Beliefs Have Serious Consequences, Part 2
A Few Definitions
Before the Christian starts to dance around and dodge the issues presented here by saying Old Testament slavery was not the same as the slavery of the American Civil War, ask yourself one question, "Do you think it morally right to own another person as property?" This is the definition of slavery I am working with, and the answer for the sane person to this question is "no, of course not."
In addition, for the sake of Christians everywhere, I will be assuming "Christian" to mean Evangelical, Protestant Christians, therefore excluding Catholics, Unitarians, and Eastern/Western Orthodox, but not excluding those who profess to be Protestant.
Genesis 9:25-27 NIV
²⁵...he said, "Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers." ²⁶ He also said, "Praise be to the Lord, the God of Shem! May canaan be the slave of Shem. ²⁷ May God extend Japheth's territory; may Japheth live in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be the slave of Japheth."
Here we see God's designation for slavery in the form of Canaan as a slave of Shem. This goes against the argument that slavery, as an institute, was setup only because the people sinned (as in the way of divorce in the Old Testament). This was God's design, not man's.
Leviticus 25:44 NIV
⁴⁴ "Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves."
This seems to clearly indicate God was okay with a slave market as well as ownership of slaves.
Exodus 21:20-21 NIV
²⁰ Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, ²¹ but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.
This passage flies in the face of the argument that the Bible allows for slavery, but slaves were treated kindly under the Levitical law. This law allows me to own you and beat you to within an inch of your life; as long as you recover, I'm not guilty. In addition, this passage reinforces the idea of ownership of another human being as property, not a type of debtor's prison.
A bit of preface for this next passage: in Levitical law, owning a Jew was different than owning a foreigner. After seven years of service, a Jew was released from slavery. However, in this Biblical passage, we find a loophole that allows the slaveholder a way to enforce that Jew to become a slave for life:
Exodus 21:2-6 ESV
² When you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free, for nothing. ³ If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. ⁴ If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master's, and he shall go out alone. ⁵ But if the slave plainly says, "I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free," ⁶ then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall be his slave forever.
So, for a slaveholder to make a slave his for life, all he had to do would be to trick his slave into taking a wife, possibly bear children and then the slave would be either forced to separate from his family, or be a slave for life.
In case you think that slavery was only an Old Testament thing, hold on.
Matthew 24:45-46 NASB
⁴⁵ Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time? ⁴⁶ Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes.
Jesus never speaks out against slavery. He had time to speak about loving your enemy, not stoning adulterers, and forgiving your brother, but he didn't say to not own slaves. The only instance where he does say anything is within a parable and speaks conspicuously about slaves, as if it was no big deal.
1 Timothy 6:1-2 NASB
¹ All who are under the yoke as slaves are to regard their own masters as worthy of all honor so that the name of God and our doctrine will not be spoken against. ² Those who have believers as their masters must not be disrespectful to them because they are brethren, but must serve them all the more, because those who partake of the benefit are believers and beloved. Teach and preach these principles.
Ephesians 6:5-6 NASB
⁵ Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; ⁶ not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.
Paul is no better at speaking against slavery, instead telling slaves to obey their masters, respecting and honoring them. Also, the entire book of Philemon is an essay by Paul telling the runaway slave Onesimus to return to his master and for Philemon, the slaveholder, to take him back.
1 Peter 2:13 NASB
¹³ Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority
Here in first Peter, the Bible reiterates that the institution of slavery is accepted by God, and the idea of slave rebellion is alien.
1 Peter 2:18-19 NIV
¹⁸ Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. ¹⁹ For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God.
In the same chapter, slaves are taught to obey their master's regardless of the treatment they receive.
No greater volume of work was used to advocate for slavery than the Bible. As a result, before, during, and after the abolition of slavery, parishoners and pastors justified slavery, sowed discord and hatred between races, and publicly blasted the African race. Much of the later hate, segregation, voter suppression, and general racism have been as a result of emphasizing the Scriptural view of slavery.
Here we have the early colonies deciding that slavery was justified, if the slave was not a Christian:
All servants not being Christians, imported into this colony by shipping, shall be slaves for their lives.1
Reverend Thomas Stringfellow, parishoner of a church in Locust, Virginia, 1841--has this to say:
It is to be hoped, that on a question of such vital importance as this to the peace and safety of our common country, as well as to the welfare of the church, we shall be seen cleaving to the Bible, and taking all our decisions about this matter, from its inspired pages. With men from the North, I have observed for many years a palpable ignorance of the divine will, in reference to the institution of slavery. I have seen but a few, who made the Bible their study, that had obtained a knowledge of what it did reveal on this subject. Of late, their denunciation of slavery as a sin, is loud and long. I propose, therefore, to examine the sacred volume briefly, and if I am not greatly mistaken, I shall be able to make it appear that the institution of slavery has received, in the first place,
- The sanction of the Almighty in the Patriarchal age.
- That it was incorporated into the only National Constitution which ever emanated from God.
