George Whitefield and the ties between evangelical christianity and white supremacy
Whitefield was in many ways the father of evangelical christianity. And a slaver.
Growing up in the white evangelical subculture, I knew a bit about Whitefield. We studied the Great Awakening in history classes at my evangelical Christian school, and every such lesson included descriptions of Whitefield’s spectacular gifts as a preacher, the huge crowds his outdoor sermons drew, and the revival that followed in his wake.
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When Whitefield first founded his orphanage in 1738, slavery was illegal in the colony of Georgia. The evangelist was certain, however, that “hot countries cannot be cultivated without negroes,” and that legal slavery would be the key to making his endeavors there profitable. So George Whitfield — who was, as Christian History said, “probably the most famous religious figure of the 18th century” — began lobbying the crown and the trustees of the colony to make slavery legal there.
Whitefield’s efforts were essential to that cause. Without his hard work, slavery might never have become legal in Georgia.
Let that sink in. Ponder that — the immensity of it, the consequences of it, the incalculable toll and immeasurable injustice of it.
And then ask yourself whether it is possible that such a grievous evil could be so inextricably woven in with the revivalism of the Great Awakening without in any way influencing the form, shape, and substance of that revival and the kind of Christianity it planted here in American soil.
Ah, but Whitefield was simply a “man of his time.” Hogwash. John Woolman was also a man of Whitefield’s time.
But my point here is not to pass judgment on George Whitefield. My point here is to learn from corrosive rot that infected the gospel according to George Whitefield so that we can learn to guard ourselves against the same lethally evil disease — to identify, root out, and cauterize every instance of its lingering presence in our faith, theology, culture and law.
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