This paper will examine the effects of slavery on the formation and history of the African-American church in America. In the nineteenth century, one issue seriously split the American religious community: slavery and its accompanying racial attitudes. The slavery issue had two major influences on religious life in America. First, it split several of the older, predominantly white denominations so deeply that the divisions have yet to be healed. Second, it led to the development of several separate, predominantly African-American denominations.
As the division between the white people of North and South divided over the institution of slavery, the churches which included those people felt the same as the rest of the nation. The largest of the Protestant groups, the Methodist Episcopal Church, divided first. It had originally tried to keep the peace in the family by pushing the abolitionists out into the Wesleyan Methodist Church in 1843, but the next year it opened its general conference with consideration of the scandal of a bishop from Georgia who had inherited some slaves. Bishop Andrew refused to move from his home state, was unable by Georgia law to free his slaves, and planned to continue as an active, traveling bishop. The church, unable to resolve the issue, voted to divide itself into two jurisdictions. The outcome was a division of the church into the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South.
The Baptists faced a similar problem, precipitated by the refusal of the American Baptist Foreign Missionary Convention to accept slaveholders for positions as missionaries. In 1844 the Alabama and Georgia state conventions forced the issue. After their rebuff, in 1845 the Southerners formed the Southern Baptist Convention. The Presbyterians waited until the Civil War began, but in 1861 they also split into two bodies.
The issues raised by the slavery debates in the middle of the nineteent...