by: Scot McKnight, 4/18/15.
Thomas Kidd is Professor of History at Baylor University. Kidd is the author or editor of many works in the field of early American history. His latest book, George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father framed this interview.
The interview was conducted by David George Moore. Dave blogs at www.twocities.org.
…Moore: I recently asked Fred Sanders a question about Wesley and Whitefield’s views on slavery. I would like to ask you about this as well.
Why was Wesley so opposed to slavery while Whitefield we could characterize at least as fairly “pragmatic” on the issue? They were contemporaries, so it can’t be due to a difference of the times they lived in, so what was it?
Kidd: Yes, unfortunately Whitefield both owned slaves and was an important player in having slavery introduced in colonial Georgia, where it was initially banned. To understand the contrast with Wesley, I think chronology and place matter a great deal. First, neither Wesley nor John Newton (the former slave trader of “Amazing Grace” fame) denounced slavery in print until after Whitefield’s passing in 1770.
Second, Whitefield was deeply influenced by the social and economic realities of life in Colonial America in a way that Wesley was not. Whitefield had notions that you could pair economically robust colonies (which, to him and most whites, seemed to requite slaves in the South) with active evangelism of slaves. His greatest social experiment along these lines came at his Bethesda Orphanage in Savannah, where he envisioned providing for many orphans through nearby plantations worked by slaves, who would also be evangelized and possibly educated. It all seems terribly contradictory in retrospect, but Whitefield was very much a man of his time, in which most whites at least accepted the existence of slavery.
Moore: My wife has written on the marriages/ministries of Wesley, Whitefield, and Edwards. Wesley certainly had a troubled marriage and Edwards by all accounts had a stellar one. (Good Christians, Good Husbands?)
Whitefield seemed as consumed with ministry outside the home as Wesley, but his wife was much more understanding than Molly Wesley. I actually have several questions on this issue, but will limit it to this: Do you think itinerants like Whitefield should remain single?
Kidd: As a good Protestant, I don’t like prescribed celibacy, but I do think that from a modern perspective Wesley and Whitefield probably should have considered remaining single. Elizabeth Whitefield was an extraordinarily patient woman, which saved the Whitefields a great deal of trouble in their relationship. He told her that if she married him, he would almost never be at home, and he certainly fulfilled that promise…
Read the full interview at … http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2015/04/18/americas-greatest-evangelist-whitefield-with-thomas-kidd/