Guest / Limited Access /
PBS Series Depicts American Abolitionists as Fired by Faith
Courtesy of WGBH / Antony Platt
PBS Series Depicts American Abolitionists as Fired by Faith

(RNS) As the nation marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, PBS premieres "The Abolitionists," a three-part series, today.

Documentarian Rob Rapley, the writer and director of the series, talked with Religion News Service about the role religion played in the lives of the abolitionists.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How would you sum up the role of faith in the work of American abolitionists?

It was a time in which religion played a central role in American life with the Second Great Awakening. Every one of the abolitionists was shaped very much by their faith. In fact, they would have defined themselves first by their faith before any other category.

Many of the abolitionists were driven by the notion that slaveholding was sinful. How did their opponents respond?

One of the most difficult things to comprehend about this story is the degree to which slavery was an accepted part of American life. It was sanctioned in the Bible, certainly all over the place in the Old Testament, so slaveholders used that as justification.

Some abolitionists talked about "moral suasion." How did that affect their arguments against slavery?

They really resorted to this idea of converting people. Since that was a central part of the evangelical movement that was sweeping the country at the time, they thought, "Well why not? If people can be converted to faith then why can they not be converted to anti-slavery?"

How would you describe some of the religious views of abolitionists such as John Brown?

As John Brown saw it, God had a plan for him, that life was predestined and, especially, that you had to make sense of your afflictions. As John Brown's ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Support Christian thought journalism. Donate to our nonprofit ministry today.
Read These NextSee Our Latest
Current IssueCrossing the Wasteland of Faith
Subscriber Access Only
Crossing the Wasteland of Faith
Years after my dramatic, unlikely conversion, it seemed God had gone silent.
RecommendedThe Secret Religion of the Slaves
Subscriber Access Only The Secret Religion of the Slaves
They often risked floggings to worship God.
TrendingWhy Do We Have Christmas Trees?
Why Do We Have Christmas Trees?
The history behind evergreens, ornaments, and holiday gift giving.
Editor's PickThe Bible Never Says ‘All Men Are Created Equal’
The Bible Never Says ‘All Men Are Created Equal’
How the New Testament offers a better, higher calling than the Declaration of Independence.
Christianity Today
PBS Series Depicts American Abolitionists as Fired by Faith
hide thisAccess The Archives

In the Archives

January (Web-Only ) 2013

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.