To THE PREsBYTERY of ToMBECBEE.
DEAR BRETHREN. At the annual meeting of the General Conference of Congregational churches in Maine, in the month of June last, the Rev. Messrs. Wm. Allen, D. D., B. Tappan, D.D., J. W. Chickering, A. Cummings, S. McKeen, W. T. Dwight and S. L. Pomroy, were appointed a Committee to correspond with Southern Ecclesiastical Bodies on the subject of slavery The history of their appointment will throw some light upon its object.
The General Conference of Maine is made up of Delegates from County or District Conferences, of which there are now ten in this State. The subject of slavery has been introduced into a majority of these Conferences, and declared by them to be opposed to natural and revealed law. One of these Conferences instructed its delegates to the last meeting of the General Conference to procure of that Body, if possible, an expression of sentiments in opposition to slavery, in the form of a memorial to the Southern Churches. Their proposition, having been presented, came before a Select Committee; and, after mature deliberation, was ultimately disposed of, as stated above, by the appointment of the Committee of correspondence, who now address you.
This course was adopted, because our constituents deemed it unexceptionable, and truly Christian in its character. If they had any remonstrance to offer, or any censure to pass, they judged that the laws of our common Lord and Master required them to communicate with you directly, rather than through any public vehicle — to tell, you what we deem your faults “between us and you alone,” rather than to proclaim those faults to the world. And they believed, that the moral influence of an act of Christian fellowship and faithfulness, performed in this way, would be far more favorable and efficacious, than in the more imposing and arrogant form of public rebuke. And the well known frankness of the Southern character, superadded — in your case — to that of religious obligation, induces the confident trust of the Committee, that this communication will be kindly received, though it be marked by “great plainness of speech.” We do you the justice to believe, that frankness, on our part, would please you better than concealment — the expression of our feelings better than silence.
The Committee, too, believe with a majority of their constituents, that any act on our part, censuring the Southern churches in the face of the world, would, at this time, be premature: for while there may be individuals, perhaps whole churches, not chargeable with holding slaves; there may be others, perhaps collections of churches, entire Presbyteries or Synods, who are lamenting before God the existence of such an anomaly in a community voluntarily subject to the laws of Christ; and meditating its extinction, and praying to God for his guidance, as to the means which they can most successfully employ in effecting its cessation. To act understandingly on this subject, we feel the need of more knowledge, drawn from original and unexceptionable sources, knowledge, on which we can depend. We would not, in this case, incur the “folly and shame” of him, who, “judgeth a matter before he heareth it.” — Though with the data supplied from the word of God, we feel competent to decide on the general character of slavery; yet in applying general principles to your case, we might do you injustice, without a more particular knowledge of facts, circumstances and feelings in relation to it.
Now, Dear Brethren, we are dependent on you to supply this defect in our knowledge. We would know from ourselves the facts in the case. Is the holding of slaves as common among church members, as among other classes of citizens? And if so, on what ground is the practice defended? that of right? or of necessity? If the latter, what is doing to remove such necessity? Is there a general feeling, that slavery must be perpetual unless terminated by some interposition of God, without the voluntary action of the masters? Is it regarded by devout Christians among you as a desirable state of society? If so, why? If not, why not? Does prescription, or anything in the by-laws or discipline of your churches secure any immunities to slaves, who are church members? May they be bought and sold, when their masters also are church members, and such masters not be subjected to discipline? Does their relation to the church — their masters being church members — afford them a guarantee against the separation of husbands from wives, parents from children? Does it secure to them adequate means and opportunities for religious instruction, and the performance of their duties to God, and to one another.
We hope, dear Brethren, it may comport with your views of self-respect, and of Christian duty and privilege, to reply to these queries, or to so many of them as you shall find it convenient to answer, or to give us the requisite information in such forms as shall be most agreeable to yourselves. We ask it, not as judges and censors, but as brethren of the same family, and on the strength of your and our common relation to Jesus Christ — on the strength of that bond of union which is so all-pervading, that if one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; and if one member rejoice, all the members rejoice with it.
It is proper that you should know, that in regard to what is called the “northern abolition movement,” we are divided in opinion; some in our churches having warmly espoused it, and others being as warmly opposed to it, or indifferent. But the conviction, and feeling, is universal among us, that slavery is a great evil; and nearly so, that slaveholding is a sin. And as Christians, we are in great perplexity on this account. It is strongly impressed on not a few, that our churches have a duty to perform in relation to it, as sister or corresponding churches with yours. Now, though your opinion should differ from ours, and you should regard us as troubling ourselves with that for which we are not responsible; still we hope you will reply to our communication — if for no other reason, yet from respect to our weak consciences; such a service being often highly acceptable to God, and beneficial to man. For this you have the authority and example of the magnanimous apostle of the Gentiles. Our hope is, that your correspondence may be a means of conciliating and uniting us, and enkindling in our bosoms a deeper interest in your churches, and of calling forth more earnest prayer for the divine Spirit and blessing upon you.
Yours in Gospel bonds,
for the Committee.
P. S. We do not intend to publish your communications without your full and free consent first obtained; but should be glad of permission to make a digest of facts, &c. for our report to the Conference, from which we receive our appointment. In this case, we shall suppress names and localities, unless we have liberty to use them.
Portland, Dec. 28, 1838.
SOURCE: Cyrus P. Grosvenor, Slavery vs. The Bible: A Correspondence Between the General Conference of Maine, and the Presbytery of Tombecbee, Mississippi, p. 3-10