Sunday, April 25, 2010

Slavery and the Christian Nation Thesis

Chattel Slavery presents a damned if you do damned if you don't dilemma for the Christian Nation thesis.

I've read the texts that deal with slavery in the Bible and I have concluded that the Bible does not abolish chattel slavery. When confronted with proof-texts like Colossians 3:22 -- "Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord." -- I am unconvinced by the responses that such really wasn't chattel slavery, but something else. They strike me as "weasel out" responses.

And Colossians 3:22 isn't the only place the Bible seems to indicate it's "okay" with slavery. I don't read the Bible as commanding slavery. But rather, not abolishing it, that is permitting it.

The anti-liberationist view of orthodox Christianity does provide a rational response. Look, life is a vapor and what matters is where you spend eternity. If you are a slave and a Christian and your master is unsaved, in terms of cosmic reality, you are in a FAR better position than him.

The anti-slavery biblical position strikes me as a liberationist reading of the Bible. And I see biblical liberationism using more of a "loose" hermeneutic (that is, not the proof texting, the Bible is the inerrant infallible Word of God hermeneutic).

Benjamin Rush is a good example of an orthodox Christian Founding Father who was a biblical liberationalist. Not only did Rush believe Christianity, properly understood, abolished slavery and commanded republicanism, but also that the Bible taught universal salvation and abolished the death penalty in the New Testament.

But...there are uber-orthodox, proof texter types who do believe the Bible does not support slavery. Gregg Frazer (of John MacArthur's church and university) is one. Now one could argue, in this modern age where the question of slavery is "settled," they are trying to do PR work for the Bible/orthodox Christianity.

Yet, not all of the anti-slavery biblicists from the Founding era were Benjamin Rush types or unitarians. In fact, some very notable anti-slavery activists of that era were uber-orthodox.

Tom Van Dyke points me to a resource of biblical arguments historically used against slavery.

And that brings us to the damned if you do damned if you don't aspect of slavery and the Christian Nation thesis. The Founding Fathers -- not all but a good number of notables -- owned slaves. And the Founding made concessions with slavery. If permitting slavery is an authentic "Christian principle," then so much for "Christian principles."

And if it's not, then that's one glaring aspect of the American Founding that contradicts "Christian principles."

In fact, one of the uber-orthodox Calvinist covenanter types -- Rev. James Renwick Willson -- who decried the godlessness of the US Constitution and the infidelity of America's Founding Fathers, was an anti-slavery activist. And he used the fact that the Founding Fathers practiced and made concessions with slavery as a key argument for why America didn't have a "Christian" Founding.

As he wrote, in 1832:

6. Millions of men are held in bondage, under the most solemn sanction of the United States Constitution. Slaves had been introduced into the colony of Virginia, by a Dutch slave trader, many years before the commencement of the Revolution. The planters of the southern colonies, had formed the habit of executing their labor by slaves. Many, indeed a great majority of the people of the northern and middle states, were always adverse to Negro slavery. The members of the convention from the north were opposed, generally, to the slave trade. Yet some of the Boston and Rhode Island merchants had embarked a large capital in this traffic. The members from the south refused to accede to the formation of a permanent bond of union, unless their right both to hold slaves and to import them, was guaranteed by the constitution. Perhaps no topic excited in the convention a deeper interest than this one. Notwithstanding all that had been taught in the Declaration of Independence, all the treasure that had been expended, and all the blood that had been shed in the cause of freedom, yet the convention did guarantee the right of importing slaves, from the time of the adoption of the constitution until the 1st of January, 1808—a period of twenty years, three months, and thirteen days. I am thus particular, for every one of these days and even the hours must be accounted for to Messiah the Prince, "who came to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound."

The constitution says:—"The migration, or importation of such persons as any of the states now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by Congress prior to the year 1808." Art. I, Sec. IV, Specification I. The Convention blushed to name the Negro slaves and the slave trade, and used a circumlocution, as if a figure of speech would conceal that iniquity for which conscience was chiding them, when the article was penned and ratified. It will not avail to say, that the deed was merely passing it by. It was much more. The slave ships, with cargoes of African slaves, were as much under the protection of the American stars and stripes, as the flannel of Britain, or the bar iron of Sweden. It was a national slave trade.

