Bible v slavery: response to critics
Published: 6 January 2013 (GMT+10)
Dr Carl Wieland’s article Slavery and ‘one drop of blood’ received many positive and negative comments. Some of the negative ones provide an opportunity to reinforce the biblical case against slavery and racism, and refute claims that the Bible promotes racism and slavery. Much of what Dr Wieland responds below is explained in far more detail in his masterpiece One Human Family: The Bible, science, race and culture.
Graham D., Australia, 19 November 2012
Examples of slavery mandated by God as per the Bible:
- Exodus 21:2–6
- Exodus 21:7–11
- Exodus 21:20–21
- Leviticus 25:44–46
And even in the NT
- Luke 12:47–48
What does this ministry have to say about this? Are you going to somehow justify such cruelty as portrayed in both the Old and New Testament? Or will you simply ignore this; I think the latter is very likely.
Carl Wieland responds:
Actually, Graham, incomplete information is worse than no information at all. To cite those examples out of context is bad enough, but you have also ignored the feedback rules, in that you are supposed to have searched our site first.
It was Bible-believing Christians whose passionate commitment to the teachings of Scripture led to the abolition of slavery, not the Enlightenment.
Even a cursory search would have revealed several articles, and reading them would have shown you why it was Bible-believing Christians whose passionate commitment to the teachings of Scripture led to the abolition of slavery, not the Enlightenment. (In fact, the heroes of many of today’s skeptics/humanists, the Enlightenment philosophers Hume, Voltaire and more, defended polygenesis in opposition to biblical creation of one couple precisely because of the desire to support the inferiority of certain ‘races’, which justified slavery and economic subjugation of other people groups (see for example Anti-slavery activist William Wilberforce: Christian hero).
And far from avoiding such topics, there are major sections on slavery, apartheid, Christian atrocities, even pedophilia and more in my recent book One Human Family (sample reading, including the full topic index, available by following the link to the book’s title).
Graham P., New Zealand, 18 November 2012
I agree with all this. When living in Brazil in the 1990s, it was clear to me that almost everyone considered themselves ‘white’ despite their skin colouring. The Brazilian census shows that nearly 90% of people there say they are ‘white’, which is interesting. What’s more, all Brazilians are aware of the circumstances of their emancipation: a Brazilian Princess wanted to marry a slave she was in love with, so she abolished slavery. In an incredible parallel to the Good News, she cancelled the certificates of all slaves to save the one she loved.
Lew D., United States, 19 November 2012
I read your site daily with great profit and have recommended it to many other Christians. I concur that the historical institution of slavery was based on the need for labor. The industrial revolution significantly reduced the need for intensity of labor. But having read hundreds of pages of speeches made during the Congressional debates leading up to the Civil War in America I can tell you that for many southern plantation owners and politicians, slavery was entirely justified because of their opinion of the status of black Africans. In this regard, they were consonant with Aristotle who wrote that some men were destined for slavery.
Carl Wieland responds:
Thanks, Lew; I think you would be fascinated by One Human Family, of which this article condenses one tiny portion. See end of my earlier comment to Graham D.
John W., United States, 22 November 2012
I have been wondering how you get “one drop” of “black blood”? Never mind how that could affect your ethnicty. How foolish racists and bigots are.
Carl Wieland responds:
Yes, foolish indeed, though of course the ‘one drop’ was really metaphorical, it referred to degrees of dilution of ethnicity. We still use ‘blood’ to refer to genetic relatedness, even though it is really the DNA code, which is hardly confined to blood.
M. M., United States, 23 November 2012
I have to disagree with the “all is well” in Brazil notion and that there is no racism or not a significant amount. Brazil is fairly well segregated with a large white population in the south and a large black population in the north. it is true that in many areas, blacks and whites live together in peace. But I would hesitate to say they live without racism. Brazilians would like you to believe there is no racism in their country…citing the War of the triple alliance in which the blacks fought along side whites valiantly. Brazilians admit there was rampant racism prior to that war. But the fact is that it isn’t that there isn’t racism in Brazil, but that it’s presence isn’t as widely rejected as it is here in the United States. In the United States, any hint of racism, outside of the south, is deplored. If one is racist…he keeps it to himself and within his own circle. In Brazil and other Latin American countries, racism is alive and well. The difference is that it is tolerated. It’s presence isn’t as acutely despised as it is here in the US. And let us NEVER forget that racism is NOT simply a white against black problem…but any time one denigrates another simple due to the color of one’s skin or for carrying the blood of that race.
