Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

Jonathan Rowe has provided a couple of interesting discussions (one, two) regarding the founding of the United States and the problem of slavery.  Even so, a couple statements seem problematic and pursuing them might be valuable as a defense:

And Christianity, properly understood, is entirely compatible chattel slavery and demands believers submit to government period, even if it said government is a pagan tyranny as was Nero’s, arguably the ruler Paul told believers to submit to in Romans 13.

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).

But what is “proof-texting”? If it is the religious equivalent of “quote mining” then one might suggest that finding select founding documents to make a singular point amounts to the same things.  If it is taking material out of context, then establishing a contextual argument is necessary to evidence a fallacy.  Historicism will not advance the argument.

Now, I do believe that he made a valuable point that Christianity was, at this time and in this nation, not wholly consistent on the matter of slavery. But let’s not forget the Missouri’s admission was a compromise with Maine’s admission (and, for those who care, that is why Oklahoma has a panhandle). And was the Constitutional question whether slavery was guaranteed in the Constitution, or whether it was not prohibited by it? (I think that question is answered by both the Missouri Compromise and the 3/5 ruling, as well as much, much more — slavery could be prohibited.)   Slavery was danced around for a long time, but the problem was not merely that of the Christian (then or now), but for the liberal as well. (Was it to be Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness or was it to be Life, Liberty, and Property?) The result seems to be thus: Even the secular nationalist will have the same problem.   Shall we not more properly conclude liberalism alone could not resolve the slavery issue without a partnership with Christianity?

This brings up an issue (a tangent, and not a part of Rowe’s conversation) that is pertinent to today’s situation.  It is a part of popular discourse to class anyone who rejects “liberalism” necessarily takes the position of supporting the class constructs that liberalism opposes (to varying degrees).  So we are called racists if we disagree with the methodology used by today’s popular left.  We are called bigots if we oppose the elimination of marriage elitism and refuse to let a select group redefine our private social constructs.   These arguments are always, and I think that conclusion is easily maintained, on the false dilemma of only two choices.  For us the challenge is not clarify that Christianity is neither conservative nor liberal.  I don’t know that this will stop the nonsense arguments, but at least it counters them intelligently.

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles