Twenty Ways to Answer A Fool [13]

Does Christianity Sanction Slavery?

It has been a while since I have visited with Chaz Bufe and his 20 Reasons to Abandon Christianity. I am coming down to the final handful, and with this post I take a look at Chaz’s attempt to charge Christianity with the horrors of slavery that has been prominent throughout the history of humanity.

15. Christianity sanctions slavery. The African slave trade was almost entirely conducted by Christians. They transported their victims to the New World in slave ships with names such as “Mercy” and “Jesus,” where they were bought by Christians, both Catholic and Protestant. Organized Christianity was not silent on this horror: it actively encouraged it and engaged in it. From the friars who enslaved Native Americans in the Southwest and Mexico to the Protestant preachers who defended slavery from the pulpit in Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia, the record of Christianity as regards slavery is quite shameful. While many abolitionists were Christians, they were a very small group, well hated by most of their fellow Christians.

The Christians who supported and engaged in slavery were amply supported by the Bible, in which slavery is accepted as a given, as simply a part of the social landscape. There are numerous biblical passages that implicitly or explicitly endorse slavery, such as Exodus 21:20–21: “And if a man smite his servant, or his maid with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished. Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money.” Other passages that support slavery include Ephesians 6:5, Colossians 3:22, Titus 2:9–10, Exodus 21:2–6, Leviticus 25:44–46, 1 Peter 2:18, and 1 Timothy 6:1. Christian slave owners in colonial America were well acquainted with these passages.

Christianity sanctioning slavery is a common objection in atheistic literature; but it is fundamentally flawed.

First, the charge is extremely narrow in its scope by only aiming to condemn Christianity for its participation in slavery even though slavery has been practiced through out all of history, across all people groups, both religious and non-religious.

Secondly, the objection is generally limited to slavery as it was practiced in the pre-Civil War era of the United States. That is important to note, because the voluntary servitude permitted by the Old Testament Torah for the purposes of securing financial stability in Israel’s society is a far cry from the slavery the western world engaged during 18th and 19th centuries when primitive peoples were kidnapped from their homes and families and replanted to other hemispheres of the earth.

Now, it is certainly true that Christians were involved with the sin of slavery, and many Christians, as Chaz points out, attempted to justify their involvement with slavery by appealing to Scripture. But the wrong-headed use of the biblical descriptions of slavery in both the Old and New Testaments by Christians, who should had been repenting of such attitudes rather than erroneously defending them, does not mean the Bible endorses the practice of human chattel slavery.

Those biblical passages listed by Chaz that he claims endorses slavery have an historical and theological context all their own, and it is beyond the bounds of simple literary linguistics to read back upon those texts a foreign context that is a couple of thousand years removed.

Putting aside a detailed exegesis of each of those passages, what needs to be noted is that Scripture records directives not only for slaves to be faithful to their masters, but also for masters who are to be respectful and merciful to their slaves, something unprecedented during the NT writing. Paul certainly did not encourage slave rebellions, for such an action would be foolish; but by laying down divine principles for living out a Christian life by addressing both slaves and masters as equals before God in Christ (Galatians 3:28), the Bible embeds within its pages the seeds of eliminating slavery all together which is what we see happen over time in societies where Christ is held high.

Chaz, like most atheist critics of Christianity, is conveniently dismissive of two important facets on the history of slavery: The impact of Christianity on ending slavery and the atheistic driven racism that followed after the development of Darwinian evolution.

First, Christians over the centuries have recognized the biblical teaching that men are created in the image of God. So even though there were Christians who attempted to justify their sinful practice of keeping slaves, there were many more who saw slavery for what it was, a defacing of the image of God in a person. Chaz is quick to ignore the work of such men as George Whitfield, Samuel Davies, John Newton, John Elliot, William Wilberforce, who campaigned nearly 16 years to have the slave trade ended, and the Moravians who sent missionaries to the Caribbean to evangelize the slaves and their owners. Many in the Church were active in confronting slavery and rebuking society for its sinfulness so as to have the practice eradicated in western society which was prominently Christian.

Then second, the atheism experiment with racism went far beyond the owning of slaves to the deliberate killing of ethnic groups. Atheistic scientists, fueled by Darwinian ideas, hunted the more backward, primitive societies in our world to locate “missing links” to be examined in their university laboratories. The Australian Aboriginals, for instance, bore the brunt of a lot of the evolutionary thinking that tribal peoples were less evolved.

Regardless of which group is the perpetrator, slavery is a demonstration of man’s inhumanity to man. However, to say Christianity “sanctions” slavery is preposterous. On the contrary, Christianity has always been on the forefront leading societies to confront the evils of human slavery. That is something the atheist, like Chaz, should be thankful.

