Readings: What’s missing from the ‘Slave Bible’

photo of child reading holy bible
Photo by nappy on

Wow. From NPR:

On display now at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., is a special exhibit centered on a rare Bible from the 1800s that was used by British missionaries to convert and educate slaves.

What’s notable about this Bible is not just its rarity, but its content, or rather the lack of content. It excludes any portion of text that might inspire rebellion or liberation.

“This can be seen as an attempt to appease the planter class saying, ‘Look, we’re coming here. We want to help uplift materially these Africans here but we’re not going to be teaching them anything that could incite rebellion.’ ” Schmidt says. “Coming in and being able to educate African slaves would prepare them one day for freedom, but at the same time would not cause them to seek it more aggressively.”

Read the whole thing. Shocking, but not surprising.

Part of my journey away from full participation in the church came while watching Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X” while I was an undergraduate at a Mennonite college. A sudden realization occurred, that black people had often experienced Christianity as a tool by white people to oppress them. Seems like a no-brainer maybe, but at 19 — in that context — it was mind-blowing. Why wouldn’t black people reject a religion used to hurt them? And what kind of God would punish people who rejected his One True Religion on the basis of how it injured them on this earthly plain? I couldn’t find answers to the questions that seemed both just and theologically orthodox. Justice seemed to be the higher calling.

We don’t cut whole passages from the Bible anymore in order to preserve white supremacy. Not literally, anyway. But maybe we still do this in our hearts.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s