As Thabiti did with mine, I would like to respond to some elements in his most recent post, and I will try to do so without getting us lost in the weeds.
Every exchange in this series has been a gift from God, and I continue to thank God that Thabiti’s interaction with me has been gracious, seasoned with salt (Col. 4:6).
For those just joining us, I would like to emphasize that our discussion is not over whether the institution of slavery as such was good or bad, or whether it needed to be eradicated. Thabiti and I both agree on that aspect of the point. The discussion revolves around how it should have been eradicated. I am saying that resolving it with a bloodbath has had two great negative consequences — the first being the bloodbath itself, and the second being the long term negative effects downstream. More about that at the end of my post.
On Thabiti’s critiques #1-3, there is always something to say, but in the interests of not getting lost in the weeds, I will just let Thabiti’s comments stand for the present. The one thing I do want to say from this section(ever mindful of Prov. 27:2) concerns the point about Eugene Genovese. It would not be too much to say that that great scholar was kind enough to help me out as an editorial reader. I have never gotten that kind of feedback from someone providing a blurb for me.
Now, before going on, allow me to grant at the front end two things that this does not mean. It does not mean that I am right, and it does not mean that Genovese agreed with me about everything (although he agreed with me about an awful lot). What this does mean (and here my comments are directed, not at Thabiti, but to the cat-calls coming from the nickel seats) is that I am apparently not a historical ninnyhammer. In short, my thesis, even if wrong, is not the product of someone who spent too much time as a child with his Robert E. Lee coloring book.
And lest I seem to be acting too huffy, which would be bad, allow me to just toss my curls and move on.
Before rounding into the straight, I am glad to say that I found Thabiti’s section on the different uses of the word multiculturalism to be most helpful and wise. I agreed with him completely. I have no problem with marginalized voices insisting “we were there too,” and I believe that thoughtful Christians should strive to hear to those voices. I also rejoiced at Thabiti’s robust rejection of relativistic multiculturalism. This is another point where I believe we are in complete agreement.
So then, back to the implications of postmillennialism. I like talking about postmillennialism, and so I should be careful not to be too eager to pick up on cues to do so. But in this instance, I really do believe it is a key part of understanding my paradigm for processing this whole era. Thabiti thinks it makes me too rosy in my evaluation of the South, but I think a lot more is going on. Thabiti says, “But I think Wilson’s view of the South falls far closer to “rosy” than ‘hellhole.’”
Now this depends entirely on who you were, and where you were. If you were a slave with an abusive master, it was a hellhole. If you wife and children had just been sold down river, it was a hellhole. If you were on your way to a fancy dress ball at the mansion, it wasn’t.
But Thabiti thinks I paint too rosy a picture (generally) because of statements like this, which he quoted.
“The discipleship of the nations is a process. This means that the South was (along with all other nations) in transition from a state of pagan autonomy to one of full submission to the Lordship of Christ. Christian influence in the South was considerable and extensive, but the laws of the South still fell short of the biblical pattern. In spite of this, the Christian influence on antebellum Southern culture surpassed most other nations in the world of that time” (pp. 51-52).
Now I own that I said that, and taken alone it would seem at least relatively rosy, but I also said this:
Southern slavery was “open to severe judgment of God” (p. 42). In discussing abuse of slaves, I used words like indefensible, immorality, and deplorable. “These were sad realities in the Southern system, and when God finally determined to judge it, I am determined to say amen to the judgment” (p. 42).
“This is a truth we also acknowledge. In one sense, the antebellum South was a Christian nation, but it was a Christian nation that invited, and received, a genuinely severe judgment from the God who is not mocked. This judgment from a holy God included all the atrocities of Sherman, and sinful men must always bow before the judgments of the Almighty and turn to the Scriptures to learn how to accept those judgments. A man will reap what he sows, and so do nations . . . This is basic to covenantal thinking” (p. 90)
Just as Thabiti and I hear the word multiculturalism differently, I think something similar may be going on here. When I talk about the judgment of God falling on the South, I am talking about a wasting desolation, not a wrist slap. Moreover, I am talking about one that was deserved. God is just. I believe that the South was a hellhole for many blacks before 1861, and a hellhole for many whites after. I also believe that it was a judgment on the entire nation that paved the legal way for the hellhole that is the abortion carnage today.
And that brings us to the reason why I don’t think we are debating the obedience/disobedience ratios for people have been dead for a century or more. I keep coming back to this. Thabiti has said on his blog that he doesn’t believe that the abortion situation is really comparable to the time of slavery. In one sense, I agree that it is not — it is far, far worse. Then, blacks were enslaved by white strangers, by another people. Today, black children are slain by own their black mothers. The crime is more hideous, and the scale goes far beyond anything we can get our minds around.
Now here is the problem. All of this is going on today, now. Is America today a hellhole? It still depends on who you are and where you are. 50 million dead and counting.
My problem as a pastor involved in the culture wars has to do with the fact that just about every abortion mill in the country is within quick driving distance of an evangelical church, praise choruses and all. Do we have any responsibility to do something? I believe we do. What then? How shall we then live? If there were an underground railroad for the unborn black children, would we be heroes for running it? What principles are involved? Was John Brown a murderous thug? Should pro-lifers be praying for our own equivalent thug? Why or why not? Is there any way to appeal to the relevant principles (legal, constitutional, moral, historical, and biblical) without getting called a racist? Let me add to the mix the fact that our half-black, half-white president represents our two races very well. He is a ghoulish president, and we are a ghoulish people. Blacks are ghouls and whites are ghouls. Neil Young heard bullwhips cracking from over a century ago, but he can’t hear the silent screams from just down the street. North Dakota has just given the raspberry to Roe v. Wade. Are they heroes or chumps?
I don’t play identity politics. Men are sinners. Black men are sinners, and white men are sinners. They sin against each other, and they try to justify their sin by pointing to sins that somebody else committed against them. That’s what sinners do. But Jesus intervenes and Jesus forgives sinners, both black and white. This is why black men who know Jesus are my brothers, and white men who hate Jesus are not my brothers.
I said at the beginning that the way the war was pursued led to all kinds of horrific consequences downstream. Many of those horrific consequences fell upon scapegoated blacks after the war. The war ended in 1865. Reconstruction ended in 1877. Over 600,000 men died in the war. It really was a bloodbath. [*corrected] Do you think you can do that to a people, create the standing point that it was all on account of freeing the blacks, and then pull all your troops out a few years later, with a little “good luck” wave to the blacks you are leaving behind? Who thought that was a good idea? Don’t let me stop your little humanitarian mission.
Incidentally, I am justifying no sin, I am not trying to whitewash any evil. The only thing we should do with sin is confess it. We should confess the bitter racism of defeated Confederates, and confess the supercilious racism of the do-gooding Yankees from Massachusetts, making a hash of things as is their usual custom.
Government-enforced bigotry against blacks ended when I was boy, a century after the war. The “strange fruit” that Bryan Loritts referenced in his original post grew on a particular kind of tree — the tree of hatred, rebellion, and malice. That tree was planted by both sides and watered with the blood of over half a million men, and it wasn’t blood of martyrs shed in imitation of Jesus. “As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free” sounds very fine, but it didn’t quite work out that way. It was blood shed in a way that makes men hate each other for a hundred trips around the sun.
And coming back to abortion, because the states lost their right to tell the Supremes to take a hike, we should perhaps add 50 million more to the body count.
Jesus is the only way out. Jesus is the way. But if we are going to follow Him, we have to do it His way. We have to do what He says.