I had a different post in mind for today but, after participating in a Facebook discussion (always a wise idea, right?), we’re heading in another direction.
Apparently, there are people – Christian people – who think that slavery is probably okay. Because Philemon and stuff.
The argument goes that because passages like 1 Peter 2:18 and Ephesians 6:5 tell slaves to obey their masters, God must be okay with slavery. Since Paul sent Onesiumus back to Philemon, his owner, God must be okay with slavery. The Law found in Exodus-Deuteronomy outlines the way in which the Isrealities are to treat their slaves, God must be okay with slavery. Thus abolitionists of the past centuries and the anti-trafficking forces of today practice shoddy interpretation and have no business meddling in this area. Sure, owners should treat their slaves with kindness, so probably the “mean ones” should be disciplined in some way, but, you know, most people who owned other people in the past really weren’t that bad, nor are modern-day traffickers (and those who make use of the traffickers’ services).
We’ve got to drop our eighteenth-century mindset and stay true to the Bible, don’t you know.
I’m left sputtering in amazement that anyone actually believes any of this.
So I’m going to quote some people much smarter than me and let you decide:
The regulation of slavery should therefore be seen as a practical step to deal with the realities of the day resulting from human fall. The aberrations that lead to alienation among individuals, races, and nations are the result of a fundamental broken relationship between humankind and God. Within this tragic scenario, Scripture comes as a breath of fresh air as it seeks to redeem the situation and sets us on a path of ever-increasing amelioration of our predicament. While the Bible does not reject slavery outright, the conclusion that it actually favours slavery is patently wrong. Scripture does reveal that slavery is not ideal, both in Old Testament laws forbidding the enslavement of fellow Israelites, the law of jubilee, and in New Testament applications of Christ. In fact, the Bible teaches that the feeling of superiority in general is sin (Philippians 2:1-8)! The abolition of slavery is thus not only permissible by biblical standards, but demanded by biblical principles. The pre-fall statement that should guide and ultimately abolish such (and any) practices of superiority is the declaration that all humans—men and women—are made in the image of God.
The book of Onesimus (Philemon) is the book that is brought forward most often—and rightly, I think—to show that Paul was sowing the seeds to explode the whole situation of slavery. Onesimus himself was a slave when he got converted. Paul sent him back to Philemon who had been his master, and he said, “I am sending him back as a brother. Honor him.” I think that kind of spiritual dynamic is intended to explode the system.
Another thing to explode the system is when Paul says to masters, “Do not threaten them, remembering that you too have a master.” So he puts the command of neighbor-love—do unto others as you would have them do unto you—in the place of the right of the master to threaten. And if you don’t threaten, what do you do? You win by love, and that transforms slavery into employment.
The grand plea is, “They are authorized by law.” But can law, human law, change the nature of things? Can it turn darkness into light, or evil into good? By no means. Notwithstanding ten thousand laws, right is right, and wrong is wrong still. There must still remain an essential difference between justice and injustice, cruelty and mercy. So that I still ask, Who can reconcile this treatment of the negroes, first and last, with either mercy or justice.
Where is the justice of inflicting the severest evils, on those who have done us no wrong? Of depriving those that never injured us in word or deed, of every comfort of life? Of tearing them from their native country, and depriving them of liberty itself? To which an Angolan, has the same natural right as an Englishman, and on which he sets as high a value? Yea where is the justice of taking away the lives of innocent, inoffensive men? Murdering thousands of them in their own land, by the hands of their own countrymen: Many thousands, year after year, on shipboard, and then casting them like dung into the sea! And tens of thousands in that cruel slavery, to which they are so unjustly reduced?
But waving, for the present, all other considerations, I strike at the root of this complicated villainy. I absolutely deny all slave-holding to be consistent with any degree of even natural justice.
