Wayne’s First Baptist Church, part 5 – opposition to slavery

The Church Covenant o the Radnor Baptist Church, written in February, 1841, shows members of that denomination to have been not only a deeply religious group of people, but very strict in their mode of life. The Sabbath Day was to be observed as much as possible in holy worship by “avoiding all unnecessary work or visits”, or the “reading of political and wordly newspapers” or “engaging in casual conversation”.

And equally clear is the church rule of temperance which states, “We also agree that we will not use intoxicating drink ourselves, nor traffic in them as a beverage . . . We will not provide hem as an article of entertainment or for persons in our employment and in all suitable ways we will discountenance their use throughout the community”.

A few months later in a letter written to the brethren of the Central Union Association the members of the Radnor Baptist Church amplify their stand on temperance in the paragraph stating that, “We believe that the cause of Temperance is the Cause of God, and that we are called upon by the interests of Zion and the well-being of Society to take a decided stand, and exclude from our pulpit and communion those who traffic in intoxicating drink, or who by their practice and conduct sanction the evil of intemperance.”

Provision is even made in the Church Covenant for the peaceful settlement of personal disputes in the paragraph that states, “We agree that if at any time a case of difference arises between any of us in our secular concerns which we cannot settle ourselves we will refer the matter in dispute to a committee chosen from among ourselves.”

Although there seems to have been some difference of opinion on the moral aspects of slavery among members of the Great Valley Church before certain of them left to establish the new church in Radnor Township, there was unanimity in the latter congregation. In their covenant they go on record as stating that “we believe that to hold and traffic in human beings are moral evils and opposed to the spread of the Gospel.”

Later in the Church’s letter to the Central Union Association, the members further amplify their stand in the matter by stating that the practice of slave holding is “Directly at war with the precepts of the New Testament which commands us to love our neighbor as ourself, and to do unto others as we should that they should do to us . . . therefore we cannot feel free to receive to our communion as a Christian or Christian minister a slave-holder or an apologist for the systems of iniquity”.

This matter was evidently one of deep concern to the church for some months after this letter was written a lengthy preamble and resolution couched in no uncertain terms were presented by Brother Hobart, minister of the church, and adopted by the congregation. Because slavery permits every crime known to the laws of God and man, and sanctions the most enormous outrages upon virtue, humanity and religion, that have ever marked the region of tyranny or the dark spirit of religious persecution” certain resolutions were adopted. Among them was one stating that the Radnor Church could not recognize as “a gospel Church” any that numbered slave holders in its membership. Another was that the church deny membership or communion to those known to be slave-holders “either in theory or in practice”. And almost needless to say “no minister known to be guilty of the sin of slaveholding” was to be permitted in the pulpit.

That this strong anti-slavery sentiment did not always pervade the Great Valley Baptist Church is dramatically told in an account of the events that led up to the founding of the new Church. This account was perhaps written for some church anniversary, since it is entirely separate from the church records although enclosed within the book. Certainly it strikes a more informal note than the church record! Of one of the ministers of the Great Valley Church the account says, “Rev. Leonard Fletcher was a strong anti-slavery man. he had been in the midst of slavery and knew it in its length and breadth, in its secret wickedness and its outspoken horrors. Hence, on suitable occasions he exposed its enormities and unmasked its hideousness. And hence, too, the warm hearted convert that hung on his words caught his spirit and learned to pity the slave . . . Slavery and intemperance were constant subjects of prayer in our meetings together . . . The one has perished in throes of blood and ruin–the other still lives to curse the land”

From this it seems obvious that the account was written after the Civil War which occurred some years after the new church was founded. At any rate, “As long as Mr. Fletcher continued Pastor of the Great Valley Church the anti-slavery element had a warm friend and faithful adviser, but he was called upon to leave us, and the man who succeeded him was his opposite, strongly pro-slavery. To show his knowledge of Bible lore, he quoted Scripture to show the rightfulness of slavery, his denunciations of the Abolitionists were greatly relished by the pro-slavery element, and many of them thronged to hear him denounce the erring friends of humanity . . .

“Among his hearers that day was one who was active in getting up this building–oh, how he gloated over our exposure. The Bible teacher and the Bible scoffer occupied the same plain. Herod and Pilate were friends. But the teacher from the pulpit and the scoffer from the pew utterly failed to drive them from their purpose, the resolve to establish a new interest became more fixed. It had been much thought of, no doubt prayed over, spoken of quietly, but no longer with bated breath, but out bold-spoken and fearless.”

The inference from this informal account of church matters back in 1841 and even before, seems to be that a difference of opinion over slavery had much to do with the separation of the small group from the parent church. It might also appear that Brother William Siter, after his conversion not only ceased to labor on Sundays, as told in our earlier accounts, but also turned from pro-slavery to anti-slavery. For he might easily have been the “scoffer” who afterwards was “active in getting up this building”, since his name more than any other is prominent in the early annals of this building up of the first small Radnor Baptist Church.

(To be Continued)