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56 thoughts on “Twenty Ways to Answer A Fool [13]

  1. When words are many, transgression is not lacking,
    but he who restrains his lips is prudent.

  2. Where are all the comments?

    RE: Ken…

    When words are many, transgression is not lacking,
    but he who restrains his lips is prudent.

    Words are how we communicate. Sometimes, when there are disagreements in opinions between people, we may need even more words to better communicate our ideas. So, while the proverbist is certainly true that there can be a wordiness without wisdom, we should not throw out the baby with the bathwash.

    I’m sure we can agree on that much.

    Respectfully,

    Dan

  3. Dan – you probably realised my comment was somewhat tongue-in-cheek. But Fred is right, you have received answers to you questions, especially on slavery, but keep repeating the question.

    I have a question for you. It is obvious you are trying to wedge a gap between NT Christianity and the old Mosaic Law, where the latter can be thought of as completely non-applicable.

    What is it you are currently doing that the OT law forbids?

  4. Ken…

    What is it you are currently doing that the OT law forbids?

    What am I doing that the OT forbids 21st century folk to do? Absolutely nothing. Zero. Nada.

    To understand the OT as a rulebook, or a rulings book… a place where we go to find literal, spelled out rules about how we are to live today… that is a misunderstanding of what the Bible is. It’s not some Holy Magic 8 Ball, where we ask a question (“Should women have the liberty to choose their own husbands…?”), shake the Bible and receive an answer (“No! Women are given in marriage by their fathers, or sold off to be married by their fathers… not having liberty to make such an important decision themselves!”). That is an extremely disrespectful and rather soundly unbiblical way of taking the OT (or the Bible, in general).

    Clearly (in my opinion), it is not a rulings book where we go to find rules for today. Given that, I am currently doing NOTHING that the OT law forbids to me.

    If you look at all the rules in the OT (how to properly sell your children, how much can you beat your slave, how to cut your hair, how to establish gov’t rules for returning land to original owners, etc, etc, etc), they all say “Thus saith the Lord to THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL…” (or words to that effect). In the text, they are literally not rules for all people and all times. If you take the text literally.

    Why do you ask? Do you think that the OT is a rulings book and I have violated a rule found therein commanded of us? If so, you are almost certainly mistaken and, in my opinion, it is because you are treating the Bible wrongly.

    It is a book of Truth and Wisdom. Not a rulings book.

    As to any answers to my questions, anyone can see that I have multiple questions that literally went unanswered.

    For instance, Fred seemed to be hinting at the notion that women shouldn’t be allowed to make their own choices in marriage. I asked him respectfully several times if he would clarify.

    Now, if he HAS answered, all you have to do is point to the quote and you will immediately:

    1. Have helped me find an answer that I literally am not seeing and
    2. Receive an apology from me for my inability to see that answer and assumption that it went unanswered.

    I will always apologize when I am mistaken so please, do me a favor, and show me where he (or anyone) answered that question. For example.

    Thanks,

    Dan

  5. So, Fred, at this point, is it safe to assume that you are not going to address the question: Do you think women should not have the personal liberty to choose their own spouses?

    I would think that, for your own sake, you’d want to clarify this point. If you truly believe that women would be better off without that liberty, you should stand up and make it clear, rather than hiding behind vague innuendo, and begin to make your argument in support of what I hope you can appreciate sounds like a crazy, monstrous idea. If you don’t think it, then I’d think you would want to clarify so, again, you don’t sound crazy or monstrous.

    The reason why this is on topic/appropriate for this post is by way of full disclosure: If you don’t believe in basic human liberties as most other modern folk do, then that should be made clear as it helps explain/inform others about your starting point for talks about slavery. It would help explain why you appear to be acting as a defender for human enslavement.

    Now, I don’t personally care one way or the other if you post this or answer the question, except that I’m curious: DO people exist in the modern west who defend forms of slavery/oppose human liberty? And who call themselves Christian?? I feel certain that you probably agree with me, but your unwillingness to explain yourself is baffling… so I have this morbid curiosity in that I just want to know, but whatevs. For your sake, though – for your witness, for your integrity and good name – I would hope you’d answer.

    Peace,

    Dan

  6. Dan,
    For the umpteeth time, I did address your questions. I answered you. You apparently do not like my answers. Other individuals answered you as well. You choose to take a proctologists view of the Christian faith and not receive their answers. I don’t know what else to tell you. Now I am going to let this be our last discussion on this topic. I’m moving on to other things. Again, I’ll have some interactions with your anti-inerrancy arguments up sometime soon and I have another answer the fool post coming addressing allegations of misogyny. So stick around if you wish, but I’m not going to approve anymore comments for this post.

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