In the colonial and antebellum South, black and white evangelicals
frequently prayed, sang, and worshipped together. Even though white
evangelicals claimed spiritual fellowship with those of African
descent, they nonetheless emerged as the most effective defenders
of race-based slavery.
As Charles Irons persuasively argues, white evangelicals' ideas
about slavery grew directly out of their interactions with black
evangelicals. Set in Virginia, the largest slaveholding state and
the hearth of the southern evangelical movement, this book draws
from church records, denominational newspapers, slave narratives,
and private letters and diaries to illuminate the dynamic
relationship between whites and blacks within the evangelical fold.
Irons reveals that when whites theorized about their moral
responsibilities toward slaves, they thought first of their
relationships with bondmen in their own churches. Thus, African
American evangelicals inadvertently shaped the nature of the
proslavery argument. When they chose which churches to join, used
the procedures set up for church discipline, rejected colonization,
or built quasi-independent congregations, for example, black
churchgoers spurred their white coreligionists to further develop
the religious defense of slavery.