As this species of property was acquired, under the sanction of the constitution, so it is retained under a solemn national guaranty. The United States are the slave holders, as well as the several states, and the individual masters. "Direct taxes," says the constitution, "shall be apportioned among the several states, according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined, by adding to the whole number of free persons, three-fifths of all other persons." U. S. Con. Art. 1. Sec. II. Specification II. These "other persons" are slaves, an abominable term, which they were as before ashamed to employ, while they sanctioned the evil. These slaves are then taxable property, by the letter and spirit of the constitution. So the article is expounded by Federalist, written by Messrs. Hamilton, Jay, and Madison, and by all writers on the national jurisprudence, who are quoted as the best authority. "The federal constitution, therefore decides, with great propriety, on the case of our slaves, when it views them in the mixed character of persons and property." Imported under the protection of the American flag, and secured to their owners by the plighted faith of the nation, as property, they are now held by the nation, as a part of its wealth; "when," to use the words of Mr. Jay in The Federalist, "a tariff of contribution is to be adjusted." Fed. No. LV, p. 296.

This doctrine is more distinctly laid down in other parts of the Constitution. "The United States shall protect each of them (the states) against domestic violence." Art. IV, Sec. IV. "Domestic violence" is a phrase, which, in this connection can neither be misunderstood, nor explained away. Since the slaves are taxed as the property of the nation, the constitution pledges the power of the U. States to sustain the master against any violent measures that the slave may employ to recover his freedom.

Again, "No person held to service or labor, in one state, under the laws thereof; escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due." U. S. Con., Art. I., Sec. IV. If the slave escapes from the state where he is enslaved, to another, where there are no slaves; that other is bound by the Constitution to deliver him up to the master who claims him.

Slavery indeed, is made one of the pillars of the government. "Representatives shall be apportioned among the several states, according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, three-fifths of all other persons." Hence, the holding of Africans in bondage, is made one of the pillars, on which the fabric of American freedom is made to rest; thus committing the twofold evil of making slavery essential to the constitution, and of violating the holy and benign doctrine of representation, which is the palladium of religious and civil liberty.

That slave property is guaranteed by the constitution, has been solemnly decided by the representatives of the nation, in many legislative acts. After protracted argument, in Congress, on the question of admitting Missouri, with her slave holding constitution, into the Union, it was decided in favor of her admission, on the ground that slaves are held under constitutional guaranty.

Congress has passed many laws, on the subject of slavery. By one act, the United States courts are vested with jurisdiction, in questions arising under the slave trade. By another, the mode is prescribed in which runaway-slaves shall be reclaimed and restored to their masters in the non-slave-holding states. By the several acts of Congress, fixing the ratio for representation, the doctrine and the practice of slavery are recognized (See Gorden’s and Brown’s Digests of the laws of the United States.). Many laws passed for the government of Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi, before they became states; all of the Floridas, and District of Columbia, now under territorial regime, respect slaves.[4]

In all the territories, the United States government is the slave-holder; for the political sovereignty of the territory, is vested in no intermediate authority. All the slave laws of the District of Columbia are enacted by the federal legislature. No jurist in the nation has ever presumed to maintain, however adverse many of them are to slavery, that these legislative acts of Congress are unconstitutional.

In addition to all this mass of evidence, it may be added, that numerous cases have been, and are every year decided in the courts, in applying these acts; and every judge holds himself bound, by his oath of office, to apply the laws against the African slave, whenever any question arises, on the right of tenure between him and his master.

The late insurrection of the slaves in North Carolina and Virginia, has been quelled by the United States troops, ordered out by the President, as executor of the laws of the United States. So then, we have; 1st, the convention that framed the Constitution, embodying slavery in several parts of the fundamental law of the commonwealth. 2. The federal legislature enacting laws, under the provisions of the constitution. 3. The judiciary applying the law in adjudications of slave questions. 4. The chief executive magistrate enforcing slavery by the army of the United States.

Slavery is interwoven with the whole web and texture of the federal government. All this is in direct opposition to the 4th amendment to the constitution, which provides, that:—

"No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." By what "due process of law" has the African been deprived of his liberty? Was it a "due process of law" to make war on the unoffending tribes of Africa, waste and destroy whole populous nations, and seize, bind in chains, and sell to the southern planters, a shipload of MEN? In 1830, there were in the United States 2,010,575 Africans, deprived of their liberty, by no other process of law, than that of wasting and destroying countries; and of binding and selling the unoffending children of poverty.

