"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."—Paul

These ancient words of a Jewish convert were addressed to first-century Greek Christians in Asia Minor; they had nothing to do with political slavery but slavery to religious law. Like the great Trojan horse, these words look magnificent, but they didn't seem to pose any danger to Roman principalities and powers.

Yet they contained a dangerous idea that made its way from Asia Minor, through Europe, and across the world. That idea sat patiently for centuries, only vaguely comprehended—that there is an undissolvable link between spiritual and other freedoms, and that wherever a people experience spiritual freedom, it will not be long before they create for themselves social and political freedoms.

The story of black Christians before the Civil War is a chapter in the larger story of the Trojan horse gospel, the story of a faith that finally overwhelmed whips, shackles, and southern law; illiteracy, superstition, and cowardice; even northern courts and "Bible Christianity." It is the story of how the gospel took root in the lives of black Americans and gave them hope and courage in tragic conditions, and gave them freedom.

This issue covers the struggle of both free and slave Christians, and tries to let blacks speak as much as possible. We've adopted the scholarly convention of reporting black speech in dialect, even though it may make for difficult reading now and then. Then again, to "clean up" these quotes would be to homogenize their voices and to lose a sense of the history.

By the end of the Civil War, conditions were radically different, especially for southern Christian blacks—though ...

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