The other day, while perusing my Facebook feed, I ran across a link to a blog post by John Loftus on the issue of slavery and the Bible. In the post, he brought up a book that I had heard mentioned in various articles and podcasts before, but hadn’t had a chance to read. The book in question was Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, by Frederick Douglass, and quickly checking Amazon.com, I found the price was right for the Kindle version — $0.00. I read it until bedtime, and got up the next morning and read until it was finished. It was a truly gripping and engaging book, and I highly encourage anyone and everyone to pick it up. What follows are a couple of the more memorable excerpts, as relating to my post here…
“In August, 1832, my master attended a Methodist camp-meeting held in the Bay-side, Talbot county, and there experienced religion. I indulged a faint hope that his conversion would lead him to emancipate his slaves, and that, if he did not do this, it would, at any rate, make him more kind and humane. I was disappointed in both these respects. It neither made him to be humane to his slaves, nor to emancipate them. If it had any effect on his character, it made him more cruel and hateful in all his ways; for I believe him to have been a much worse man after his conversion than before. Prior to his conversion, he relied upon his own depravity to shield and sustain him in his savage barbarity; but after his conversion, he found religious sanction and support for his slaveholding cruelty. He made the greatest pretensions to piety. His house was the house of prayer. He prayed morning, noon, and night. He very soon distinguished himself among his brethren, and was soon made a class-leader and exhorter. His activity in revivals was great, and he proved himself an instrument in the hands of the church in converting many souls. His house was the preachers’ home. They used to take great pleasure in coming there to put up; for while he starved us, he stuffed them.”
“I have said my master found religious sanction for his cruelty. As an example, I will state one of many facts going to prove the charge. I have seen him tie up a lame young woman, and whip her with a heavy cowskin upon her naked shoulders, causing the warm red blood to drip; and, in justification of the bloody deed, he would quote this passage of Scripture –’He that knoweth his master’s will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes.’ Master would keep this lacerated young woman tied up in this horrid situation four or five hours at a time. … Master Thomas was one of the many pious slaveholders who hold slaves for the very charitable purpose of taking care of them.”
It is common for Christians to claim that it was Christianity and the Bible that ultimately led to the abolishment of slavery in the United States, and while I don’t doubt that there were Christians involved in the abolitionist movement, their efforts were a result of them being good people, and not from anything they were getting from “the good book.” There is a reason that southern slave holders were using the Bible in support of their barbaric practices — because of it’s overwhelming support of slavery!
Right here is where the believer interjects, “But you don’t understand; slavery in the Bible is different than the slavery you’re talking about it.” Really? Let’s explore slavery in the Bible, and you can tell me if it’s different… You have Israel going into foreign lands forcing people of another ethnic identity into slavery, and the buying and selling of human beings, as well as passing them along as personal property (Leviticus 25:44-46). You could buy sex slaves as long as you gave them food and clothing and screwed them (Exodus 21:7-11). You could beat your slave into a coma with rods and even kill them if it took a couple of days and it was okay, because the slave was your property (Exodus 21:20-21). I don’t know about you, but it sure sounds a lot like the slavery I’m thinking of.
“Okay, I see your point, but that was the Old Testament, and Jesus changed all that.” Are you sure about that? The very verse that Frederick Douglass’s master used as he beat the slave “who knew his master’s will and did not do it,” was spoken by none other than Jesus himself (Luke 12:47-48). Of course, that shouldn’t matter seeing as Jesus was the one handing down the Old Testament laws on beating slaves to begin with (John 14:8-9), but I digress. Back to Jesus’ parable in Luke, what he’s essentially saying is, just like it’s the right of an earthly master to beat his slaves for not doing his will, it is just and right for God to beat his slaves (Christians) for not doing his will.
“Okay, so Jesus is for Slavery, but what about Paul? He said, ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus,’ and because Paul said that, it proves the Bible is against slavery.” A quick glance between your legs should help you determine your gender, so it’s obvious Paul is not talking about physical reality here, but instead he is speaking in “spiritual terms.” He’s saying that there is not male or female, slave or free in a spiritual sense, but not a physical one. Actions of course speak louder than words, and in the book of Philemon, Paul sends the runaway slave Onesimus back to his master. While Paul asks Philemon to receive Onesimus as more than a slave, it’s obvious Paul recognizes Philemon’s “right” to do with Onesimus as he pleases, being he is his master. Instead of a command in “the name of the Lord” to set him free, he is returned to his custody as a slave.
As much as believers would like to claim that the Bible is anti-slavery, the opposite is actually true. As a result, Biblical inerrantists are stuck in the awkward position of having to defend an indefensible position by calling that which is wicked – “good,” or by doing hermeneutical backflips to make the unjustifiable appear justified. Either way you look at it, if it were a metaphorical game of rock, paper, scissors; they’re forced to throw rock no matter what, leaving the opposing side free to throw down paper for the win, every time.