Carl Wieland responds:
In the book from which this was derived (see the link for table of contents and sample sections), One Human Family, the matter is expanded/nuanced a bit more, but I don’t think it’s quite fair to suggest that even this article was saying there is no significant racism in Brazil. It did not say ‘all is well’ but rather something which is easy to justify and confirm, namely that “Brazil had far fewer social problems involving black-white racism than the US.” You may be thinking only in terms of comparing the two cultures today; the real stark differences come when we look at the century or so after slavery was abolished in both cultures. Brazil had absolutely nothing like the Jim Crow laws, etc. The other culture that (ironically, due to its Christian heritage) was under pressure to dehumanize the enslaved people group (to overcome the clear One Human Family implications of the Bible’s Genesis history), doing it via various anti-Genesis stratagems (polygenic views of creation, mythical ‘curse on Ham’ ideas, etc.) was in southern Africa. This is dealt with in considerable detail in the chapter on apartheid. You may be pleased to discover that its findings strongly concur with your comments about racism being far from simply a white vs black thing.
E. v. N., South Africa, 19 November 2012
Very interesting article indeed. It immediately got my attention when I first read it in Creation Magazine. Two things stand out to me:
- The one drop rule applying almost reverse in places like Brazil.
- The fact that Walter Williams is cited where he says that black slavery is still alive and well in certain parts of Africa. I recently got independent confirmation that Williams’ statement is indeed correct. Shock and horror broke out when the Sowetan newspaper on 7 May 2012 reported on slave owners who were recently (in 2012) caught out. Worth a read on their site [link deleted as per normal policy—Ed].
It seems to me that, even in South Africa, the politically correct establishment have “protected” people even of different races, from the truth—despite us living on the same continent.
Blessings to you and CMI!
M. M., United States, 24 November 2012
I would still argue that if you were to go back in time throughout the history of Brazil from the end of slavery and asked black Brazilians to comment on whether “Brazil had far fewer social problems involving black-white racism than the US” they would raise an eyebrow of incredulity. They may even comment that the difference is akin to how I differentiate winter in Kansas to winter in Utah … one is cold … and the other is cold.
As far as Jim Crow laws are concerned, I would argue that you read too much into the existence of the Jim Crow laws as indication that Brazilians were somehow above such laws (I don’t know enough to say that Brazil had no equivalent law but will stipulate that there didn’t). Personally, I think their society was such that such laws weren’t needed. Everyone knew their place if you will.
- I am confused by your argument regarding religion. I admit I haven’t read your book, but 1. Brazilians are historically religious (even though not the case today),
- I don’t think Southern whites struggled so much with their superiority that they felt the need to look to the Bible to justify themselves.
My bet is that having backing from the Bible was just icing on the cake to them. I doubt they would have acted differently had the Bible said to treat black people right y’all!!! And knowing both cultures, my bet would be on the Catholic Brazilians to seek such justification before any American. I suspect a Catholic Brazilian would even be more sincere about seeking such justification than a South African.
One more point, the vast difference in black populations b/w the US and Brazil w/ Brazil’s black pop being much much larger has played a part in all this.
Carl Wieland responds:
A few points in response, if I may.
- Speculation about what people might say going back in time is probably unhelpful, cf. documentation.
- To clarify the confusion re the argument, which is not unique btw, it is as follows.
First, let’s understand what is meant by a self-consciously biblical (we’re not just talking religion here) culture. Spanish colonial cultures were never this in anything like the sense of the Reformation-affected cultures originating from Western Europe. This made the Bible accessible to the common man and ensured that it infused people’s thinking in a historically new way. The point of the argument is firstly that even in such cultures, the sinful nature of man is ever-present, and of course only a fraction of the culture is actually composed of committed followers of Jesus Christ anyway.