I cannot place this in a clearer light, than that great ornament of his profession, judge Blackstone has already done. Part of his words are as follows:
“The three origins of the right of slavery assigned by Justinian, are all built upon false foundations. 1. Slavery is said to arise from captivity in war. The conqueror having a right to the life of his captive, if he spares that, has then a right to deal with him as he pleases. But this is untrue, if taken generally, That by the law of nations, a man has a right to kill his enemy. He has only a right to kill him in particular cases in cases of absolute necessity for self-defence. And it is plain, this absolute necessity did not subsist, since he did not kill him, but made him prisoner. War itself is justifiable only on principles of self-preservation. Therefore it gives us no right over prisoners, but to hinder their hurting us by confining them. Much less can it give a right to torture, or kill, or even to enslave an enemy when the war is over. Since therefore the right of making our prisoners slaves, depends on a supposed right of slaughter, that foundation failing, the consequence which is drawn from it must fail likewise.”
“It is said, Secondly, slavery may begin, by one man’s selling himself to another. And it is true, a man may sell himself to work for another: But he cannot sell himself to be a slave, as above defined. Every sale implies an equivalent given to the seller, in lieu of what he transfers to the buyer. But what equivalent can be given for life or liberty? His property likewise, with the very price which he seems to receive, devolves ipso facto to his master, the instant he becomes his slave: In this case therefore the buyer gives nothing, and the seller receives nothing. Of what validity then can a sale be, which destroys the very principle upon which all sales are founded?”
“We are told, Thirdly, that men may be born slaves, by being the children of slaves. But this being built on the two former rights, must fall together with them. If neither captivity, nor contract can by the plain law of nature and reason, reduce the parent to a state of slavery, much less can they reduce the offspring.” It clearly follows, that all slavery is as irreconcileable to justice as to mercy.
That slave-holding is utterly inconsistent with mercy, is almost too plain to need a proof. Indeed it is said, “That these negroes being prisoners of war, our captains and factors buy them merely to save them from being put to death. And is not this mercy?” I answer, 1. Did Sir John Hawkins, and many others, seize upon men, women and children, who were at peace in their own fields or houses, merely to save them from death? 2. Was it to save them from death, that they knock’d out the brains of those they could not bring away? 3. Who occasioned and fomented those wars, wherein these poor creatures were taken prisoners? Who excited them by money, by drink, by every possible means, to fall upon one another? Was it not themselves? They know in their own conscience it was, if they have any conscience left. But 4. To bring the matter to a short issue. Can they say before GOD, That they ever took a single voyage, or bought a single negro from this motive? They cannot. They well know, to get money, not to save lives, was the whole and sole spring of their motions.
But if this manner of Procuring and treating negroes is not consistent either with mercy or justice, yet there is a plea for it which every man of business will acknowledge to be quite sufficient. Fifty years ago, one meeting an eminent statesman in the lobby of the house of commons, aid, “You have been long talking about justice and equity. Pray which is this bill? Equity or justice?” He answered, very short, and plain, “D–n justice: It is necessity.” Here also the slave-holder fixes his foot: Here he rests the strength of his cause. “If it is not quite right, yet it must be so: There is an absolute necessity for it. It is necessary we should procure slaves: And when we have procured them, it is necessary to use them with severity, considering their stupidity, stubbornness and wickedness.”
I answer, You stumble at the threshold: I deny that villany is ever necessary. It is impossible that it should ever be necessary, for any reasonable creature to violate all the laws of justice, mercy and truth. No circumstances can make it necessary for a man to burst in sunder all the ties of humanity. It can never be necessary for a rational being to sink himself below a brute. A man can be under no necessity, of degrading himself into a wolf. The absurdity of the supposition is so glaring, that one would wonder any one can help seeing it.
I was told that we must not take stands on things in the “gray areas” that God doesn’t appear to take a stand on as revealed through Scripture. What a poor argument. The Bible says nothing about the effects of chemical waste being poured into the water supply, but we know without citing chapter and verse that such a thing lies far outside the bounds of good stewardship. The Bible says nothing about the addictive nature of many of technologies, but we know without citing chapter and verse that this addiction – a struggle for many of us – is hardly part of His good design. The Bible says nothing about having surgery when a tumor is discovered, but we know without citing chaoter and verse that only a great idiot would tell a dying man to forgo the scalpel because it’s a “gray area.”
God didn’t strike down David even though he had many wives, so is polygamy okay?
Surely we are smarter than this.
Slavery is not okay. It is not morally neutral or morally good.
If you think it is, then let me ask you this: Do the women in your church wear headcoverings? Because if you’re going to treat the text of Scripture in such a flippantly literal way, then they’d better be. Anything else is inconsistent.