The United States legislature has passed sentence on their own doings. By a law passed since 1808, the slave trade is declared to be piracy.

In the whole annals of legislation, where shall we find any thing analogous to this? After prosecuting this trade nationally, for twenty years, three months, and thirteen days, Congress declares the doings of slave traders piracy; though they had traded under the protection of the national flag. What are we to infer, respecting him who holds property which he acknowledges to have been acquired by piracy? But there has been no national acknowledgment of the sin against God and man—no asking of pardon from God—no restitution. It is not wonderful that the United States Senator from Rhode Island, who had amassed a large estate by trading in slaves, always voted in the negative on the passage of the piracy bill through the Senate. We may well believe, that he saw before his mind’s eye, the pirate’s gibbet.

On the subject of the evil thus sanctioned by the highest human authority in this nation, Mr. Jefferson, in his Notes on Virginia, pp. 240-1, makes the following, among other very impressive observations:—"The whole commerce, between master and slave, is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submission on the other."—"The man must be a prodigy who can retain his manners and morals, undepraved by such circumstances."—"Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure, when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God?"—"That they are to be violated but with his wrath?" The following sentiment, though a thousand times quoted, will bear to be many times yet repeated:—"Indeed, I tremble for my country, when I reflect that God is just; and that his justice cannot sleep forever; that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation is among probable events: that it may become probable by supernatural interference. The Almighty has no attribute which can take part with us in such a contest."—"With what execration should the statesman be loaded, who permitting one half the citizens thus to trample on the rights of the other, transforms those into despots, and these into enemies, destroys the morals of the one part, and the amor patriae of the other?" Twelve states do all this now, solemnly, deliberately, and under the forms of law. The convention that framed the National Constitution have done this. The United States Congress, Senate, and Executive, have been doing this, for more than forty-four years. They have thus dishonored Messiah the Prince, who is the friend of liberty; for he came to "proclaim Liberty to the captive, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound."

These moral evils embodied in the doctrines of the fundamental law of the empire, have produced practical results, over which every true disciple of Christ, and Christian patriot, will mourn.

Right after that Rev. Willson explains why the "key Founders" were not Christians but infidels, not more than "unitarians."

1st. Ungodly men have occupied, and do now occupy, many of the official stations, in the government.[5] The clause of the Constitution, barring all moral qualifications, has not been a dead letter. There have been seven Presidents of the United States—and of each of them it may be said, as Jehovah says of the kings of Israel, after the revolt of the ten tribes, "He did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord."

Washington was raised up, in the providence of God, like Cyrus of Persia, and qualified for great achievements.—He was an able captain, and an instrument of much temporal good, as a statesman. Few, if any, prominent men, in any nation, have been endowed by the common gifts of the Spirit, with more ennobling qualities than the first President of this nation. His fame fills the civilized world. It is to the honor of the Protestant Religion, that this country produced such a man. What was Bolivar compared with Washington? All this praise may be awarded to one who, like the amiable young man in the gospel, "went away from Jesus sorrowful, because he had great possessions."

There is no satisfactory evidence that Washington was a professor of the Christian religion, or even a speculative believer in its divinity, before he retired from public life.[6] In no state paper, in no private letter, in no conversation, is he known to have declared himself a believer in the Holy Scriptures, as the word of God. General eulogy, by a Weems, or a Ramsey, will not satisfy an enlightened enquirer. The faith of the real believer in the word of God, is a principle so powerfully operative, that you cannot conceal "its light under a bushel." "It works by love." "Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh." Is it probable that he was a true believer in Jesus Christ and his Bible, when in times so trying, and in a Christian nation, he wrote thousands of letters, and yet never uttered a word, from which it can be fairly inferred that he was a believer? Who ever questioned whether Theodosius or Charlemagne believed the Bible? "He that is not against us is for us." And it is as true, that he who is not for us, is against us.


Pinky said...

A whipsnapper.

Pinky said...

No pun intended.

Tom Van Dyke said...

It's interesting how little turns up on James Renwick Willson on the internet. How important was he in the scheme of things?

Mostly he sounds like a fringe character and

His most famous sermon, "Prince Messiah," brought forth much controversy. The Legislature in Albany, New York, discussed it for a whole sitting and denounced Willson in the most violent terms. His prayers, which they feared, were banished from the Legislature by unanimous vote. The sermon was burned in a public bonfire and Willson was burnt in effigy before the State House door.

