Some of you all know that there was another outbreak of the slavery fracas at Cary Christian in North Carolina. A gentleman in that controversy wrote me some questions concerning a (biblical) position statement that Cary Christian had posted on their web site. The position paper is in bold, the gentleman’s comments and questions are in italics, and my responses are neither.
This statement is intended to provide direction to any CCS schoolteacher who in the course of his or her duties at CCS is addressing the subject of slavery. In the course of directing class discussion, we would like the teachers to bring the students to the following conclusions.
Comment: I thought CCS wanted to expose students to various views of a topic to allow them to form their own conclusions. What happened to that?
DW: An even-handed education is not the same thing as relativism. Chesterton once commented that the purpose of an open mind was the same as that of an open mouth — it is meant to close on something. Weighing both sides of an issue is not inconsistent with coming to a conclusion. Last year a guest speaker (a microbiologist) at our classical Christian college (New St. Andrews) asked how many students there had read Darwin’s Origin of Species. Virtually every hand went up because Darwin is in our core curriculum. We are not evolutionists, and we do not teach evolution — but the students do read Darwin. The speaker, a professor at a secular university, was struck by this, because where he taught virtually none of the students had read Darwin. There he was believed and not read. In our college, he is read but not believed.
The students should be taught that the reason for studying this issue is to remain faithful to the teaching of scripture. By seeing how obedience to scripture could quite possibly have protected our fathers (both North and South) from a costly and bloody war, had they only obeyed, we may be assured of the importance of submitting to the scriptures when it comes to our controversies (e.g. abortion, homosexuality), whatever the unbelieving world may say about them.
Question: If slavery is acknowledged to be a sinful institution why do the students need to study a book that describes it in a positive light. What books are used to show the positive side of abortion, homosexuality and other such behaviors they find repulsive and sinful in the world?
DW: You misread the booklet. In that booklet, slavery is not represented in a positive light, period. Slavery is represented as being much more benign than the abolitionists said it was. That being the case, it was a condition of normal human sin, not Apocalyptic Evil, and therefore the requirements of the New Testament applied to it. This is because the condition of slaves in the Roman Empire, while significantly worse than black slaves in the South, was also the kind of institution that needed to be attacked reformationally, and not by means of revolution. As St. Paul might say, so that the Word of God will not be blasphemed.
Students should learn that the slave trade was an abomination, and that those evangelicals in England who led the fight against it are rightly considered heroes of the faith. The Bible clearly rejects the practice of slave trading (1 Timothy 1:10, Ex. 21:16). In a just social order, slave trading could rightly be punished with death.
Comment: Really, so Abraham Lincoln had nothing to do with it stopping it.
DW: No, Abraham Lincoln had nothing to do with stopping the slave trade. The slave trade was outlawed by the Confederate Constitution. Perhaps you are confusing the slave trade with slavery itself. And when Lincoln finally got around to the Emancipation Proclamation (some years into the war), it only applied in the territories not under the control of the federal armies. In other words, he freed no slaves where he had the power to free them, and declared free all the slaves in territories he had no control over.
Hebrew Slavery and Pagan Slavery:
The students should recognize the difference between slavery regulated by the Mosaic Law, that is, a slavery that was little more than an indentured servant-hood, and slavery as it existed in a pagan empire such as Rome. In ancient Israel, it was the duty of Christians living within that system to follow biblical instructions carefully so that the Word of God would not be blasphemed (1 Timothy 6:1).
Question: What is the purpose of this distinction in the context of studying slavery? How does this relate to slavery as practiced in the United States? Did it follow the pagan or Hebrew model? How is such a sophisticated distinction related to middle school students?
DW: The booklet makes clear that Southern slavery was not like Hebrew slavery, and the abuses of blacks in the South needed to be addressed by Christians in a similar way that the Christian faith addressed the condition of slaves in the Roman Empire. The reason for teaching such “subtleties” to middle-schoolers is so that when they grow up they will be able to follow an argument, weigh both sides carefully, before they create a national controversy.
The students should know that as a matter of biblical principle, and as an integral part of our official school position, we denounce every form of racism, racial animosity or racial vainglory. God created man in His own image, and has made from one blood all the nations of the earth (Acts 17:26). We believe firmly that in the gospel God has reversed the curse of Babel, and that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, male or female, slave or free, black or white, Asian or Hispanic (Galatians 3:28).
Comment: Unfortunate that this was not made clear before. Now people as far away as Southeast Asia on the other side of the world think Cary Christian School is a hot bed of racism and neo confederates.
DW: It was made clear before. A blunt, plain-spoken rejection of racism was clear in the booklet. Perhaps the people who created this controversy did not have the advantage of learning “subtleties” when they were in middle school.
Slavery as an Institution:
Christ died on the cross to set all men free from their sins, and all forms of external slavery build on the bedrock of slavery to sin. Therefore, the logic of the Great Commission requires the eventual death of slavery as an institution in every place where it might still exist. While Christian slaves were commanded to work hard for their masters, Christian slaves were also told to take any lawful opportunity for freedom (1 Cor. 7:20-24). This indicates that slavery as an institution is inconsistent with the fundamental spirit of the gospel, and as such it should be considered a sinful institution generally, one that invited the judgment of God.
Comment: Read the verse in Corinthians again. It does not say “seek any lawful opportunity for freedom”. It just says: “if you can gain your freedom, do so”.
DW: The word lawful is required to keep the passage harmonized with the rest of Scripture. On your reading of this passage, St. Paul was in sin to return Onesimus to Philemon. Onesimus had gained his freedom, but not lawfully. St. Paul wanted Onesimus free, but it had to be done the way God requires.
Reformation or Revolution:
The godly pattern of social renewal is never revolution. The revolutionary insists on immediate action, through coercive, bloody, and political means. In contrast, the work of the gospel is done as silently as yeast working through the loaf, and the end result is liberation from sin, love for God, and love for one’s neighbor. This love for neighbor necessitates the recognition that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male or female, white or black (Galatians 3:28). But those revolutionaries who are impatient in their spirits always refuse God’s teaching in such matters. They are proud and ignorant, loving verbal strife, envy, railing, and perverse disputes (1 Timothy 6: 3-5).
Comment: The Christian slave holders had over 200 years to reform and rid their society of slavery. Apparently God was not pleased with their slow progress and allowed a war to occur as result. Why don’t you let this yeast work in you and drop this effort? Why do we hear the Slavery booklet will be reprinted and perhaps used again with proper footnotes etc. Are you kidding? What is the point now?
DW: This was a point made in the booklet itself, which maintains that the South lost the war as a judgment from God. Put another way, as one of the authors of that booklet, I maintain that the South deserved to lose the war. I believe that part of this judgment was because of the South’s treatment of her slaves. To whom much is given, much is required. Robert E. Lee, one of the greatest men this nation has ever produced, said it well when he claimed that the South appealed her case to the God of battles, and He decided against them. This is not a position I came up with just now, but something I clearly said in the pages of the booklet. What is the point of reprinting a revised version of the booklet? Perhaps it will be written in such a way as to encourage you to read it more carefully this time.