A CAREFUL VIEW OF SCRIPTURE with Regard to LGBT Questions
Slavery and Racial Equality
Some of you might be wondering ... Why are we talking about slavery? Didn't we figure this out already? And the answer is that yes we did ... but it took us over eighteen hundred years to do so. And it took us even longer to recognize and practice equality ... Some folks believe we are still learning that last part. As I said on my main page I believe we are part of the church .... past ... present ... and future. We cannot disown ourselves from church history any more than we can cut off part of Christ's body ... the church. Many Christians have said that those who don't learn from the past will repeat their mistakes. So I believe it is always valuable to have an attitude of humility remembering past conflicts in the church and perhaps also remembering how ridiculous they might look now. Exploring this issue also reminds us that not all interpretation is literal ... it requires additional analysis ... and sometimes ... we may even go against what we see in scripture ... either seeing it as cultural bias or a misunderstanding. The fact is ... none of us are literalists. Most alleged literalists do not have the women in the church wearing head coverings ... nor do they insist on no jewelry and/or no make up. Keep in mind however .... that some parts of Christianity still do ... especially the Amish, Mennonite, and other "plain" traditions. So, while we are typically not literalists ... we cannot dismiss the idea as something we no longer see in the body of Christ today. So let us look at the issue of slavery and try to get into the shoes of the church of the past ... perhaps learning some important lessons in the process.
Lets first review various scriptures with regard to slavery...
See this link for all the scripture references below … the comments in parenthesis give a short overview of the passage.
Exodus 21:20-22 (beating a slave is not punishable unless the slave dies because the slave is property)
Exodus 21:26-27 (if a slave owner knocks out a slave's eye or tooth the slave should be set free)
Lev 19:20-21 (different than the penalty if a free man and a free woman are found together in bed)
Lev 25:38-40 and 42 (slavery reserved for those who are not Israelites)
Leviticus 25:44 (can only buy slaves from nations around you)
Leviticus 25:46 (can bequeath your slaves to your children as inherited property)
I Kings 9:21 (Solomon establishes slave labor)
Matthew 20:27 (Jesus speaking on slavery ... no condemnation of it)
Matthew24:45-46 (Jesus using slavery for end times instruction... no condemnation of it)
Mark 10:44 (Jesus speaking on slavery ... no condemnation of it)
Romans 6:19 (slavery to sin versus slavery to righteousness ... again ... no condemnation of slavery)
I Cor 7:21-23 (if you are a slave gain freedom if you can ... but no condemnation of slavery)
Ephesians 6:5-6 (slaves obey your masters just as you would Christ ... no abolitionist argument here.)
Collosians 3:22 (slaves obey your masters ... again ... no talk of freedom from slavery as a right)
I Timothy 6:1 (consider masters worthy of respect ...again ... no condemnation of slavery )
I Timothy 6:2 (talks of believing masters ... again ... no condemnation of slavery)
Titus 2:9 (slaves be subject to masters in everything)
I Peter 2:18 (slaves submit to masters... again ... no condemnation of slavery)
The above verses are rather clear on slavery ... it is established and managed by God without any command to abolish it.
Various quotes below by Christian people (some of whom were leaders in the church) through the centuries reflect that same sentiment...
"But by nature, as God first created us, no one is the slave either of man or of sin. This servitude is, however, penal, and is appointed by that law which enjoins the preservation of the natural order and forbids its disturbance; for if nothing had been done in violation of that law, there would have been nothing to restrain by penal servitude. And therefore the apostle admonishes slaves to be subject to their masters, and to serve them heartily and with good-will, so that, if they cannot be freed by their masters, they may themselves make their slavery in some sort free, by serving not in crafty fear, but in faithful love, until all unrighteousness pass away, and all principality and every human power be brought to nothing, and God be all in all." Source:St. Augustine of Hippo, City of God, Book XIX, Chapter. 15.
"Jesus Christ recognized this (i.e. slavery) institution as one that was lawful among men, and regulated its relative duties. ... I affirm then, first (and no man denies) that Jesus Christ has not abolished slavery by a prohibitory command; and second, I affirm, he has introduced no new moral principle which can work its destruction." Source:Reverend Thomas Stringfellow,A Scriptural View of Slavery, Culpeper County, Virginia, 1856.