However, the ever-present biblical consciousness means that open, wholesale practice of enslavement of other human beings occurring in such a culture is a constant potential clash in people’s thinking with the notion that all are human beings made in God’s image. (It is no accident that the abolitionist movement was driven by committed biblical Christians, as we have documented in detail elsewhere on this site.) So there is a ‘pressure’ for those practising such things (for self-centred, economic reasons) to put up and ‘sell’ whatever ideas are expedient and effective as justification. Where the enslaved group consists exclusively of a people group who are readily identifiable as different from the enslaving group, there is an obvious ‘niche’ to be filled, hence the arising of ideas within that biblical culture which directly or subtly deny or counter the Bible’s One Human Family picture of human history as per Genesis. For example, the idea that God created other groups before Adam, and that these were the ancestors of the non-white races.
And also, the idea that we all started equal, but then one group got ‘zapped’ later, i.e. the mythical notion of the ‘Curse on Ham’ (no such thing, actually) leading to black skin and the inevitability of their enslavement as somehow ‘God’s will’. This idea, for instance, was pretty well unique to the Protestant US and the Boer-Afrikaner southern African culture.
In short, there is an irony there, namely that there is pressure in a biblically oriented culture to ‘dehumanize’ the enslaved group to justify their enslavement which is not there to anything like the same extent in a non-biblical or perhaps less biblically-aware (as opposed to religiously or church-aware) culture. Now that does not mean that there will be no racism in such a less biblical culture, and overall, the social pressures within a more biblical culture may well have mitigated the horrors of slavery to an extent. They eventually led to the abolition of the institution, as we have noted. But all of that is not the point. The point is that following such an abolition, the dehumanization of the formerly enslaved group within that culture (not necessarily by the true believers, either, but by others to seek to lull their sensibilities) makes it more likely for that culture to have post-slavery racial ructions, as we saw with the tragic segregationist pressures in those two parts of the world mentioned. I maintain that this degree of institutionalized racism (Jim Crow/KKK lynchings, apartheid) was not comparable to the ‘intrinsic’ racism in all cultures, including Brazil.
Note, by the way, Graham P’s comment above in agreement with all the points made in the article; he is not speculating so much as giving his own perception as one who has lived there.
Michelle J., United States, 29 November 2012
This article is doing more than a little whitewashing of the actual history of proslavery Christianity. Yes, evangelicals were sometimes strong antislavery voices. But it is also true that the South before and during the Civil War vociferously argued that its proslavery position was justified by the Biblical text, and that it was the compromising, not-literal-enough liberals of the North that got to their antislavery position through creative reinterpretation of the text. And it’s not an accident that segregation, laws against interracial marriage, etc., hung on the longest in these same Biblicist, fundamentalist, southern communities. Just think Bob Jones University. Where do you think the Southern Baptist denomination came from in the first place? That’s right, they were the proslavery wing of the Baptists. So it’s the height of irony to see fundamentalists now claiming that the Bible is so strongly anti-slavery and anti-racism. The fundamentalists, on average, were the slowest of all the Christians to get with the program of ditching slavery and racism!
I recommend people read Mark Noll (e.g., “America’s God”, “The Civil War as a Theological Crisis” for the actual history of American slavery and just how strongly the Southerners felt supported by the text of the Bible. Noll doesn’t whitewash the uncomfortable truths.
Carl Wieland responds:
First, my book on which this article is based does not fail to grasp the nettle of all sorts of Christian failings, it does not seek to ‘whitewash’. But you are gilding the lily in the opposite direction, if I may say so (and Noll is hardly an unbiased observer, as he seems to take delight in trying to prove the failings of taking the Bible seriously in such areas as creation—see his Scandal of the Evangelical Mind which is even more tragic for the fact that it is partway ‘on the money’ in places).
Darwin’s leading advocate in Germany, the fraud Ernst Haeckel, still a hero to some leading evolutionists, attacked the Bible because he saw it as anti-racist.