As for "Christian principles" neither damning nor endorsing slavery, no, the whole baby can't be thrown out with the bathwater by 21st century sensibilities. That's nonsense.

"Chattel" slavery was unheard of in New Testament times and cannot be compared to the political arrangement that slavery was in ancient times, a quite humanitarian compromise instead of executing people as war captives or criminals.

See the unitarian William Ellery Channing on slavery:

Jonathan Rowe said...

"How important was he in the scheme of things?"

Strangely enough, he was extremely important in the narrative historians adopted that GW & the rest of the notable FFs were not "Christians" but deists, unitarians (i.e., "infidels").

Though they mistakenly label him as Bird Wilson, son of James.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"Chattel" slavery was unheard of in New Testament times....

I find this very hard to believe.

Tom Van Dyke said...

You mean "Harvard Narrative" historians who prop up minor figures like Willson instead of far more influential pastors like Jasper Adams, who won the approval of men like Supreme Court Justices John Marshall and Joseph Story?

"What must have been the strength of the conviction of Christian Truth in the American mind, when the popular names of Franklin and of Jefferson among its adversaries, have not been able much to impair its influence. May a high reverence and sacred regard for this Heavenly Wisdom remain with us to the end of time, the crowning glory of the American name."

Jonathan Rowe said...

I like how Madison didn't fall into Rev. JA's "trap" to get him to admit the "Christian Nation" thesis.

Tom Van Dyke said...

True. However, Madison is often trotted out in these things, but the quotes are always about his opposition to state support of sects. There are no smoking guns about an opposition to Christianity---as opposed to churches---having influence in politics.

In his public life, Madison was wishy-washy [or practical] in these things, abiding paid chaplains, a battle he's previously lost at the Founding, and issuing thanksgiving proclamations himself.

The next page in the study of the Founding is the immediate post-Founding period, where Jefferson's influence begins to fade away, and men like Justices Marshall and Story begin to take the reins of the nation. [And indeed, the judiciary becomes a full-fledged branch of the government, no coincidence.]

Interesting work here by Jim Allison:

Where Jefferson takes shots at Christianity and for his vision of religion and politics from the safety of retirement and private letters, Jasper Adams, John Marshall and Joseph Story are quite public about their view.

Madison, whose presidency sits astride this period, twists in the wind, practical fellow that he was.

As for condemning the New Testament for not being a political tract re slavery, or "Christian principles" not being political enough, that is like blaming a cat for not being a dog.

For as Paul the Apostle writes:

“Those who are slaves must consider their masters worthy of all respect, so that no one will speak evil of the name of God and of our teaching." (1 Timothy 6:1).

The Founding era unitarian William Ellery Channing makes the same argument, quoting Weyland:

For if it had forbidden the EVIL, instead of subverting the PRINCIPLE, if it had proclaimed the unlawfulness of slavery, and taught slaves to RESIST the oppression of their masters, it would instantly have arrayed the two parties in deadly hostility throughout the civilized world; its announcement would have been the signal of servile war; and the very name of the Christian religion would have been forgotten amidst the agitations of universal bloodshed. The fact, under these circumstances, that the Gospel does not forbid slavery, affords no reason to suppose that it does not mean to prohibit it; much less does it afford ground for belief that Jesus Christ intended TO AUTHORIZE IT.

[CAPS are Channing's.]

However, before we put Christianity in the docket, we must also admit that reason does not necessarily prohibit slavery either. Here's a fascinating tract by James Trecothick Austin [a relative and biographer of Founder Eldridge Gerry] that mocks Channing's religious/metaphysical sentiments against slavery, stating---and quite correctly---that eradicating slavery will necessitate war and blood and national ruin, since it's inextricably woven into the national fabric. And Austin's a New Englander, with no skin in the game except the nation's.

Naum said...

tomdyke: "Chattel" slavery was unheard of in New Testament times and cannot be compared to the political arrangement that slavery was in ancient times, a quite humanitarian compromise instead of executing people as war captives or criminals.


Chattel slavery provided the surplus for classical civilization (i.e, Greeks, Romans, etc.…). Many historians wish to to downplay this truth and relish in utopian tales of a heroic age, but the economics of classical civilization was totally fueled by chattel slavery.