"If we prove that domestic slavery is, in the general, a natural and necessary institution, we remove the greatest stumbling block to belief in the Bible; for whilst texts, detached and torn from their context, may be found for any other purpose, none can be found that even militates against slavery. The distorted and forced construction of certain passages, for this purpose, by abolitionists, if employed as a common rule of construction, would reduce the Bible to a mere allegory, to be interpreted to suit every vicious taste and wicked purpose. Source:George Fitzhugh,Cannibals All! or Slaves without Masters(Richmond, VA, 1857)
"If any one shall teach a slave, under pretext of piety, to despise his master and to run away from his service, and not to serve his own master with good-will and all honour, let him be anathema." Source:Synod of Gangra, ca. 340 C.E.
See also The Religious Defense of Slavery before 1830(link) some of its points are...
That a literal read of the bible showed an affirmation of slavery.
That the Old and New Testament sacred writings were inerrant and contained the word of God.
That these writings had equal authority that reflected the truth of God.
There can be nothing that challenges the authority of God
God does not need to give a reason for what he has decreed (slavery) for God is just
That Africans are descendants of Ham … the son of Noah who was cursed by Noah … cursed to be slaves … this was looked at as God’s unchangeable authority.
I think the above review is self explanatory. This is what many in the church thought and believed about slavery. So ... a valid question to ask is ...
What turned this view around?
Excerpts from William Wilberforce's speech below gives us some clues... note the contrasts between how a man named Mr. Norris had described the conditions of slaving ships versus William Wilberforce's clarification of those conditions...
"One would think it had been determined to heap upon them all the varieties of bodily pain, for the purpose of blunting the feelings of the mind; and yet, in this very point (to show the power of human prejudice) the situation of the slaves has been described by Mr. Norris, one of the Liverpool delegates, in a manner which, I am sure will convince the House how interest can draw a film across the eyes, so thick, that total blindness could do no more; and how it is our duty therefore to trust not to the reasonings of interested men, or to their way of colouring a transaction.
“Their apartments,” says Mr. Norris, “are fitted up as much for their advantage as circumstances will admit. The right ancle of one, indeed is connected with the left ancle of another by a small iron fetter, and if they are turbulent, by another on their wrists.
They have several meals a day; some of their own country provisions, with the best sauces of African cookery; and by way of variety, another meal of pulse, &c. according to European taste. After breakfast they have water to wash themselves, while their apartments are perfumed with frankincense and lime-juice. Before dinner, they are amused after the manner of their country. The song and dance are promoted,” and, as if the whole was really a scene of pleasure and dissipation it is added, that games of chance are furnished. “The men play and sing, while the women and girls make fanciful ornaments with beads, which they are plentifully supplied with.” Such is the sort of strain in which the Liverpool delegates, and particularly Mr. Norris, gave evidence before the privy council.
What will the House think when, by the concurring testimony of other witnesses, the true history is laid open. The slaves who are sometimes described as rejoicing at their captivity, are so wrung with misery at leaving their country, that it is the constant practice to set sail at night, lest they should be sensible of their departure. The pulse which Mr. Norris talks of are horse beans; and the scantiness, both of water and provision, was suggested by the very legislature of Jamaica in the report of their committee, to be a subject that called for the interference of parliament.
Mr. Norris talks of frankincense and lime juice;
...when surgeons tell you the slaves are stowed so close, that there is not room to tread among them: and when you have it in evidence from sir George Yonge, that even in a ship which wanted 200 of her complement, the stench was intolerable.
The song and the dance, says Mr. Norris, are promoted.
It had been more fair, perhaps, if he had explained that word promoted. The truth is, that for the sake of exercise, these miserable wretches, loaded with chains, oppressed with disease and wretchedness, are forced to dance by the terror of the lash, and sometimes by the actual use of it. “I,” says one of the other evidences, “was employed to dance the men, while another person danced the women.” Such, then is the meaning of the word promoted; and it may be observed too, with respect to food, that an instrument is sometimes carried out, in order to force them to eat which is the same sort of proof how much they enjoy themselves in that instance also. As to their singing, what shall we say when we are told that their songs are songs of lamentation upon their departure which, while they sing, are always in tears, insomuch that one captain (more humane as I should conceive him, therefore, than the rest) threatened one of the women with a flogging, because the mournfulness of her song was too painful for his feelings.