- That its legality was recognized, and its relative duties regulated, by Jesus Christ in his kingdom; and
- That it is full of mercy. Now, my dear sir, if, from the evidence contained in the Bible to prove slavery a lawful relation among God's people under every dispensation, the assertion is still made, in the very face of this evidence, that slavery has ever been the greatest sin--everywhere, and under all circumstances--can you, or can any sane man bring himself to believe, that the mind capable of such a decision, is not capable of trampling the Word of God under foot upon any subject?2
Again, in 1856, Stringfellow asserts Scripture's view on slavery:
Jesus Christ recognized the institution [(i.e. slavery)] as one that was lawful among men, and regulated its relative duties. I affirm then, first (and no man denies) that Jesus Christ has not abolished slavery by a prohibitory command; and second, I affirm, he has introduced no new moral principle which can work its destruction.3
The President of the Baptist State Convention, 1838, Dr. Richard Furman said:
The right of holding slaves is clearly established by the Holy Scriptures, both by precept and example.
As well as:
Had the holding of slaves been a moral evil, it cannot be supposed, that the inspired Apostles, who feared not the faces of men, and were ready to lay down their lives in the cause of their God, would have tolerated it, for a moment, in the Christian Church.4
In George Fitzhugh's work, Cannibals All! or Slaves without Masters, he discourses:
If we prove that domestic slavery is, in the general, a natural and necessary institution, we remove the greatest stumbling block to belief in the Bible; for whilst texts, detached and torn from their context, may be found for any other purpose, none can be found that even militates against slavery. The distorted and forced construction of certain passages, for this purpose, by abolitionists, if employed as a common rule of construction, would reduce the Bible to a mere allegory, to be interpreted to suit every vicious taste and wicked purpose.
From the address to the graduating class of the College of Charleston, May 29, 1863, delivered by Reverend James Warley Miles:
We have a great lesson to teach the world with respect to the relation of races: that certain races are permanently inferior in their capacities to others, and that the African who is intrusted to our care can only reach the amount of civilization and development of which he is capable--can only contribute to the benefit of humanity in the position in which God has placed him among us (i.e. that of a slave).
1Official Act of the Colony of Virginia, 1670. Quoted in David Brion Davis, The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1966), p. 180.
2A Brief Examination of Scripture Testimony on the Institution of Slavery, by Reverend Thomas Stringfellow.
3A Scriptural View of Slavery, by Reverend Thomas Stringfellow.
4Exposition of the Views of the Baptists, Relative to the Coloured Population in the United States in a Communication to the Governor of South Carolina
The Christian church, up until the turn of the nineteenth century, advocated that the Scriptural teaching was slavery was permissible. We find early church fathers and canons that espouse this, and later doctrines and church statements as well.
Ignatius of Antioch, in his letter to Polycarp (both early Christians and church leaders), responds (chapter 4) to the slaves that were part of the early church that had suggested using the church's tithes for purchase of their freedom. Ignatius debuffed the idea saying:
Let them not long to be set free at the public expense, that they be not found slaves to their own desires.
Nowhere else in his letter does he decry the horrible injustice of slavery or what reparations could be made to free the slaves. He just carries on as if slavery was normal.
During the Synod of Gangra, they decided that teaching or recommending a slave to runaway was sinful:
If any one shall teach a slave, under pretext of piety, to despise his master and to run away from his service, and not to serve his own master with good-will [sic] and all honour [sic], let him be anathema.
Saint Augustine taught--and it was commonly accepted--that slavery was a judgment resulting from sin:
...hence the righteous men in primitive times were made shepherds of cattle rather than kings of men, God intending thus to teach us what the relative position of the creatures is, and what the desert of sin; for it is with justice, we believe, that the condition of slavery is the result of sin. And this is why we do not find the word slave in any part of Scripture until righteous Noah branded the sin of his son with this name. It is a name, therefore, introduced by sin and not by nature.5
Through much of Constantine and the papal authority, slavery remained intact or the slave might be let free if he became a Christian. With the rise of the medieval period, slavery really died out, being replaced by serfdom. Fast forward to the early eighteen hundreds and we see the massive export of slaves from the Barbary and African coasts to European countries and the Americas.
As they say, the rest is history.
I'll close with this interesting bit from the Southern Baptist Convention, which finally spoke out against slavery in the U.S. in 1995 (what took so long?):
Whereas, since its founding in 1845, the Southern Baptist Convention has been an effective instrument of God in missions, evangelism, and social ministry ... Southern Baptists failed, in many cases, to support, and in some cases opposed, legitimate initiatives to secure the civil rights of African-Americans ... Racism has divided the body of Christ and Southern Baptists in particular, and separated us from our African-American brothers and sisters ... be it resolved, that we, the messengers to the Sesquicentennial meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention ... unwaveringly denounce racism, in all its forms, as deplorable sin ... we lament and repudiate historic acts of evil such as slavery from which we continue to reap a bitter harvest, and we recognize that the racism which yet plagues our culture today is inextricably tied to the past ... we hereby commit ourselves to eradicate racism in all its forms from Southern Baptist life and ministry ... 6
5City of God, Book XIX, Chapter 15
6Resolution On Racial Reconciliation On The 150th Anniversary Of The Southern Baptist Convention, Atlanta, Georgia, 1995.