Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

The years of this diary cover Grimké’s struggles with denominational differences and her conversion to Quaker beliefs and practices, especially while she was still living in Charleston with her family. So each step, from cutting the lace off her mantle to using Quaker speech to refusing to participate in family prayers and beginning to attend Quaker (silent) meeting on “First Day,” is met with great conflict and self-doubt in her diary. Even when she first travels to Philadelphia, she is assailed with doubts about the spiritual correctness of her decisions; when she returns to Charleston, she is confronted by those wishing to dissuade her at every turn—her mother and brother, the Presbyterian minister, and her friends and acquaintances.

The Doctrine of Perfection (1810) is an early Methodist belief noted by the Reverend John Fletcher that asserts that humans were once perfect. If humans were once perfect, it is possible to again attain perfection, and humans must attempt to become perfect again. For Grimké, this perfection was a kind of enlightenment, so she attempts in all things to see her faults and try to change them. The doctrine is in essence a rejection of the doctrine of Original Sin. Believing in the doctrine of perfection leads Grimké closer to the Quaker belief in humanity’s inherent goodness.

Grimké’s arguments against slavery become more sophisticated in the years of her diary, as she notes the reasons why the usual biblical injunctions for slavery will not stand. She uses the Golden Rule in her debates with friends and family in Charleston, asking if that person would like to be a slave. When the answer was no, then she would quote, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” She learns to argue with biblical accuracy and to preach in Quaker meetings, and she is especially influenced by Elizabeth Evans, a woman preacher in Philadelphia. Note that the Hicksite Quakers, which Grimké first disagreed with, accepted women as preachers (such as the great Lucretia Mott) whereas other (Orthodox) Quakers and most other denominations did not. However, Grimké came by her rhetorical power by means of her prodigious biblical knowledge, her experiences teaching Sunday School in the Presbyterian Church, and the education she received from her older sister Sarah and the books in her father’s library.