The reason for the greater emphasis on slavery justification in the South is the economic/opportunity issue (unless you want to defend the proposition that southerners were somehow uniquely more immoral than northerners in the antebellum US). There is a tragic history of slavery in the North as well, as my book documents, and deplores. But rather than the text of the Bible providing true vindication, it shows how in each case, racism (which was used [and was amplified] as a justification for slavery, rather than being its cause) involves twisting or rejecting the Genesis big picture, which I choose to call One Human Family. If one can focus a little larger than the US situation, the book shows how wherever one turns, whether it is Aboriginals in Australia even, the OHF concept has been an antidote to racist atrocities. I commend it to you as a balance to Noll (btw, I formally reviewed his Scandal 16 years ago, here).
[Furthermore, it’s notable that Darwin’s leading advocate in Germany, the fraud Ernst Haeckel, still a hero to some leading evolutionists, attacked the Bible because he saw it as anti-racist (see Ernst Haeckel: a hostile witness to the truth of the Bible).]
For far more detail on what the Bible teaches about slavery, I recommend using the search engine on this site under that topic.
Joseph L., United States, 30 November 2012
The heroes of today’s secular humanists pushed the idea of ‘polygenesis’, used to justify slavery, anti-Semitism, and European domination of indigenous peoples.
A new view, historically, which is why you keep running these articles. The majority of European Christians did not take your view, because it is not taught in Scripture. Although there is no such thing as “pre-adamites”, most people of the past knew nonwhites were non adamites, and acted accordingly.
Carl Wieland responds:
Hmm… no, it’s not a new view at all, it’s called orthodox, historical Christianity. BTW, the book One Human Family also documents from a secular ethnohistorian that the heroes of today’s secular humanists, the Enlightenment Skeptics such as Voltaire, Montesquieu, and Hume, pushed the idea of ‘polygenesis’ (separate origins for different races) to displace the mainstream view of monogenesis—i.e. Adam and Eve, thus ‘one human family’. And that, according to the same secular authority, this idea was useful “to justify slavery, anti-Semitism, and European domination of indigenous peoples.”
And it will be instructive for readers to see your comment as a sad example of how polygenism is [still] used by people in a Christian culture to promote racism/segregationism. See: Is Christianity ‘for whites only’? A refutation of the ‘Christian Identity’ heresy [and Pre-Adamic man: were there human beings on Earth before Adam?; despite your comment denying pre-adamites, you are clearly a polygenesist.]
Teddy M., New Zealand, 30 November 2012
Good luck, Dr Wieland, in trying to sort out American opinions on slavery given the myths that have risen in various parts of the country to either vindicate or castigate. For example, who wants to hear that one of the largest slaveholders in South Carolina just prior to the outbreak of war was a freed black man? As were many slaveholders in Tennessee. Or that the overwhelming majority of white southerners did not own slaves? Or that wealthy abolitionist leaders in the North, bless their hypocritical hearts, were more than willing to work immigrant Irish families to death in their textile factories processing slave picked cotton? And Southern Baptist origins had to do with NOT holding missionary candidates to some litmus test regards slavery. Good thing, too, since neither Jesus nor Paul nor Peter did either. The North/South split amongst Baptists came because northerners wanted to impose on missionary candidates cultural norms that were not biblically based. Even today, who wants to admit the North is still de facto segregated after clamping down on the South a half century ago? The implication that the South is the only place where racism is openly expressed demonstrates, at best, a tenuous grasp of race relations in the US today. Oh, while we’re asking questions, what is the attitude of most African Americans these days towards Asians and Jews? (Spare me the anthropological excuses.) I admire your willingness to respond to your commentators but I daresay your time would be better spent on your next book. Meanwhile, I look forward to reading One Human Family and will base my opinion of it on its whole rather than the brief review presented here.
Carl Wieland responds:
Thanks for your willingness to read OHF; I think you’ll find that it is far from “Pollyanna” in its approach to the reality of human sinfulness and the failings within Christian cultures, too. Once you’ve read it, feel free to comment on the book’s website.
