Slavery, mission, and the perils of providence in eighteenth-century christianity: The writings of whitefield and the halle pietists


Centered on understudied manuscript sources located in the Archive of the Francke Foundations, this essay argues that defenses of slavery among eighteenth-century protestants developed from a longstanding tradition of providential thought and narration. This tradition of providential thought and narration was informed by protestants' transatlantic missionary efforts. Far from encouraging human passivity, faith in God's providential direction motivated protestants to wide-ranging evangelistic endeavors. By focusing on the correspondence and writings of George Whitefield, August Hermann Francke, Gotthilf August Francke, and several missionary Pietists in the colony of Georgia, the essay shows how eighteenth-century protestants confirmed God's providential oversight through the practice of retrospective reflection in their writings and publications. The providential pulse of these writings was integral to knitting together a transatlantic community of protestants in their evangelical zeal and encouraging them to new efforts. Whitefield and the Pietists continued to rely on this providential faith and narrative style as they interpreted their acceptance of slavery in terms of God's direction over the success of their missions, the decisions of temporal authorities, and the conversion of slaves to Christianity.

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Church History