Colonial Baptist Prophets

Prophets in Baptist life are not people who have special revelations from God or who predict the future.  Rather, they are people whose hearts are so deeply attuned to God's will that conscience compels them to challenge injustices that others prefer to ignore.

Roger Williams

(1603-1683)

Roger Williams' clash with the Puritans running the Massachusetts Bay Colony extended beyond differences over religious liberty.  He criticized them for taking land from Native Americans without negotiating for it or paying for it.  

Williams purchased the land for his settlement at Providence from the Narragansett Indians.  He also learned their language and published the first text on a Native American language.  His knowledge of their language and customs made him valuable to all New England.  He served as negotiator to restore peace during the Pequot War in 1637.

 

James Manning

(1738-1791)

 

 

In 1784 James Manning, pastor of the Baptist church in Warren, Rhode Island and president of Brown University, led Baptists in Rhode Island to form a coalition with Quakers and Congregationalists to eliminate slavery in Rhode Island.  They succeeded in passing a law which freed all slaves born in Rhode Island after March 1, 1784.

John Leland

(1754-1841)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Leland opposed slavery because it destroyed the slaves family life, it undermined the character of both master and slave, and it deprived the slave of religious liberty.  Concerning the morality of slavery, he argued:

"The whole scene of slavery is pregnant with enormous evils.  On the master's side, pride, haughtiness, domination, cruelty, deceit, and indolence and on the side of the slave, ignorance, servility, fraud, perfidy, and despair.  If these, and many other evils, attend it, why not liberate them at once?  Would to Heaven this were done!  The sweets of rural and social life will never be well enjoyed, until it is the case." (The Writings of John Leland, ed. L. F. Greene, New York:  Arno Press, 1969, pp. 96-97)

He thought slavery was worse for the master than for the slave, saying, "The state of slaves is truly pitiable, and that of the master, in some things, more so." (p. 96)

Leland opposed federal laws that counted slaves as "three-fifths of a man, and two-fifths of a brute." (p. 96) He insisted that:

"Slavery, in its best appearance, is a violent deprivation of the rights of nature, inconsistent with republican government, destructive of every humane and benevolent passion of the soul, and subversive to the liberty absolutely necessary to ennoble the human mind." (p. 174)

In 1790 the Baptist General Committee of Virginia passed a resolution against slavery that was proposed by Leland.  The resolution read:

"Resolved, That slavery is a violent deprivation of the rights of nature and inconsistent with a republican government, and therefore recommend it to our brethren to use every legal measure to extirpate this horrid evil from the land; and pray Almighty God that our honorable Legislature may have it in their power to proclaim the great Jubilee consistent with the principles of good policy."

The Roanoke Association took immediate exception to the resolution, saying it was not "unanimously clear" whether or not slavery opposed the gospel.  As opposition to his resolution was being mobilized and as preaching invitations for the evangelist ended, Leland left Virginia in 1791 and returned to his home in New England.  In 1792 the General Committee rescinded Leland's resolution and passed a resolution declaring the issue of slavery "belonged to the Legislative Body" -- thereby advising abolitionists to focus their energies outside the church in the political arena.

 

 

 

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