Saturday, May 08, 2010

Slavery's new apologists

On the internet, a Lutheran pastor that I know was sharing links to this old clip from the TV show, "West Wing." The one where the fictional President tears into a fictional "Dr. Laura" conservative pundit. The President tries to make the argument that if you use the Bible to come to an opinion on the morality of homosexual sexual relations, you must also follow its directives on the Sabbath and slavery. According to the clip, the directives on the Sabbath are for each of us to up and go stone those who work on the Sabbath. It also means that a prosperous man can sell his daughter into slavery whenever he pleases.

Too many of those who have been advocating for justice for GLBT persons, who advocated setting aside the traditional ethical requirements for pastors in churches like the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, did so against the bible. They used arguments like my Lutheran pastor above that if you rely on the bible alone, you're going to have to do all kinds of awful things, like let men sell their daughters into slavery. Indeed, upon watching the 2009 Churchwide Assembly of the ELCA, I ended up with the feeling that the slavery issue were being re-opened. That 21st century Christians now were no longer sure that the bible was against slavery. It was like watching a convention of apologists for slavery from the 1800's.

I'm open to progressive ideas on the rights of gay and lesbian persons, but have to speak up when some advocates nail their platform on the idea that the bible motivates brutality. They may have evidence that some apologists for slavery did use the bible to support their position. But I have yet to find an abolitionist of that age that used 21st century liberal dogma: dissing the authority, historical accuracy, etc., of the scriptures. Those who argued against slavery used the bible, too, and in my opinion, took more passages more literally.

Find me a group that's speaking for gay rights from a biblical perspective, and I'll join them. I cannot join church movements, per se, that state as obvious that the bible makes you a brute.

Here's my latest piece of evidence. I have been reading William Wilberforce's 1807 "Letter on the Abolition of Slavery." Here's the part where he deals with the biblical record on slavery:

"[H]owever, most of all astonishing, that our opponents attempt to vindicate the Slave Trade on grounds of religion also. The only argument which they urge with, the slightest colour of reason is that slavery was allowed under the Jewish dispensation. The Jews were exalted by the express designation of heaven to a state of eminence above the strangers who sojourned among them, and the heathen who dwelt around them, from either of whom, as a mark of their own dominion, God, who has a right to assign to all his creatures their several places in the scale of being, allowed them to take bondmen and bondwomen, treating them, however, with kindness, remembering their own feelings when they were slaves in Egypt, and admitting them to the chief national privileges, to the circumcision, to the passover, and other solemn feasts, and thus instructing them in the true religion. Besides this, the slaves were to be set free at the year of Jubilee, or every fiftieth year, a command which was alone sufficient to prevent their accumulating in any great number.

But they who thus urge on us the Divine toleration of slavery under the Jewish Theocracy, should remember that the Jews themselves were expressly commanded not to retain any of their own nation, any of their brethren in slavery, except as a punishment, or by their own consent; and even these were to be set free on the return of the sabbatical, or the seventh year. Inasmuch therefore, as we are repeatedly and expressly told that Christ. has done away all distinctions of nations, and made all mankind one great family, all our fellow creatures are now our brethren ; and therefore the very principles and spirit of the Jewish law itself would forbid our keeping the Africans, anymore than our own fellow subjects, in a state of slavery. But even supposing, contrary to the fact, that our opponents had succeeded in proving that the Slave Trade was not contrary to the Jewish law, this would only prove that they would be entitled to carry it on if they were Jews, and could, like the Jews, produce satisfactory proof that they were the chosen people of God. But really it would be consuming your time to no purpose, to enter into a formal proof, that fraud, rapine, and cruelty, a contrary to that religion, which commands us to love our neighbour as ourselves, and to do to others as we would have them them do to us. I cannot persuade myself that our opponents are serious in using this argument, and therefore I will proceed no farther with this discussion. Besides, even granting that it were possible for any of them to be seriously convinced that Christianity does not prohibit the Slave Trade, I should still have no great encouragement to proceed, for,—it may be prejudice, but I cannot persuade myself that they are so much under the practical influence of religion, that if we should convince their understandings, we should alter their conduct.
William Wilberforce, A letter on the abolition of the slave trade, 1807

Strong stuff.

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