‘Send Back the Money!’ The Free Church of Scotland and American Slavery
The topic of this book raises some basic ethical questions. Is it morally acceptable that a Christian church refuses to face up a situation which is at the exact opposite of humanist and Christian values? Is it reasonable to continue in ‘fellowship’ with such a church? Isn’t it precisely the role of a church to be a guide for its members, and to fight against acts and realities which don’t consider human beings on an equal footing?
At the time Iain Whyte wrote Send Back the Money!, one of his various purposes was precisely to raise these issues which are still relevant in contemporary mission and theology. Examining a little known -but significant- episode in Scottish History, during the long struggle against slavery in America, he sheds light on a forgotten or hidden part of Scottish Church History. In 1844, a delegation from the newly independent Free Church came back from America bringing with them some money given by sympathisers in the slave Southern States. Outraged, Abolitionists and churchmen in Scotland and America proclaimed that there should be no fellowship with churches that admitted slave-owners, and demanded the money to be sent back, giving rise to an important furore.
This case in which a church adopts a controversial position is not isolated in the Church History. In the 1840’s, as we’ve just seen, it happened with the intolerable case of slavery in America. In the 1980’s, it happened with the equally unacceptable apartheid in South Africa. The Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches (FEPS), just as Switzerland, connived with the apartheid regime: their silence and wait-and-see attitude scandalised and saddened the defenders of human rights. In 1982, like most churches worldwide, the FEPS recognised the incompatibility of the apartheid system with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and they officially broke their ties with the Dutch Church in South Africa. However, unofficial contacts of friendship were kept; the FEPS didn’t follow the boycott of Swiss banks and industries engaged with South Africa, and they neither adhered to the anti-racism Program of the Ecumenical Council of Churches. This inactive attitude, on the one hand, earned them the goodwill of the Swiss business society, and, on the other hand, incurred the wrath of the missionaries and anti-apartheid movements in Switzerland. On the opposite side, the Swiss Catholic Church struggled with courage and perseverance against Switzerland’s support of the apartheid regime, in order to change the injustice committed by their country and the Protestant Church.
Theologically and spiritually, the courage and the hopefulness demonstrated in both struggles against injustice are highly remarkable. Unfortunately, in both cases, the struggle finally resulted in a failure. No money was sent back to the slave Southern States, as required by Scottish and American Abolitionists; and neither the Swiss banks nor the Swiss industries changed their stance. However, the importance of these struggles is essential. In the first case, the whole furore made Scots aware of the reality of slavery, and it represented a first step for the next round of activity on abolition. In the second case, the pressure exerted by the Swiss Catholic Church and the Churches worldwide -amongst others- on the Swiss banks and industries forced the apartheid leaders to consider a negotiated agreement before it was too late.
Money is often heralded as the root of Evil and, unfortunately, these two stories demonstrate that even a church is capable of deviating from its primary role when money comes into play. Fortunately, both stories show that remarkable challenges can be raised by previously unremarkable people and Send back the Money!, while depicting this brief incident in the Scottish History, reveals the significant action of this kind of exceptional churches or personalities in human History.
For information on this title, or if you would like to review the book, contact us via www.jamesclarke.co.
‘Send Back the Money!’
The Free Church of Scotland and American Slavery
by Iain Whyte
978 0 2271 7389 3
Release Date: 29/11/2012