When Christianity Wounds: On the So-Called Scriptural Treatment of Minorities

A professor recently prompted me to read a few pieces of literature that delineate a Christian, specifically Baptist, defense of slavery in the American Antebellum (pre-civil war) period. And yes, I did say a Christian defense of slavery.

The one I wish to discuss here on the blog is Exposition of the Views of the Baptists Relative to the Coloured Population in the United States. This was actually a letter written in 1822 from Dr. Richard Furman, president of the first national Baptist convention, the Triennial Convention, to the Governor of South Carolina. You can read this here if you wish.

A brief though fair inventory of his arguments are as follows:

  • slavery is scriptural.
    • 1 Timothy 6.1-2 “Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be blasphemed. Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful to them on the ground that they are members of the church; rather they must serve them all the more, since those who benefit by their service are believers and beloved.” (Also see Exodus 21, Leviticus 25.44-46, Philemon, Ephesians 6.5)
    •  Furman states that since slavery is in fact sanctioned in the Bible, it cannot be sinful. Basically, if slavery could be considered a moral evil, the B-I-B-L-E would tell us so but instead implores slaves to obey their masters and behave well under their rule. He also said that abolitionists perverted the word of God and should examine themselves carefully.
  • slavery is in America’s best interests.
    • Cotton was everything and plantations needed slaves to remain operational. The economy of the South was absolutely dependent on the institution of slavery. The author does note that he would be happy to see the slaves be emancipated one day, but surely since their bondage is a necessity of American success it could not be God’s will to abolish slavery just yet.
    • There had been several insurrections, or revolts, by both slaves and freed African-Americans that stemmed from the Blacks’ desire for equality and justice. In particularly, was the Denmark Vesey Revolt that occurred the same year Furman wrote this exposition. Furman’s argument then is that the hope of emancipation stirs up the Black population to revolt against the law and their slave-owners, which would suck.
  • slavery is in the slaves’ best interests.
    • This is one of Furman’s more despicable arguments, posing that white men actually saved them from the poverty, anarchy and constant war that they would have faced in Africa. But more importantly, the slaves would never have been introduced to the Christian faith if they had not been purchased by whites. He argues that in light of these things, slaves in America experience a tolerably happy life. Plus, if they decided to revolt nationwide, they would be crushed because they were generally ignorant of battle tactics and weaponry.
  • slavery is the natural order of things.
    • A popular anti-slavery argument from scripture at the time was the Golden Rule, which is actually a very poignant argument. However, Furman rebutted to this by positing that a father does not have to  obey the orders given him by his son, for this would disrupt the natural order, such it is with slave to slave-owner relationship.

Now there are some more tolerable ideas that Furman postulated in his letter, like drafting a law that protects the slave from any tyrannical acts taken by his owner. Unfortunately, there are some ideas he lays out in the letter that are even more disappointing than anything I’ve noted here. I also want to point out that these are essentially mild versions of the way Christians in general felt about slavery all through the south, it wasn’t just baptists but almost everyone. Remember it was the puritans that brought the slaves over in the early 1600s. All this to say, this line of reason was the ammunition the south used to argue Emancipation until 1865.

Why am I writing all of this and posting it on a blog for people to read? I mean it is depressing and honestly, downright disgusting.

Here’s why:

We can get the bible to say anything we damn well please.

And the scarier reality of it is that since before the Church even officially decided what would comprise the New Testament, certain individuals/groups have manipulated the bible in a way that takes power, even humanity at times, away from other certain individuals/groups.

Sidenote: I mean, it is 2015 and there are a myriad of churches that won’t allow women to serve in leadership over men, claiming that it is unbiblical for a female to lead, pastor or even be a deacon. This is absolutely absurd.

Suffice it to say that from Rome to the Crusades to the KKK, groups of so-called “Christians” (little-Christs) have wielded the scriptures as a sword, pun intended, drawing suffering and even blood from weaker groups.

So, let’s stop. ok? ok.

The bible absolutely deals with slavery and submission of women as they are cultural and historical realities that exist during the time scripture was written. However, arguably the most pervasive theme of scripture is the liberation of those under oppression AND there were women who were preachers, deacons and even pastors in the bible.

In his Letter From A Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr. expressed that his deepest disappointment was in the “moderate whites.” He was obviously grateful for the whites who took action in the Civil Rights Movement and disagreed vehemently with those who oppressed blacks but the dismay he felt deepest in his bones was reserved for those who believed in the Civil Rights Movement and had the ability to do something, but chose not to: the white moderates.

It is my hope that Dr. King’s words haunt us to the grave. Let us never be people who choose to let injustice happen.

Let us not only refuse to mishandle scripture at the expense of minorities but rather let us always be found guilty of fighting for the rights of the oppressed, powerless and mute.

Thanks to the work of thousands of brave souls, we now clearly perceive slavery to be the horrifying injustice that it is. In the Church, we are also finally seeing the rights of leadership and equality being restored to women.

I challenge you to ask yourself these questions:

Have I aided in the oppression of minority groups because of the way I read scripture?

What groups are we currently oppressing?

What will you do about it?