Slavery and Evangelical Christianity

The essay on slavery pointed out by Frank Walton and written by J.P.Holding reminds me of what O.T. Biblical scholar Father Roland de Vaux wrote in his monumental Ancient Israel: Social Institutions: "In everyday life the lot of a slave depended largely on the character of his master, but it was usually tolerable." (p. 85).

Now just think about this statement for a minute. Would YOU want to take your chances as a slave in ancient Israel and hope for a "good" master, knowing that the Bible permitted the beating of a slave within an inch of his life to force him into submission? The slave was declared by God as the master's property (Ex. 21:20-21).

From our perspective today, no slavery is tolerable. The social institution is simply despicable. Just as we believe there ought to be checks and balances between the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of our government in order to guard against the abuses of power, so also, no person should be considered the property of any other single man without basic human rights, especially the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of his own happiness, nor shall any of these rights be denied except by the "due process" of law.

The whole idea of being at the complete mercy of another person as his property is abhorrent, and any attempt to morally justify the institution of slavery is canonizing the barbaric and immoral standards of the Bible, which I wrote about earlier Here.

But this is yet another case where the almighty and all-knowing God blew his chance to alleviate the suffering of millions of slaves down through history, including the brutality of American slavery. All God would have had to do is outlaw the ownership of another person. All Jesus would have had to do is to condemn it. All any NT writer had to do is the denounce it. But they didn’t.

And if Christians want to claim that Jesus and the NT writers had more important things to do than to condemn it, then just ask yourselves how this would make you feel as a southern black slave, to know that Jesus never condemned the institution of slavery, and as a result you are suffering as a slave by white Christian people? According to the gospel of Luke, didn't Jesus say he came for the oppressed, the prisoners, and the poor? (Luke 4:18)? Then why not say he came for the slaves too?

We have no trouble condemning slavery today, since we value a free world. We think that the freedom of all people to travel, and take up residence, and find gainful employment, along with the freedom of religion, conscience, and speech are much better values than they had in the ancient past. If that makes me a chronological snob, then so be it. In this aspect we are morally superior to people in the Bible, just like we’re scientifically superior when it comes to the superstitious practice of bloodletting.

One of evangelical’s finest, Charles Hodge, wrote a 40 paged essay titled, “The Bible Argument on Slavery,” where he laid out the case on behalf of slavery just prior to the civil war. It’s a powerful case. It's based upon the Bible, and reprinted in Cotton is King (Negro Universities Press, 1969). I have little doubt that if today's Evangelical Christians lived in the South prior to the civil war, they too would've accepted his arguments because of the hermeneutical method of placing specific Biblical verses (Ex. 21:20-21) above Biblically stated principles (Gal. 3:28). [For this distinction see Willard Swartley Slavery, Sabbath, War and Women: Case Issues in Biblical Interpretation (Herald Press, 1984)].

But the whole reason Evangelical Christians don’t accept pro-slavery arguments today is because of the progress of history. Just like 6-day creationists lost the debate starting with Galileo, so also pro-slavery arguments in America lost the debate starting with the success of the North in the Civil War.

Is there a Christian who wants to comment on this? [Post edited, see comments].