In order, however, not to trust too much to any sort of description, I will call the attention of the House to one species of evidence which is absolutely infallible. Death, at least, is a sure ground of evidence, and the proportion of deaths will not only confirm, but if possible will even aggravate our suspicion of their misery in the transit. It will be found, upon an average of all the ships of which evidence has been given at the privy council, that exclusive of those who perish before they sail, not less than 12½ per cent. perish in the passage. Besides these, the Jamaica report tells you, that not less than 4½ per cent. die on shore before the day of sale, which is only a week or two from the time of landing. One third more die in the seasoning, and this in a country exactly like their own, where they are healthy and happy as some of the evidences would pretend. The diseases, however, which they contract on shipboard, the astringent washes which are to hide their wounds, and the mischievous tricks used to make them up for sale, are, as the Jamaica report says, (a most precious and valuable report, which I shall often have to advert to) one principle cause of this mortality. Upon the whole, however, here is a mortality of about 50 per cent. and this among negroes who are not bought unless (as the phrase is with cattle) they are sound in wind and limb. How then can the House refuse its belief to the multiplied testimonies before the privy council, of the savage treatment of the negroes in the middle passage? Nay, indeed, what need is there of any evidence? The number of deaths speaks for itself, and makes all such enquiry superfluous."
I don't know about you but the above brief excerpt is quite an eye opener. In answer to the question we asked earlier it is evident that empathy ... not necessarily biblical chapter and verse ... were a main point raised by the abolitionists. This is not to say that scripture was not used as a counter to the poor treatment of slaves as can be seen in this document. This is from one source that also includes biblical reasons for not having slavery. Note: The proofs for not having slavery were mainly taken from the passages that did not allow fellow Israelites to be slaves. This was not effective against the (incorrect) concept that God had predestined certain races for slavery. Yet scripture ... while not condemning slavery ... did condemn mistreatment of slaves. This was a point about which the abolitionists could make their stand against the more literal interpretation view of pro-slavery Christians.
However, racial equality was a concept that did not come until much later. One clear evidence of this can be found in this excerpt of a speech by Abraham Lincoln. While Abraham Lincoln pushed for and succeeded in making slavery illegal he was not in favor of equality and also seemed to imply that ... by nature ... the person of color would never be equal to the white man. This may have been a political ploy in his day or it may represent his actual beliefs and convictions.
Abraham Lincoln Speech Excerpt... from September 18th 1858 at Charleston, Illinois (full speech at available at this link)
While I was at the hotel to-day, an elderly gentleman called upon me to know whether I was really in favor of producing a perfect equality between the negroes and white people. [Great Laughter.] While I had not proposed to myself on this occasion to say much on that subject, yet as the question was asked me I thought I would occupy perhaps five minutes in saying something in regard to it. I will say then
that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, [applause]
-that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people;
and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality.
And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied every thing.
I do not understand that because I do not want a negro woman for a slave I must necessarily want her for a wife. [Cheers and laughter.] My understanding is that I can just let her alone. I am now in my fiftieth year, and I certainly never have had a black woman for either a slave or a wife. So it seems to me quite possible for us to get along without making either slaves or wives of negroes.
I will add to this that I have never seen, to my knowledge, a man, woman or child who was in favor of producing a perfect equality, social and political, between negroes and white men. I recollect of but one distinguished instance that I ever heard of so frequently as to be entirely satisfied of its correctness-and that is the case of Judge Douglas's old friend Col. Richard M. Johnson. [Laughter.] I will also add to the remarks I have made (for I am not going to enter at large upon this subject,) that I have never had the least apprehension that I or my friends would marry negroes if there was no law to keep them from it, [laughter] but as Judge Douglas and his friends seem to be in great apprehension that they might, if there were no law to keep them from it, [roars of laughter] I give him the most solemn pledge that I will to the very last, stand by the law of this State, which forbids the marrying of white people with negroes. [Continued laughter and applause].
So again ... was this a political ploy to outlaw slavery with the intention to introduce civil rights later? or Abe Lincoln's honest musings? ... you decide. We will ... unfortunately ... never know ... as Abraham Lincoln was taken from us so we will never see what might have been. However the laughter and applause he evoked from the audience above would seem to indicate that equality was rather far from their minds. Otherwise ... the people of that day would not have found his remarks so humorous. And it is evident from the ongoing Jim Crow laws that true equality took a long time.
I include below a small sampling of Jim Crow laws that were in existence from the 1880's until the 1960's...
