I read with interest the article by Zachary Garris on Robert Lewis Dabney (“Remembering R. L. Dabney,” December 2019). Having myself graduated from Hampden-Sydney College, where he taught, and being Presbyterian, I have had some interest in his views. The article mentions hierarchal views of biblically sanctioned authority. It does not mention the extension of this to his racist views.
In 1867, the Synod of Virginia was considering whether “coloured people…should not be ordained to the full work of the Gospel ministry, simply because they belong to the negro race.” Dabney gave an impassioned address to the Synod on “The Ecclesiastical Equality of Negro Preachers in Our Church.” In the address, he claims that a providential, “insuperable difference of race, made by God and not by man, and of character, and social condition, makes it plainly impossible for a black man to teach and rule white Christians to edification.” For Dabney, the stakes were high: “[E]very hope of the existence of Church, and of State, and of civilization itself, hangs upon our arduous effort to defeat the doctrine of negro suffrage.” This blatant blind spot of Dabney’s was worth mentioning in Garris’s article. It also makes one question just how far the Bible goes, and how far one construes the Bible as going in this area.