Daniel B., United States, 30 November 2012
I’m a bit confused by the comparison with Australian Aborigines. The premise of The Rabbit Proof Fence is that people of mixed blood were encouraged to assimilate into the white community; you seem to say the opposite, that they were encouraged to acclaim their black identity.
Carl Wieland responds:
I’m not sure how you gleaned that from the tiny aside in this article that mentions Aboriginal people. My book One Human Family: the Bible, science, race and culture (see here for sample sections and table of contents) goes into considerable, documented depth on Aboriginal issues including historical background. I have not seen the fictional film you mention, but here is an extract from my book:
In 1908 an inspector from the Department of Aborigines in the West Kimberley region wrote that he was glad to have received an order to transport all half-castes away from their tribe to the mission. He said it was “the duty of the State” to give these children (who, by their evolutionary reasoning, were going to be intellectually superior to full-blooded Aboriginal ones) a “chance to lead a better life than their mothers”. He wrote: “I would not hesitate for one moment to separate a half-caste from an Aboriginal mother, no matter how frantic her momentary grief”. Notice the use of the word ‘momentary’ to qualify ‘grief’; such lesser-evolved beings, sub-human as they were, were to him clearly not capable of feeling real grief. The historical reality is that so-called ‘half-castes’ were regarded as more highly evolved than ‘pure’ Aboriginals, hence seen as having more of a biological ‘chance’ to become civilized.
Scott T., United States, 30 November 2012
This is an excellent example of why CMI should refrain from historical commentary and stick to defending young Earth Creationism.
Don’t we have enough people in the world promoting politically correct worldviews, without having Christian “leaders” doing so as well?
There is nothing at all sinful or nefarious in the notion that God has created (through His providential working in history) different people groups (or, what sane people call “races”) or that He’s given them different talents and abilities-different ways of glorifying Him.
Inequality (and even racial inequality, where race is seen through sane eyes as indicated above), is a fact of life,
…even if the Neo-Marxist, rabid-egalitarians who write for CMI don’t like it.
Carl Wieland responds:
Actually, this is an excellent example of why you should read One Human Family, because it is anything but politically correct, as you will see from the comments on its website. But you will need to be prepared to look afresh at old prejudices that have been cloaked in Christian-speak, and for some weird reason seen to be associated with conservative, biblical theology by some. The book grasps the nettle of unequal outcomes in various people groups, and what emerges is a strengthening of the biological and biblical realities that the Bible’s ‘big picture’ of human history would lead us to expect. I will wait to hear from you once you’ve read it, cover to cover.
Thomas L., United States, 30 November 2012
This article claims that “a proper reading of Genesis” results in an anti-racism stance, since we all came from Adam and Eve. However it was “a proper reading of Genesis” that Bob Jones University used to justify its racist leanings, citing that the peoples were scattered at the tower of Babel and stating that “God has separated people for his own purpose … and intends those differences to remain.” Genesis is a big book with many interpretations.
Carl Wieland responds:
Sorry, but there are normal historical-grammatical rules of interpretation by which it can be easily shown that there is only one meaning of Genesis that makes sense of the textual data, and it is the majority Christian view throughout history, namely that all people descended from Adam and Eve and only a few thousand years ago. This is reinforced in the New Testament. And as my book One Human Family (check out the book’s table of contents and other sample sections here) documents repeatedly, negative consequences for the way people treat others are inevitably associated with serious distortions of that Genesis ‘big picture’ of humanity. Concerning Babel, Genesis states that God had commanded people to spread out and fill the earth, and when they disobeyed, He scattered them. Any reading of racial intent into that is what is known as eisegesis, reading things into the text that are not there.
gary F., United States, 1 December 2012
Slave: a person who is the property of and wholly subject to another; a bond servant.
Until the Lord comes again, there will always be slavery. It will differ in degree and type but we all are in subjugation to all types of people and systems (government mandates, corporations, God, etc). More importantly, do we want to be a slave of Christ? or to men? or to the lusts of our own nature?
Carl Wieland responds:
While your point is understood in the way I hope you mean it, it would be unfortunate if it were to be seen as a sort of justification for, or a watering-down of the evils of, the sort of man-stealing that was so widespread in times past. And which the Apostle Paul condemns, and which was dealt a serious blow only through the efforts of committed Bible-believers precisely because of their biblical convictions (use the search engine on this site about slavery).