Nurses: No person or corporation shall require any white female nurse to nurse in wards or rooms in hospitals, either public or private, in which negro men are placed. Alabama
Buses: All passenger stations in this state operated by any motor transportation company shall have separate waiting rooms or space and separate ticket windows for the white and colored races. Alabama
Railroads: The conductor of each passenger train is authorized and required to assign each passenger to the car or the division of the car, when it is divided by a partition, designated for the race to which such passenger belongs. Alabama
Restaurants: It shall be unlawful to conduct a restaurant or other place for the serving of food in the city, at which white and colored people are served in the same room, unless such white and colored persons are effectually separated by a solid partition extending from the floor upward to a distance of seven feet or higher, and unless a separate entrance from the street is provided for each compartment. Alabama
Pool and Billiard Rooms: It shall be unlawful for a negro and white person to play together or in company with each other at any game of pool or billiards. Alabama
Toilet Facilities, Male: Every employer of white or negro males shall provide for such white or negro males reasonably accessible and separate toilet facilities. Alabama
Education: The schools for white children and the schools for negro children shall be conducted separately. Florida
Intermarriage: It shall be unlawful for a white person to marry anyone except a white person. Any marriage in violation of this section shall be void. Georgia
Barbers: No colored barber shall serve as a barber [to] white women or girls. Georgia
Burial: The officer in charge shall not bury, or allow to be buried, any colored persons upon ground set apart or used for the burial of white persons. Georgia
So again ... it seems that empathy and the call to not mistreat people (slaves) was a major part of the push toward the end of slavery. But full equality was a concept that would take almost 100 years to come about. It would be wonderful if we would find that the church which we are part of as one body of Christ would have led the country away from the above Jim Crow laws and into the next steps toward equality. Unfortunately ... this was not the case. I can remember the reading of historical District Assembly documents from the mid 1900's that many Nazarene Church congregations had left the inner cities due to the increasing (people of color) population. And I know of a church (not Nazarene) that refused to sell their church building to a black congregation in the 1950's. So while Christ calls us to lead the way in treating others with grace, love and respect we seemed to have failed to lead in this area. Sadly ... history shows that we are not always the salt and light we are called to be in our world and ... sometimes... with some exceptions ... we can be part of the darkness. Dr. Martin Luther King's letter (responding to those who were criticizing him) for those asking him to wait is yet another indication of the sluggishness of some of the church to read the signs of the times and the will of God (link).
Civil rights in the 1960's was in my life time. I can recall the concerns and discussions about desegregation and interracial marriage among church goers. The 1960's was a turbulent time in our history and the church often tried to hold on to everything in the past ... without realizing that some things needed to be let go of. Racial equality and equality for women were concepts that we .... along with our culture ... struggled to embrace during that time ... Some would say we are still struggling in some of these areas. Part of this might be due to the cultural influence of the day. Part of this might be because a literal read of the scripture does not show support for abolition nor equality. We may find support for them in the more abstract over-arching assumptions that we conclude from scripture.. but sometimes those conclusions seem to run contrary to what scripture plainly says. Whatever excuses we might make or whatever whitewashing of history we might attempt it is noteworthy that many denominations have since apologized for the racism they supported. (See link) These apologies are a bit late (as in after the 20th century) for the many generations that suffered and died before hearing them so we can only hope and pray that God continues to bring healing for past offenses and that we would be open to his leading in the future to both not perpetuate those mistakes and not make them all over again.
What are some things we can learn from this?
We need a biblical attitude. In short the bible is quite candid about its leader's and hero's shortcomings. We should do the same.
We need to realize that a literal inerrant view of scripture does not always lead us to truth. This is consistent with a Nazarene understanding of scripture. As I discuss on the interpretation page .... bible interpretation is more than just reading the words or quoting things out of context.
We should consider using over-arching principles of scripture should guides us ... principles such as God not showing partiality (equality) ... God's grace and mercy to all (perfection ... see verse ???) ... The call to fair treatment of all people (even enemies)... Commands not to slander others or treat others with partiality (James ???) to name a few
We should be willing to step out of cultural norms by realizing the God's thought are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways. This can be challenging as we all like to live in boxes at times.
We need an attitude of humility in recognizing church failures of the past ... noting that some of the things that denominations split over with each side convinced they were right are now something no one would defend today.
We need an attitude of prayer and submission to the Holy Spirit .... being willing to put everything on the table before God and allowing him to pick up or discard those things/beliefs as He deems appropriate.
I pray that with the Lord's help ... you and I will be able to do this both individually and as brothers and sisters in the one body of Jesus Christ. Amen.
I could have written volumes on this topic. But what I have written is hopefully sufficient. For those who want to do further research here are various references regarding slavery, racism, and abolition ...
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I believe that what I have written on this website is within the boundaries of the theology and beliefs of my denomination. However, homosexuality is a very complex topic with varied viewpoints. Since this is the case, it should be understood that the views expressed by myself and other Christians on this website and in our blog and / or forums (if we have them) may not necessarily reflect the official position of my / their respective denominations. Additionally, when / if I reference various web resources it should not be assumed to be an endorsement of the entirety of that resource.