A Set of Brief Responses to Joel McDurmon

I responded yesterday to a couple of tweets from Joel McDurmon, not knowing at the time that he had written a longer article on the subject. That article requires a small collection of responses, which I have conveniently assembled for you below. His article is here.

I want to note at the outset that there is a strange reluctance to engage with the scriptural texts that bear directly on this subject, and which I have repeatedly cited. “When a man strikes his slave, male or female, with a rod and the slave dies under his hand, he shall be avenged. But if the slave survives a day or two, he is not to be avenged, for the slave is his money” (Ex. 21:20–21, ESV). Angular texts cannot be simply wished away. They have to be dealt with. Honestly. I am convinced that there is such an honest treatment to be had, considered to be such by reasonable and not-racist people, but such an honest treatment still requires courage in this politically correct world.

Joel assembles a number of quotations from me that say that initial repentance needs to be followed by a life of repentance. Or, as John the Baptist put it, bear fruit in keeping with repentance (Matt. 3:8). This is of course true, and it is life-giving doctrine. But in this case, it is not to the point. I am certainly willing to say that if Southern Seminary had formally repented of its previous active support for race-based slavery during slavery times, while at the same time continuing to segregate their classrooms or dormitories, or while they were turning away well-qualified black applicants, then it would follow that their repentance was bogus. Repentance means turning away in life and practice from what you were doing previously.

The problem we face in this situation is that we are all in the process of returning to our previous practice of judging historic rights and wrongs solely on the basis of the amount of melanin in somebody’s skin. So we are not repenting; we are failing to repent. What I wrote about sanctification and the need for a change of life style is the reason I am writing about all this in the way I am.

Joel says that any number of young people need to hear the facts, and that the report is “big on facts.” But I am not disputing the historic facts of the report. I have no doubt that Southern Seminary was at one point in her history a racist institution. I am talking about the application of those historic facts in our current cultural climate, one that is sinfully hyper about race. And I am maintaining that if we attempt resolution of those previous wrongs based on melanin counts, we are going to make a hash of it again.

Joel acknowledges that I am not a racist, which I appreciate, but he also says that I am providing shelter and cover for racists, which I don’t appreciate. “I don’t think Doug Wilson himself is a closet racist, but his theological allegiances make shelter for them.” Joel compares this to the earlier situation with Goldwater’s presidential campaign, and quotes Martin Luther King’s criticism of Goldwater. According to King, while Goldwater was not racist himself, he gave “aid and comfort” to racists. But Goldwater was attacked in this way because he vocally opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, considering it a gigantic overreach by the federal government. This leads naturally to the question . . . what does Joel think about the Civil Rights Act of 1964? If he had been in Congress at that time, would he have voted for or against it? If against it, then he, Goldwater, and I would all in the same boat together—accused by MLK of giving aid and comfort to racists. And if he would have voted for it, then I can only say that libertarianism ain’t what it used to be. Maybe Joel is doing for libertarianism what he is also doing to theonomy, i.e. slowly drifting away from it.

Joel quotes a number of passages from Southern Slavery as it Was in order to create the impression that I somehow think the history of the antebellum South was perfectly described for us by Uncle Remus in Song of the South.

But there were other phrases from that booklet that should have been noted—“no interest in defending the racism,” “cannot defend the abuse,” “none can excuse the immorality,” and “slave trade was an abomination.” The thesis of the booklet was that the actual practice of slavery was a mixed bag—horrors and ordinary human circumstances both. Propagandists in either direction distort the history. For the radical abolitionists, it was all horror, nothing but horror. For the Lost Causers (which Joel somehow likes to lump me in with), the sun was never too hot, the cotton was never too heavy, and the singing while coming back from the fields was always wonderful.

But people are people, and this includes both their demons and their affections. Generally speaking, the Roman approach to slavery was far worse than what occurred here in this country, but even there it was not all horror. “And a certain centurion’s servant [doulos, slave], who was dear unto him, was sick, and ready to die” (Luke 7:2). Was Luke a Lost Cause guy?

As I have said countless times. I am not engaged in any defense of slavery generally, and certainly not in a defense of any wickedness perpetrated under slavery. Find me some wickedness, and I will damn it out loud. Rather, my sole interest is to never apologize for the Scriptures. By this I do not mean Scripture leather-bound and unread. I mean Scripture read out loud in a clear voice and exegeted manfully.

A friend has written to me in support, but asks me to address the issue of the consequences of sin. I have been hammering away on the issue of forgiveness “on the spot,” as I will continue to do, but what about the consequences that are not affected by the reality of forgiveness? A murderer can repent and be forgiven, but his victim is still dead and he is still in the penitentiary. A philandering husband can be forgiven, and yet still find himself divorced. I think we all acknowledge the principle that forgiveness does not mean that we can just wish all consequences away. And I know that I would certainly affirm—and affirm strongly—that there have been countless downstream negative consequences to the initial fatal decision to admit race-based slave labor into our colonies. It was our aboriginal stupid move.

So I grant that there are countless negative consequences that we cannot simply command to disappear. We have to work through it, as scripturally as we can, and we must be patient. But one of the central negative consequences is that our race relations are so inflamed that not one person in a hundred is willing to submit to the plain teaching of Scripture on the subject. Our national trauma is a self-perpetuating trauma, with each generation accumulating (as they think) even more reasons to follow man’s wisdom instead of God’s. And a derivative consequence is that any teachers who attempt to summon us back to Scripture have to be content with being accused of defending things they actually hate. There is a lot more to be said under this head, and perhaps I need to write more about all that sometime down the road.

In wrapping up, let me quote another passage of Scripture that—I am willing to bet—will not be cited in the responses to me at all. It will be serenely ignored. It will be as though Paul never said or taught these things. It will be as though I never italicized anything in that passage, trying in vain to draw people’s attention to salient points. I might as well have saved my breath for walking uphill.

“Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed. And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit. These things teach and exhort. If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself” (1 Tim. 6:1–5).

And for anyone interested, below is a book I have written on race relations.

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