How White Christians Used the Bible — and Confederate Flag — to Oppress Black People
On Jan. 4, 1861, a Catholic bishop named Rev. A. Verot ascended a pulpit in The Church of St. Augustine, Florida, and defended the right of white people to own slaves.
The apostle Paul, Verot claimed in his sermon, instructs slaves to obey their masters as a “necessary means of salvation.” Quoting Colossians 3:22, he said, “Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not serving to the eye, as pleasing men, but in simplicity of heart, fearing God.”
It’s no secret that hundreds of Christian pastors like Verot used the Bible during the Civil War to justify slavery. But the massacre last week of nine black people inside Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, has once again forced white Christians in America to re-examine the white church’s historical ties to racism — and how hateful rhetoric like Verot’s had more power because it came from the pulpit.
White Christians in the South didn’t just support slavery — the Southern church was the backbone of the Confederacy and its attempts to keep African Americans in bondage, according to Harry Stout, Jonathan Edwards Professor of American Religious History at Yale University.
“If you pull the church out of the whole equation, it’s highly likely that there never would have been a Civil War,” Stout told The Huffington Post. “Southern clergy had no doubt that slavery was not a sin.”
After they lost the war, white Southerners and their religious leaders tried to recast it by observing the “religion of the lost cause” — arguing that the South fought righteously not to keep slaves in chains, but to fight for states’ rights or to protect themselves from Northern aggression. As part of this “lost cause” religion, they began to idolize fallen Confederate war heroes and celebrate the Confederate flag.