Lutheran Pastors Think Slavery Is Not So Bad After All.

A post by Neil Hart on homosexuality, LGBT, lesbian and gay stuff and the Lutheran Church of Australia.

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I think slavery is unfairly maligned! It’s not really that bad.

Try dropping that little conversational hand grenade into the mix at your next dinner party. No. Wait. Try dropping it as a conversation starter when your new boyfriend introduces you to his parents. Or perhaps at your next job interview. Go on! I dare you.

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In March this year hundreds of US young people from the conservative end of the political spectrum met for a thing called CPAC 2013. Conservative Political Action Conference.

I grabbed this snippet for your viewing pleasure. A *young white southern middle*  defends his demographic and his culture. He comes from one of those states where they  remember the American Civil War as the *War of Northern Aggression*.

Get that? An African-American speaker refers to a 19th century slave who forgives his previous slave master for all the things that had been done to him.

And the CPAC Southern*s response …

For giving him food and shelter and all that?

Did you see the lady with the blue cardi? Her jaw dropped so far she risked dislocation. Most of those at the conference seemed to have been a little disturbed by the CPAC Southern*s pro-slavery remark.

Where does such a sentiment come from? It might be a bit presumptuous but… I think I understand him. Remember his opening remarks?

…as I read about the past I really came to love my people and my culture. I know that’s anathema…

He loves and is proud of his home state. But he feels that the honour of his home is under question so he is defensive and protective of the thing he loves.

And right there he has a problem. His home state was a slave state. His great great great grandaddy fought in one of the bloodiest wars in history to defend his right to buy and sell and profit from his ownership of his fellow human beings.  How does one defend the honour of one*s family tree when it has such a blighted branch?

Our CPAC Southern has found an answer that works for him.

Denial.

Slave owners provided…* food and shelter and all that*.

See! Slavery was not so bad and so my people and my culture are not so bad.

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As I watched the clip I was reminded that remarks similar to those made by the CPAC Southern were made at two  Lutheran  pastors gatherings that I have attended. The problem is, far  from the remarks being met with the dropped jaws and the shock exhibited at the CPAC conference, the remarks received broad acceptance.

No. I’m not kidding.

Gathering 1. The speaker is an invited US conservative Lutheran Pastor of the Missouri flavour. He is speaking about marriage. He draws from the text in Ephesians 5 which specifies that husbands should love their wives and  wives should obey their husbands. He takes the text literally and holds to a traditional man-is-the-head-of-woman view.

I questioned whether Ephesians can be taken so literally. I reminded him that in this passage the Apostle Paul describes a 3 fold ordering of society  where wives should obey their husbands, children should obey their parents and slaves should obey their masters. I asked the speaker why he considered the first part of this social trinity as literally-true-for-all-time word of God and yet would clearly reject the last part of the passage which promotes the abhorrent practice of slavery.

I was looking for his hermeneutic, his method of interpretation. On what basis did he highlight some passages of scripture but ignore or downplay others even when they appear side by side and as a part of the biblical author*s same argument?

His response was unexpected.

I think you have a rather jaundiced view of Biblical slavery!

Well…yes, yes I do…  Are you telling me that you DONT??!

Gathering 2. This time the discussion is on homosexuality and the Bible. I made the same challenge to the pastors gathered.

How can you hold to the verses which you believe condemn homosexuality when you clearly do not hold to a biblical view on slavery? The Bible has only 6 or so isolated verses which are commonly used in the anti-gay argument. But consider slavery. It is enshrined in numerous Old Testament Laws. It is ratified in the New Testament as a part of God*s ordering of society alongside of such indissoluble institutions as marriage and parenthood and , similar to marriage,  the relationship between slave and master is described as an earthly mirror of the relationship between Christ and his people. (Eph 5 and Col 3). On what basis do we reject the slavery passages and yet accept the supposed anti-gay texts?

Once again the question was meant to raise the issue of principles of interpretation. I really didn’t expect a defense of slavery. But that’s what I got. In an almost identical statement to that offered by the CPAC  Southern,  one pastor said…

According to a Biblical model slaves were well cared for.

Yes. Yes they were. And they were OWNED. One human being owned another human being,  controlled what they could do and where they could go.  They allowed or forbade sexual unions between slaves and owned the children of such unions who, as commodities, could be on-sold.

(Sigh.)

The pastors in both gatherings felt a need to defend and justify the biblical position on slavery. But why such a need to defend the indefensible?  I think I hear an echo of the CPAC Southern.

We are  proud of our heritage, our faith tradition and the book from whence it flows. To question  the Bible*s laws and teachings which uphold the virtues of slavery is to question the faith tradition itself. Logical conclusion… slavery is not so bad. It can’t be… coz the bible accepts, defends and enshrines its practice.

Thank God that international law is based on common sense and principles of fundamental human rights and dignity and not on these pastors* slavish adherence to the words of the Bible.

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Of course, there is another possible approach, just as there was for the  CPAC Southern.  Both our Southern friend and the pastors could simply acknowledge that their people, their ancestry, got slavery wrong.

That is the simple truth? Slavery is bad and the Bible got it wrong. 

(OH! So NOW your jaw drops in shock and horror??!)

Cmon! Are you telling me that the Bible got slavery RIGHT? Of course not.

Actually, there are far worse things in the bible than a codified defence of slavery. Have a read of Judges 11. 29-40  It would be difficult to find a more perverse story. Anytime. Anywhere. Yet Jephthah,  the purveyor of this perversity, the one who slices the throat of his teenaged daughter and burns her on the sacrificial pyre as an offering to Yahweh, is listed as one of the heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11. And the  willingness of the girl to subject herself to such an atrocity was celebrated annually by the Hebrews. It is an obscene tale. What does one make of passages such as this… passages such as slavery?

The CPAC Southern attempted to defend his culture by defending the indefensible. It was a mistake and everyone in the room knew it. His words only serve to throw a veil over the truly beautiful and worthy things that his tradition DOES have to offer. A simple admission of the truth about slavery does not in any way diminish that beauty.

Any attempt to defend the Bible*s position on slavery or child sacrifice or the ownership of wives as chattels comes from the same mistaken loyalty.  Such defenses are ethically untenable. These things have no modern application.

The pastors need to realise  that their attempts to remain loyal to the book ultimately do a disservice to Jesus. It IS , after all, Jesus who we follow and not a book. It is  Jesus whose words and deeds are so full of the essence of life that, as far as I can tell,  they have no equal anywhere in human history. Any attempt to defend the indefensible only serves to cloud that beautiful essence.

Dear Reader, there is some crap stuff in the Bible. There just is.  But I encourage you to stare it in the face. Don’t flinch. Do it without fear because you will find that such an honest look does not in any way diminish all that the book has to tell us of Jesus and the fullness of life that he offers.

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As to how one might distinguish between the indefensible and those words that are of true beauty and lasting value… well… that’s for another time… But it IS a discussion well worth having. Anyone else interested?