In my recent reply to Matthew Vines, one of my responses that got kind of a reaction in a number of places was my answer to his sixteenth question.
16. Do you think supporting same-sex marriage is a more serious problem than supporting slavery?
Yes, far more serious.
This was taken by some as a weird defense of slavery as a positive good, like food, air or sunshine. Some who take me that way are just confused, while others are malevolent. Those who are confused deserve an answer while those who are malevolent need to have their mouths stopped. Fortunately, both goals can be achieved at just one go, and so let me unpack my answer to that question a bit further.
1. We know that sodomy is worse than slavery by how God responds to it. In the book of Jude, we are told how the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the surrounding cities, gave themselves over to the celebration of fornication and “going after strange flesh.” In doing this, they were imitating the angels who abandoned their proper habitation, and went after human women in order to marry them. In both these instances, God visited them with divine wrath and judgment, one in the form of the Genesis Flood and the other a visitation of fire. Jude goes on to say that it was done this way to serve as an example to us. When God judges rebel humanity in such a way as to have our ears tingle and burn, we should pay closer heed than we are currently doing.
Here is the text:
“And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day. Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them, in like manner giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities” (Jude 6–8).
2. Sodomy is a particularly virulent form of slavery to sin, and slavery to sin is the foundation stone for every other form of objectionable slavery. Political and civic liberty, whenever it has occurred in history, has been the result of widespread gospel influence. Apart from that gospel influence, slavery is the natural and normal condition of mankind. As Hilaire Belloc observed in The Servile State, slavery was “the very air that pagan antiquity breathed” (p. 68). That kind of slavery disappeared under the influence of Christianity, although there was a terrible backsliding in this regard in the aftermath of the discovery of the New World — when there were fortunes to be made. But then there was a belated recovery and slavery was rejected again. As far as that goes, it delights me to say good riddance.
But a people who celebrate vice, and who hold parades in its honor, and who even have designed a flag to celebrate it, are paving the way for a massive return of all the political and civic forms of slavery they pretend to despise. They are trying to get us to the second great backsliding. A people freed from their sins cannot be kept slaves for long, and a people enslaved to their lusts cannot, for love or money, be kept free for long. As Chesterton once observed, free love was the first and most obvious bribe to be offered to the slave. If you are content to build Pharaoh’s pyramids, then he will be content to let you get it on with another guy.
3. Any society that takes its own revulsion against certain atrocities as the automatic base line standard, instead of submissively applying Scripture to moral questions, has taken the first and fundamental step in supplanting the Word of God with the words of men, and that cannot end well. I have been thinking this particular way about the exegetical relationship of the Bible’s teaching on slavery and sodomy for over thirty years. I called this a long, long time ago, and have been in trouble for it for much of that time.
When conservative Christians adopt a “that-was-then-this-is-now” hermeneutic with regard to slavery, they then have no answer when that same hermeneutic finds its way into the mouths of the advocates of same sex mirage today. So instead of being aghast at my answer, ask yourself why Matthew Vines even brought up slavery in the first place. He brought it up because he knows that there is a profound weakness in our line here, one that he can exploit.
So let me spell it out. The institution of slavery in human society is a memorial to the sinfulness of man. I am not saying that the institution of slavery is a good or nice thing. I am not applauding it, and I believe that the gospel of Christ was designed to be the liberty of every man, and therefore the destruction of slavery. Nevertheless, slavery is a kind of messed up institution that Christians can find themselves connected to in the meantime, whether as slaves or masters. And when Christians find themselves owning slaves, for example, the Bible’s instruction is explicit. Paul says that masters should treat their slaves with appropriate kindness, knowing that they have a Master in Heaven themselves (Eph. 6:9). In the first century, a man could be excommunicated for being a harsh master, but not for simply being a master. Paul says that if an owner is a believer, this means he should be accorded extra respect (1 Tim. 6:2). Paul says teach and preach these principles, and so my response is yes, sir. I do not accept it as my duty to revile men that an apostle told me to respect.
And don’t try the hand-waving dodge that ancient slavery was somehow magically “better.” I know better, and no, it wasn’t. The Christian faith did make it better, on the way to eradicating it, but that required obedience.
Now, because sodomy is worse than slavery, and because it is a different kind of sin than the institution of slavery was, a different response is necessary. Here any individual participation in homosexual activity is necessarily and individually sinful. So now that same sex mirage is the “law” of the land, this means that if a couple of guys are “married,” and one of them is converted to Christ, the only appropriate thing he can do is immediately file for “divorce.” But we should not be spooked by the word divorce because it is not really a divorce. You can’t have a real divorce unless it was a real marriage, and it wasn’t.
To go any other route is to acknowledge at some level that the teaching of the Bible on a matter of justice in society is unreliable. And I am gladly in this tight spot of mine because that is something I simply refuse to do. And it is not really a tight spot. I prefer to think of it as cozy.
4. And last, a society is in grave moral danger whenever their reflex and very defensive response is that all the really wicked sins were “back then,” and the “correct moral sensibilities” are all right now. It turns out we are the good people, which is all very convenient.
But we are the generation that has murdered about 13 million black Americans. This is more than the number of ALL the slaves shipped in the Middle Passage over the course of three centuries, and we hit that number in just one generation. On top of that, out of those millions of slaves so horribly mistreated in the slave trade, just under 400,000, a small fraction of the total 12.5 million slaves, came to the United States. So that generation had blood on their hands, sure enough, but we are standing in it, up to our knees.
For the sake of comparing it to the slavers, I limited the comparison to black infants killed. There are many millions more that could be brought into the discussion if you want to continue to explain what a virtuous society we are.
“I spoke to you in your prosperity, but you said, ‘I will not listen.’ This has been your way from your youth, that you have not obeyed my voice.” (Jeremiah 22:21, ESV)
And then, as our very bloody sexual revolution progressed, we then crowned our swollen conceits by pronouncing evil good and good evil (Is. 5:20), with the highest Court in the land now formally denying the image of God in the human race, male and female (Gen. 1:27). We are now in full revolt against Heaven, and there are many things the faithful remnant of believers can do in the midst of this lunatic revolt. One of them would be to stop repeating our generation’s self-flattering and quite self-serving denunciations of previous generations. We are sliding down into a vast and massive moral sinkhole, and — true to form — we want to call it progressivism. Well, it is moving, I’ll give you that.
As I have noted before, just as Sodom will rise up to judge Capernaum, so also the men of old Charleston will turn away from our self-satisfied preening with revulsion.