Ellis: Slavery: A Dehumanizing Practice

The whole basis of this dehumanizing practice [slavery] was an illegitimate view of humanity—a view in which skin color determined not only a
person’s status but indeed the presence or lack of the image of God. It became a time-honored belief among many adherents of White Christianity-ism that the uprooted African had no soul. Black people were therefore classified as nonhuman—in later history as three-fifths human. So raping a female slave was not a crime,nor was it considered fornication or adultery.

Yet something positive began to develop in the consciousness of the enslaved Africans, something so significant that it would have a profound effect on African-American culture from the days of slavery up to the present. The slaves learned new things about God.

The early masters, with few exceptions,had never intended that their slaves should become Christian. However, this did not prevent the slaves from experiencing the power of the Word of God. As I pointed out in chapter three, resistance to oppression is itself an expression of God’s grace. When a people are subjected to such oppression, they are driven inward, to the depths of the very humanity the oppression is trying to negate. Any cultural expressions that emerge from such a suffering people will come from those human depths. Other human beings who encounter these expressions will be affected at comparable depths. This, I believe, is what LeRoi Jones meant when he described us as the “Blues People.”This cultural depth and the skills to express such depth are what is today popularly known as “soul.”

Humanity is made in the image of God,and through it God reveals his personhood and power. The deeper we go into our humanity, the more we experience God’s power. This is part of the reason soul culture is so penetrating. It is also one reason the existence of God was never a matter of argument in our historic thinking. African-American culture always presupposed God. Soul culture thus became fertile ground for the gospel.

-Carl F. Ellis Jr., Free At Last: The Gospel in the African American Experience, 43.

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