August 9, 2022

Liberty of Conscience versus Slavery

“Here is liberty of conscience, which is right and reasonable. Here ought to be likewise liberty of the body, except of evildoers, which is another case. But to bring men hither, or to rob and sell them against their will, we stand against.”

This protest against slavery was submitted by free church Christians in 1688. The statement is fascinating for several reasons:

1) Note the early date. Some evangelicals knew very early that slavery was incompatible with Christianity, even preceding protests by Lay and Woolman.

2) Notice the direct correlation between “liberty of conscience” and “liberty of the body.” The core believers’ church principle of liberty of conscience requires incarnation in human bodies. There is no trace of gnosticism, no divorcing faith from life. True faith is necessary.

3) The authors also argued that white enslavement of blacks was as indefensible as any other form of slavery, that there is no moral difference between buying and selling and kidnapping human beings, and that masters often declined morally in other ways, for instance sexually.

The manuscript for this document is now located in Haverford College. While it has been labeled as Quaker and its transmission was affiliated with their meetings, the authors were German and likely Mennonites.

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