year, a Portuguese ship, the SaoJaao Baustista, also travelled across the Atlantic Ocean with a hull full of African captives from Angola headed for Mexico. Almost half the captives had died on board by the time that ship was seized by two English pirate ships and also taken to the same port, Port Comfort, in English colony of Virginia.

A problem arose when the European Christian missionaries, or the Church, wanted to convert the slaves into Christianity some of whom had already come into contact with Islam through the Arab slave traders. The Bible condemned slavery, the very practice that was being perpetrated by their counterparts. They then sought to rewrite the Bible with some minor changes to it. The concept of the Ten Commandments was born primarily to hide God's commandments on slavery from public scrutiny because they immediately followed the Ten Commandments in sequence. God pronounced a death sentence to all who practiced slavery (Exodus 21:16). God gave hundreds of commandments in total at Mt Sinai, but the Church then sought to limit those to just 10, through some changes to some texts of both the Old Testament and the New Testament.

Prosper Tingini is the Scribe of the Children of God Missionary Assembly God's messengers. Contact details: 0771 260 195. Email address:

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