23 Sep 2020

September 23, 1667, A Day of Infamy: Trading Baptism for Slavery

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: American Empire, Baptism, Black History, Church, Contemporary Ethics, Culture, Discipleship, Race Relations

Today, September 23, 1667 is a day that should have lived in infamy among Christians in America.

Sadly many do not know the darkness of this day. The 1660s brought a wave of racially motivated laws that would effect the course north America till our day in September 2020.

In 1667, Virginia enacted a radical new law that declared children born to a free white man and an enslaved “negro woman” shall inherit the condition of the mother. Prior to this ruling children (even of slaves) inherited the condition of the father and thus were born free. Perpetual slavery was now a reality.

On this Day of Infamy, September 23, 1667, literally centuries of Christian practice and jurisprudence was overturned in the north American colonies. It had been traditionally regarded unchristian for a Christian to enslave another Christian. In fact classical Christianity had practically abolished slavery in Europe, which was never based on race in the first place.

But race based slavery was slowly growing as a cancer within the psychology of north Americans. Thus, Christian tradition or not, the Virginia Assembly gathered on September 23 and handed down a decision with far reaching consequences. Historically, a person (including a black person), who had embraced the Christian faith through baptism, could not be enslaved. On this Day of Infamy, legislators threw this theological tenet out the window.

Baptism, they declared, may make you a Christian but it does not set you free from the shackles of slavery. The ruling reads as follows:

WHEREAS some doubts have risen whether children that are slaves by birth, and by the charity and piety of their owners made pertakers of the blessed sacrament of baptisme, should be vertue of their baptisme be made ffree; It is enacted and declared by this grand assembly, and the authority thereof, that the conferring of baptisme doth not alter the condition of the person as to his bondage or ffreedome; that diverse masters, ffreed from this doubt, may more carefully endeavor the propagation of christianity by permitting children, though slaves, or those of greater growth if capable to be admitted to that sacrament.” [sic].

This was the beginning of a long line of justifications of race based slavery that culminated with rabid “biblical” defenses of slavery prior to the Civil War and continued to live in Jim Crow America.

American Christians sold their soul to mammon. Now “owners” could continue to invest and make vast profits with no fear that the cross of Jesus would interfere with their fortune.

September 23, 1667. The day that should live in infamy, it was the day we traded baptism for slavery.

3 Responses to “September 23, 1667, A Day of Infamy: Trading Baptism for Slavery”

  1. Michael Waymon Summers Says:

    Thank you, Bobby, for reminding us of another troubling aspect of human slavery as it was practiced in the United States. May we diligently consider our decisions so that we may commit sins of similar intent.

  2. Ronald Haker Says:

    353 years ago, someone made a law that I had no control over. 353 years ago, it may have been the right decision for that environment. What if all the slaves realized baptism would make them free? They would be foolish not to proclaim they wanted their freedom. I would not even consider slavery as right or needed. It is an injustice that happened 353 years ago, and I am glad it has been more than 153 years since this nation made an attempt to right that law. (THE CIVIL WAR) I was not accountable for what they voted on then either. I am accountable for the way I respond to all who are not of my culture and race. Why? Because Jesus/God demanded it, not because we made another law.

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