Adding to the excellent points Carl made, I wrote an article about this very issue that was published by American Thinker last year (www.americanthinker.com, full URL removed as per feedback rules).
Dear Dr Wieland, Thank you for this excellent article. I haven't read your book regarding Australian Aboriginals, but when I lived in the North West in the late 1980s I believe Path Lab Blood Test forms had a tick box to denote whether the blood was from an Aboriginal, implying there is a difference between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal blood. Is me memory correct, and if this is so, can you explain that difference to a layman, please?
I have been a blood component donor for many years so understand that certain people groups have differing requirements for transfusions. The UK Blood and Transplant Service has a very difficult job in recruiting donors from specific people groups in order to treat certain conditions, such as thalassaemia and SCA.
John, I would be only guessing as to why they asked this question --assuming of course that your memory on this is correct. There are of course differences in various ethnic groups, as the OHF book explains, in such things as the likelihood of transmitting various mutational diseases, like thalassemia or the Tay Sachs mutation, but these would not transmit via tranfusions. One possibility is that certain ethnic groups were regarded as statistically higher risk for e.g. Hepatitis B virus or AIDS/HIV. It may also be that this for research into the prevalence of such things, rather than implying an intrinsic difference in the blood. For a person receiving a particular blood transfusion, if the blood grouping is compatible, is not concerned by which ethnic group the blood comes from. Maybe a reader has more insight into what was on those forms in the 80s, and why.
We need to bear in mind that just because some Christians try to justify mistreating other humans (whether on the basis of their misinterpretation of biblical texts or on some so-called "scientific" pretext) doesn't mean that it is right or acceptable. With all due respect, I think the Southern Baptists were wrong on slavery. But by saying that, I'm not whitewashing history, but acknowledging it. We should take the Bible as our standard, not the behaviour of other sinful humans, however correct they may be in other areas.
Secondly,even if someone does something wrong in the Bible (e.g. David's adultery and killing of Uriah), it is not implying that we should do the same - it is usually reporting it as an object lesson and showing the consequences of sin.
Also, some of the slavery mentioned in the Bible is of a very different nature to that we think of today. In many cases (as in the Exodus passages mentioned at the top of the article), the slavery referred to is the principle of voluntarily becoming the unpaid servant of a person you were indebted to so that you could work off a debt you could not pay (note that in these passages, the Hebrew words translated “slave” can also mean “servant”). But critics tend to assume that slavery in the Bible was always of the sort we think of today (could say a lot more but no space).
As for Scott calling CMI writers "Neo-Marxist, rabid-egalitarians", I don't quite know whether to laugh or cry... On one level, at least it makes a change from the usual attempts to caricature Evangelical Christians as ultra right-wing fruit loops ...:o( But his comment that "inequality... is a fact of life" misses the point. Sadly, dishonesty, greed and hatred are also "facts of life", but that doesn't mean that we should indulge in them ourselves.
In mentioing racism clearly the Old Testastament forbad it in no uncertain terms:
"The stranger who lives as a foreigner with you shall be to you as the native-born among you, and you shall love them as yourself; for you lived as foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God" (Leviticus 19:34).
The point is that it should be clear since Israel were slaves in Egypt that before that Israel like in modernity today, servants were part of the mode for employment.
The whole ethos is in serving, and as our politicians are ministering and thus servants of the realm we see the actual meaning is that the Old and New Testaments were categorizing the role of a servant, God and Jesus being the prime examples of servants to humanity over the Devil's job of promoting slavery.
It has always been sinful/selfish human nature that likes to rebel against God’s commands (Leviticus 19:18; Mathew 7:12; 22:39) that has moved people to mistreat each other in all kinds of ways for personal gain.
And as for the foolishness of racism:
It is not the shape or colour of the bucket, but the condition of the contents (spirit) that is important to God, since the vessel (body) is only temporary anyway.
“… the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain... Then the dust will return to the earth as it was …” Ecclesiastes 12:6–7