See noted historian Carroll Quigley for more detail.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

So the Protestant work ethic and American exceptionalism is what has driven the "slave trade" today, justifiably? And this is what human rights activists, the U.N., the social Gospel movement and political liberals want to circumvent?

Then the method to undermine American exceptionalism and the Protestant work ethic is Marxist ideology, where equality in outcome is a value to be pursued. This way we value the human as "God's creation" and as "humane", so appeal can be made to both the Christian, the political liberal and the humanist?

But, what about Ayn Rand and the idea of individual liberty, as the by-product of American exceptionalism?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I hope I am not being taken seriously in my first few paragraphs, as this does not represent my views, only an attempt at analysis.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, OK, although the institution was indeed founded on a combination of indebiture or war and crime, I see what you mean.

Still, this discussion doesn't hinge on this particular point.

Brad Hart said...

Well, to be sure there WERE differences in the slavery of the ancient world and that of the "New World." Sure, slaves have been used in every era as "chattel" but the difference, as David Davis points out in his book "Inhuman Bondage" (one of the best books on the topic, BTW) is that modern slavery had a much stronger racist flair to it, along with being far more severe in its "chattel-ness." One could escape slaver much easier in the ancient world by paying off debts, serving out the sentence or becoming a citizen of the new nation.

Now, that doesn't mean that ancient slavery was less "sucky." Chains are chains and whips are whips. But the chattel slavery of the ancient world was not the same as the form that could be found in colonial America (and when I say colonial America I mean from the British colonies in the north to Brazil, and the Caribbean, where chattel slavery REALLY sucked).

Not all slavery is the same and we shouldn't make the mistake of thinking that it is.

Chris said...

Ancient Roman slavery was chattel slavery, it was not primarily about prisoners of war (there was, in essence, a huge slave cast, as large as 1/5 of the population), and while there were differences between ancient and more modern chattel slavery, treatment of ancient slaves, particularly non-house servants, was as harsh as 19th century American slavery in many cases. It's not for nothing that slave revolts were relatively common. And this is, for the most part, the slavery that early Christians and the New Testament authors were familiar with, and in many cases supported.

Tom Van Dyke said...

No, that won't quite fly, Chris.

Colossians 4:1 (NASB) Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven.

This all is a tangent to the main point anyway. But this seems as good as any to examine the matter:

There's no doubt there were dimensions of Roman slavery that were every bit as bad as the New World colonies [the mines, the Coliseum, whatever], and there's no doubt there were New World occurrences that were as bad as anything anywhere anytime.

But it's not supported by the Bible.

"What I have said respecting and against religion, I mean strictly to apply to the slaveholding religion of this land, and with no possible reference to Christianity proper; for, between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest, possible difference--so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of the one, is of necessity to be the enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I am filled with unutterable loathing when I contemplate the religious pomp and show, together with the horrible inconsistencies, which every where surround me. We have men-stealers for ministers, women-whippers for missionaries, and cradle-plunderers for church members.

The man who wields the blood-clotted cow skin during the week fills the pulpit on Sunday, and claims to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus. The man who robs me of my earnings at the end of each week meets me as a class-leader on Sunday morning, to show me the way of life, and the path of salvation.

He who sells my sister, for purposes of prostitution, stands forth as the pious advocate of purity. He who proclaims it a religious duty to read the Bible denies me the right of learning to read the name of the God who made me.

He who is the religious advocate of marriage robs whole millions of its sacred influence, and leaves them to the ravages of wholesale pollution. The warm defender of the sacredness of the family relation is the same that scatters whole families,-- sundering husbands and wives, parents and children, sisters and brothers, leaving the hut vacant, and the hearth desolate.

We see the thief preaching against theft, and the adulterer against adultery. We have men sold to build churches, women sold to support the gospel, and babes sold to purchase Bibles for the poor heathen! all for the glory of God and the good of souls!

The slave auctioneer's bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master. Revivals of religion and revivals in the slave-trade go hand in hand together.

The slave prison and the church stand near each other. The clanking of fetters and the rattling of chains in the prison, and the pious psalm and solemn prayer in the church, may be heard at the same time. The dealers in the bodies and souls of men erect their stand in the presence of the pulpit, and they mutually help each other. The dealer gives his blood-stained gold to support the pulpit, and the pulpit, in return, covers his infernal business with the garb of Christianity.

