26 October 2006

200-year old text challenges modern-day slavery and racism

A controversial antislavery pamphlet has been republished in advance of next year's Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act. Originally available in 1774, John Wesley's Thoughts Upon Slavery challenged those in the society of his day to wake up to the evils of slavery.

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church and celebrated preacher, was well known as an opponent of slavery. He wrote Thoughts Upon Slavery to confront the widespread acceptance of slavery and to call for the abolition of the Slave Trade Act. Although he never lived to see this happen, his writings and preaching were instrumental in the abolitionist movement.

Thoughts Upon Slavery has been reproduced with additional biographical details, including links to resources and information on the current set all free campaign to combat modern forms of slavery. The book also contains the reprint of a letter written by Wesley to William Wilberforce, offering encouragement in his opposition to slavery, written six days before Wesley's death in 1791.

Naboth Muchopa, Methodist Secretary for Racial Justice said; 'It is essential that we remember that the slave trade is not dead. We cannot turn a blind eye to the modern forms of slavery that surround us such as people trafficking, immigrants being paid slave wages and unfair trade laws that force countries into poverty and debt. The Methodist Church today must go back to Wesley and his call to name the evil that we would term 'racism' and shame us of our contemporary ills.'

The pamphlet was considered highly controversial when it was first published because of the common and often unchallenged acceptance of slavery, which was highly lucrative for Britain and its colonies. But Thoughts Upon Slavery is not simply a moral argument about the evils of slavery; it offers an insight into the way slaves were treated and the conditions under which they were forced to live. Wesley discusses the gross punishments suffered by disobedient slaves and the rewards offered to those who killed or captured slaves who had run away.

At one point he quotes Sir Hans Sloane; 'After they are whipped till they are raw all over, some put pepper and salt upon them; some drop melted wax upon their skin; others cut off their ears, and constrain them to broil and eat them.'

All this leads Wesley to ask; 'Where is the justice of taking away the lives of innocent, inoffensive men; murdering thousands of them in their own land, by their own countrymen; many thousands, year after year, on shipboard, and then casting them like dung into the sea; and tens of thousands in that cruel slavery to which they are so unjustly reduced?'.

Other resources available for the 2007 bicentenary include a set of seven posters jointly produced by the Methodist Church and set all free. The posters feature images of abolitionists and freedom fighters, together with their thoughts on the slave trade.

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