Members Only: Race and Religion in the Dutch Reformed Church in North America, 1772–1827

“… and religion will account for how and when this happened in the DRC, and, in so doing; offer lessons for the church in North America more broadly. ”

Team Members/Contributors

Stephen Staggs Calvin College Contact Me

About this project grant for researchers

In 1772 the Dutch Reformed churches in British North America gained their independence from the Classis of Amsterdam. This independence gave the members of the American classis direct responsibility for negotiating race on behalf of Reformed communities in New York and New Jersey. One of the issues they faced was determining the relationship between Africans and full communion in the church. This was due in no small part to the fact that baptized slaves were petitioning to become members of the church by the late 1700s. However, many lay and ordained members owned slaves. Indeed, it appears that the majority of the church opposed African American membership. This project will use historical methodology, conducting deep archival research to examine the ideologies of race that shaped ideas of church membership such that African Americans were denied that right in the DRC. Specifically, it will examine the records of the Flatbush Dutch Reformed Church. Its pastor through the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, Reverend Peter Lowe, was an avid correspondent with fellow clergyman. In addition to expressing pleasantries, he also wrote about the controversy over slavery and the participation of African Americans in congregational life. Since Lowe maintained such an extensive correspondence with other pastors, there may be clues to a broader story. In any event, the Flatbush Church presents a case study of what the DRC did when confronted by racism. As such it will be an instructive data point to use when addressing contemporary racial injustice.