Catherine Brekus on what Christianity meant to those suffering under slavery – as opposed to their masters.
The enslaved were particularly attracted to the Exodus narrative, which is no surprise. And it is surprising a little bit to think about the way that pro-slavery theologians thought that they could sort of give Christianity to the enslaved in a way that justified slavery and that upheld slavery.
So enslaved people heard a lot of sermons about “Slaves, be obedient to your masters”, but they also heard the stories about Moses leading people to freedom, and they loved those stories, and they internalised those stories. And they were certain that that would eventually be their story – that there would be a Moses who would lead them to freedom, that Jesus would not let them suffer forever. So there are many beautiful spirituals that express that hope. And it’s clear that they tried to preserve their own sense of religious community and they tried to preserve a sense of hope that Jubilee, in fact, would someday come.