Here we have religion and robbery the allies of each other--devils dressed in angels' robes, and hell presenting the semblance of paradise."---Frederick Douglass

Tom Van Dyke said...

Note, Douglass is well aware of the "man-stealing" Biblical argument.

Brad Hart said...

One small point to make: if the Bible doesn't support slavery, why were slaveowners so scared to supply their slaves (whom they really wanted to convert to Christianity) with bibles that contained the story of Moses and other slave/bondage/liberation tales?

I know that this probably misses the point but I still think it's worth mentioning. Christian slaveowners did find themselves in a bit of a pickle on this one. Clearly the "spirit" of the Bible's teachings (and Jesus himself) are against slavery, but at the same time you can find plenty of references to justify its existance.

Jon is right. It really was a damned if you do, damned if you don't scenario. Fortunately the "good guys" won.

Tom Van Dyke said...

One small point to make: if the Bible doesn't support slavery, why were slaveowners so scared to supply their slaves (whom they really wanted to convert to Christianity) with bibles that contained the story of Moses and other slave/bondage/liberation tales?

I know that this probably misses the point but I still think it's worth mentioning.

No, Brad, it's an incredibly major point.

I've been trying to re-find [no success so far] a killer essay I ran across written by a non-professional historian, but a Christian and a southerner, which gave him a cred and a POV that many professional secular historians simply lack.

Basically, his point was about how certain slaveowners tried to outsmart Christianity by denying their slaves the Bible.

See, according to any reasonable interpretation of the Old Testament, Jews could hold other Jews as slaves. It was a political arrangement, and not "chattel" slavery.

But every 50 years was a "Jubilee" year, when all Hebrew slaves must be set free.

By any reasonable interpretation of the Bible and even by justifying slavery through the Old Testament, surely all Christian Negroes must be set free every 50 years! Leviticus 25, and well the Southerners knew it!

The essay also had a nice riff on how slavery in the Old South came to be racially based, unsupported by any Biblical text.

As I posted in the other thread, Frederick Douglass made special note of how purposely keeping slaves illiterate kept them away from the Word of the Christian God.

Like the Pharisees who used the letter of the law to frustrate what is right and what is good, and what is God's True Will.

You sniffed this one out, dude.

Chris said...

Tom, it will fly, because it's true. The problem you're having here is that you have no idea what you're talking about. If you did, you'd have known that the sources of Roman slavery included war, piracy, abduction, criminal conviction, orphans, parents selling their children, and slaves reproducing. You'd also know that the consensus among historians is that, while capture was the primary source for some time (as it had been for most systems of slavery at first), breeding overtook it. The worst form of chattel slavery is the one people are born into. You'd also know that the conditions of many non-house slaves -- working 7 days a week, from before sunrise until after sunset, chained together (sleeping while chained), beaten, etc. -- were hardly better than 19th century slavery.

And the New Testament is hardly silent on the issue: Tim 6:1, Luke 12:45, Eph 6:5, etc. At best, you're left arguing that Paul, while sending an escaped slave back to his master, and the rest of the NT authors, only said that slavery should be a kinder, gentler institution. And kinder and gentler is historically relative. This at least tacit, and sometimes explicit endorsement of the institution itself wasn't lost on early Christians like Augustine, who thought slavery a product of sin, to be sure, but supported it as a legal institution, so long as it was Paul's kinder, gentler version.

I understand, of course, that many later Christians, particularly in the 18th and 19th century interpreted scripture differently with respect to slavery (though there were plenty who used scripture to justify it), but with a few exceptions (e.g., St. Patrick), they were an historical anomaly. You can quote these all you like (I know how much you dig quoting), but as you say, it won't fly, except like pigs. Unless you try quoting someone like Seneca or Raphall.

I don't think Christianity justifies slavery, and I think that with what Jon calls a "loose hermeneutic," in a very modern mind, can find anti-slavery grounds in Christian scripture, but a literal or strict reading has to conclude that slavery is noted, even discussed, in the NT with nary a word against it and some for it.

Brad Hart said...

EXCELLENT point, Tom. Keep looking for that essay. It would be worth reading (and even posting here).

Tom Van Dyke said...

Sorry, Chris. See the above notes and links, including 1 Timothy 6:1, which was addressed. Junky riff. I'm very happy to see you back here, but please take in the whole discussion first. This isn't spaghetti at the wall, or a grenade toss.

