In antebellum South there were many ministers and Christian scholars who defended at length the unity of the human race. They spoke passionately about how we are all children of Adam with immortal souls, sinners estranged from God and in need of salvation through Jesus Christ. Unfortunately the only application most were willing to draw from their theological formulations was that white men ought to treat their human property with respect and instruct them in the Christian faith.
There was broad agreement that all were created in God’s image, but few challenged the institution of racial slavery because, in part, few challenged the assumption that the black man was less capable of self-governance than the white man.
One man who championed the cause of emancipation was Princeton Theological Seminary alum Rev. Elijah Lovejoy (1802-1837). Theologically he stood in the tradition of Luther, Calvin and President Edwards. His was the editor of the St. Louis Observer, and the Alton (Il) Observer, which he used as a platform to speak out against slavery. Although he received many threats and endured mobs destroying his printing press three times, he continued to denounce slavery as piracy. On Nov 7, 1837 a pro-slavery mob set on fire the shed that contained his fourth printing press and shot Rev. Lovejoy five times with a shotgun.
Lovejoy frequently lamented that Christians were too often accustomed to twisting Sacred Scripture to fit the prevailing philosophies and social mores of the culture. Those who expect Christianity to be comfortable and endorse the status quo do not see themselves as pilgrims who are in the world but not of it.
In a sermon on missions, Lovejoy noted that “Thus, most or all of the benevolent efforts of the human mind have been confined to one’s own kindred.” But the Christian “moves in a far higher sphere of action. All men are his brethren, in each he sees a soul for which Christ died; and looking to the immortal destinies of that soul, all earthly distinctions vanish. Here is neither rich nor poor, nor bond nor free, nor black nor white, but all are one in his view…. In all plans that are laid, and all the deliberations that are held, this is the end kept in view, the regeneration of every son and daughter of Adam” (Memoirs, p 79).