R. L. Dabney

In my previous post I mentioned that Whitefield’s glaring flaw was his purchase of slaves to work his orphanage. The Noll quote I provided shows that his take on slavery was more pragmatic–which is no excuse–and less of a principled view of African Americans as lesser valued. However, many evangelicals did hold to that pernicious view that whites were a superior race and thus slavery was justified along racial terms. Probably the worst example of this out-and-out racism is the Southern Presbyterian Robert Lewis Dabney. He wrote “A Defence of Virginia” which is almost impossible to get through because it is so racially driven. I have his book on sacred rhetoric, but I’ve only skimmed it. Because of his views, as good as a theologian he may have been, I cannot read him with a good conscience.

If you want to learn more about Dabney, read Sean Michael Lucas’ biography of him. I haven’t read it, though I plan to. Lucas was recently interviewed by the Reformed Forum on this book which is worth listening to. Lucas is right to argue that Dabney, or any historical figure, shouldn’t be approached flatly or simplistically. His life and thought is complex and needs to be dealt with carefully and in context. However, the racism displayed in “A Defence of Virginia” is so gross that it can only, at the very basic level, be chalked up to sin. There has to be a willful misreading of the bible to be so horrifically wrong about the question of human dignity. While Whitefield and other great figures in history, including Thomas Jefferson and other Founding Fathers, have to be dealt with properly on the blight of slavery, to me Dabney has been pushed into another category that leaves a bad taste in my mouth.


1 Comment

Filed under dabney, interviews, racism, reformed forum

One response to “R. L. Dabney

  1. Dana Wallace

    Was Robert Louis Dabney a racist? Read for yourselves in his A DEFENCE OF VIRGINIA, [AND THROUGH HER, OF THE SOUTH,] and his theology respecting the ninth chapter of Genesis. Note on page 104 that Ham’s descendents are defined as the African race.
    Page 101 …. In Genesis, ix. 20 to 27, … Page 102 … God’s approbation attended his verdict, as is proved by the fact that the divine Providence has been executing it for many ages since Noah’s death…. Ham’s punishment, and Canaan’s … descendants doomed to a degraded lot…. were included in the punishment of their wicked progenitors on that wellknown principle of God’s providence, which “visits the sin of the fathers upon the children,” and this again is explained by the fact, that depraved parents will naturally rear depraved children, unless God interfere by a grace to which they have no claim; so that not only punishment, but the sinfulness, becomes hereditary… Ham’s posterity … would be peculiarly degraded in morals; as actual history testifies of them … Page 103 … And we find that it was appointed by God as the punishment of, and remedy for … the peculiar moral degradation of a part of the race. God here ordains that this depravity shall find its necessary restraints, and the welfare of the more virtuous its safeguard against the depraved, by the bondage of the latter…. in practice, they shall be subject to social inequalities determined by their own characters, and their fitness or unfitness to use privileges for their own and their neighbours’ good… The words of Noah are not a mere prophecy; they are a verdict, a moral sentence pronounced upon conduct, … sanctioned by God. Now if the verdict is righteous, and the execution blessed by God, it can hardly be, that the executioners of it are guilty for putting it in effect Can one believe that the descendants of Shem[Asians] and Japhet [Europeans], with this sentence in their hands, and the divine…. Page 104… commendation just bestowed on them for acting unlike Ham, could have reasonably felt guilty for accepting that control over their guilty fellow-men which God himself had assigned? … Shem and Japhet were blessed…. the very verdict which assigns Canaan as their servant. It may be that we should find little difficulty in tracing the lineage of the present Africans to Ham…. -http://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/moa/ABT6096.0001.001?rgn=main;view=fulltext [underlining added]

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