Brad, I even sent the author an invitation to contribute here. It had the Right Stuff. Still, I got his point and I think faithfully relayed it. I just wanted to give credit to whoever he is and not claim it as an original idea.

Although I think the Old South denying blacks literacy and the Bible is most germane here, the racialization of American slavery is no small thing either. At one early point in American history it resembled the Roman or Jewish model applied to caucasians, but then it was perverted into something else unsupported by not only the Bible, but human history as well.

I mean, perverted. Paul the Apostle never spoke of race. Indeed, the first convert after Pentecost in the Acts of the Apostles was an ostensibly black Ethiopian, and a eunuch at that.

It's quite a beautiful story.

Y'know, Brad, I'm really trying to avoid being a Bible-thumper or preacher around here. I'm a musician with an interest in history. How did I end up with such a dirty job?

Chris said...

Tom, nice dodge. You didn't address the other passages, or do anything with Tim 6:1 (or 2, or 3, or 4), except some hardly definitive quote 1700 years after the fact

I don't mind condescension, but know what you're talking about. I've already pointed out enough of your ignorance for one thread, but I will add that you are equally ignorant on the subject of slaves and the Bible. If you weren't, you'd know that through the 18th century, and well into the 19th, the education of slaves in reading (but not writing) was encouraged, and in some cases even mandated, so that they could read the Bible. Converting the slaves was an important goal of those who supported slavery throughout the colonies, and later the states, and teaching them to read the Bible was seen as an important part of that. Reading education was only outlawed when abolitionist materials became widespread.

Yours is a nice myth to justify your fairly myopic view of Christianity, though.

In conclusion, not knowing anything on the topic except the myths a few quick google searches provide you is worse than not reading the whole discussion (or in my case, dismissing your quotes).

Tom Van Dyke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom Van Dyke said...

So, instead of getting in my face and underfoot, Chris, answer 1 Tim 6. Answer "manstealing." Answer Frederick Douglass. Answer "jubilee." Answer William Ellery Channing.

And when you're done that [as if], answer the literally dozens if not hundreds of Christian tracts arguing Biblically against slavery.

Here, I'll even make a link so you don't even have to cut and paste the URL.

Until then, please get off my back.

Pinky said...

There may not be a "good" place to ask this question.
But, does anyone have anything to say about the influence the East India Company had on the Founding?

Chris said...

Apparently my last reply to Tom was too pithy, so I'll try it again.

First, thank you for the links, Tom, as they more than adequately support a couple of my points from my last comment: 1.) Abolitionist views of scripture are very recent (mostly early 19th cenury, though their roots were in the late 18th) phenomena, based on new, anomalous, non-literalist readings of scripture, when they were based on readings of scripture at all. What's more, the proliferation of abolitionist materials in the early 19th century led to laws against teaching slaves to read in many southern states, and you've now linked to many such writings. So, thank you.

Those links actually lead to the answer to your manstealing point: manstealing was almost universally considered to refer to kidnapping for the purpose of enslaving, until the abolitionist movement in the late 18th (in England) and early 19th (in the U.S.) centuries. This is why, if you read up on the subject a bit, you will find people being prosecuted for manstealing by the English (and, if I'm not mistaken, the Portuguese as well), while slave trading was legal in these countries! That's also why you'll find a prohibition against manstealing in Jewish law, but legal slavery within Jewish law as well! Manstealing was also illegal in Rome, by the way, though not uncommon.

Finally, here is the scriptural text in its entirety:

All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God's name and our teaching may not be slandered. 2Those who have believing masters are not to show less respect for them because they are brothers. Instead, they are to serve them even better, because those who benefit from their service are believers, and dear to them. These are the things you are to teach and urge on them.

The text is clearly exhorting Christian slaves to serve their Christian masters well. If that's not an endorsement of slavery, it's certainly not anything resembling a condemnation of it.

Pinky said...

Does that mean the stealing of a man who belongs to another master?

Tom Van Dyke said...

But Christendom in Europe had eradicated slavery. The New World adventurers started it up again. You have to look at the whole picture before you make sweeping condemnations of Christianity.

Further, you're arguing theologically, but Channing's response is unanswerable. [Its logic also echoes Locke's analysis of Romans 13, BTW. Yes, I've read up a little bit on these things, but thanks for the advice to do so anyway.]

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