[I]f freedom meant only freedom from sin, then it was fair to raise questions about the definition and use of the word. When Paul told the Galatians that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” more than a few slave holding ministers concluded that he was simply pointing out that the only freedom that mattered was freedom in salvation in Christ. Life on this earth was brief and temporary; the hereafter was forever. “The freedom of the Soul for Eternity is infinitely preferable to the greatest freedom of the Body in its outward Condition upon Earth,” Anglican minister Benjamin Fawcett told a group of slaves in 1755. When Christ told the Jews in the temple square “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free,” they said they could not be set free because they were no one’s slaves. But every sinner, Christ replied, is a slave to sin. “If the son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”
In other words, true freedom came from “the emancipation of the will from the power of sin,” southern Presbyterian James Henley Thornwell argued. Salvation grants freedom from the grip of Satan, not freedom from the secular chains of slavery. Nor was it a lesson used only by southern clergy. Both George Junkin, a prominent Ohio Presbyterian, and C.F.W. Walther, head of the conservative Missouri Synod of the Lutheran church, argued publicly that biblical freedom meant only freedom from damnation and that it “could be preserved within the framework of a servant-master relationship.” It was a universal Christian blind spot; when salvation was at issue, it mattered not if one was a slaveholder or abolitionist. Although he was an outspoken critic of slavery, Congregationalist Jedediah Morse insisted that “belief in Christ, which freed men from sin, the worst kind of slavery, was the supreme good, far greater than all temporal blessings.” Since it was the Christian master who kept the bondsman in chains and the Christian minister who defended that bondage, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the problem was Christianity. (Wood, 1990, pp. 75-76).