John and Charles Wesley on “the lesser Breeds” (Indians and Negroes)

While moving my library, I came across a booklet containing the 1987 lecture for the Inaugurating of The LeRoy A. Martin Distinguished Professorship of Religious Studies at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga by Professor Thor Hall (PhD, Duke University) entitled Tradition Criticism: A New View of Wesley

"Early in his ministry – in Oglethorpe’s Georgia - Wesley had encounters with both black slaves and native Indians. He reported interestingly with both his observations: on the abysmal ignorance of the illiterate slaves and their remarkable responsiveness to the simplest forms of teaching (Wesley I, 40f), and on the proud heathenism of the Indians and their profound disinterest in this “book that tells us many things of the beloved above” but that had no relationship to the actualities of life (I, 37ff). But did Wesley at the time have any perception of the social injustices perpetrated on those people by the colonists and the empire? Listen to his response to what he perceived to be the needs of the blacks:

One of the easiest and shortests ways to instruct the American negroes in Christianity, would be, first, to inquire after and find out some of the most serious of the planters. Then, having inquired of them which of their slaves were best inclined and understood English, to go to them from plantation to plantation, staying as long as appeared necessary at each. Three or four gentleman at Carolina I have been with, that would be sincerely glad of such an assistant, who might pursue his work with no more hindrances than must everywhere attend the preaching of the Gospel. (I, 19.)

Late in his life, Wesley did write an essay on the evils of slavery. He also wrote a letter, shortly before his death, to William Wilberforce, in support of the effort to abolish the slave trade. It will take considerable analysis of these documents to determine whether Wesley’s racial attitudes had developed significantly after Georgia. There is embarrassing evidence to the contrary – as for example the following phase from his brother’s hymn, “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” a stanza which was included in the Wesley hymnal throughout his lifetime and only removed in later editions:

Awake from guilty natures’ sleep,
And Christ shall give you light.
Cast all your sins into the deep,
And wash the Ethiop white

Finally, in Dr. Hall's concluding remarks he makes the following observation:

No traditional-critical scholar can any longer consider Wesley’s thought and practice the model for Christian social ethics in our or any other era. Wesley was not even a mature social ethicist or political theologian for his own time.
Wesley, John (1872) The Works of John Wesley, I – XIV. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House.