My goal in these posts is to raise epistemological awareness of some issues relating to biblical ethics. As it stands, any humanist can ride circles around well-meaning Christian ethicists on what the Bible says about slavery.
After searching TGC for specifics on this debate, and wading through a lot of irrelevant posts on “insensitivity,” Anyabwile finally gets to the heart of the matter. He writes,
This, the central premise of the book, fails to sense how horrific an experience slavery was for African Americans.
Wilson’s larger argument is that Southern slavery was far more benign than Roman slavery. I do not think he is saying it is an ethical good, but merely making a contrast. I might take issue with some parts of Wilson’s book, but he has a point here: what was the difference between slaves in Greece and Rome and Southern slaves? The former could be killed and sexually used with impunity. While this certainly happened to a lesser degree in the South, the South had moral and cultural bulwarks to lessen this evil. Rome did not. Here is the argument: The Hellenistic world saw the man as needing sexual release in any way he got. Semen was building up in him and he had to release it somehow (other men, women, animals, slaves, etc). Even Roman and Greek youth–youth who were not slaves– could be masturbated on until they became adults (Cahill, Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea). The only thing forbidden was actual penetration. Now if that would happen to the free sons, imagine–or don’t, for that matter–what would have happened to the slaves. That didn’t happen in the South. There’s Christianity for you. But Lincoln died on the cross to free the slaves.
Does that make African slavery right? (Why just African? Many Scots and Irish went to the plantations, too). My point is that if Paul knew that was happening to slaves in the Roman empire and he didn’t say anything (the only thing he did say was Masters be right to your slaves), then that sheds some light on Southern slavery and the Church.
Second, Wilson writes about the “obvious inferiority of black culture” with seemingly no understanding or acknowledgement of how the Southern culture he’s defending actually actively guaranteed black underdevelopment!
I think both of them are wrong on this point. Wilson is simply stating a historical fact: where in Africa do you find Bach, Vivaldi, and neo-Classical architecture prior to the coming of the European? Where did Voodoo come from? Why did the Haitians consecrate their island to Satan? The Malinese are kind of an exception. I am not making a judgment, just an observation. Anyabwile does have a point that the Southerner could have done a better job in elevating black culture. Fair enough.
Anyabwile is upset that Wilson writes,
Christians who doubt this should consider whether it was safer to be a black child in the womb in 1858 or in 2005″
But this is no different than what Martin Luther King’s daughters have been saying for the longest time. Why is it bold and heroic for Alveda King to say stuff like this but racist for Wilson to say it? It is no different than What Ms Sanger said when she started Planned Parenthood. It is no different from what Alice Walker’s daughter has said, and Anyabwile has yet to answer the question, “Well, is it more dangerous?”
Wilson had written that more people are upset over someone’s calling Robert E. Lee an honorable than the black-on-black crime. Well, he has a point.
Even Will Smith was bold enough to call out black on black crime.
Anyabwile for the most part doesn’t deal with the specifics of biblical exegesis or historical realities. At most he simply accuses Wilson of “racial insensitivity.” Let’s pretend that is a sin for the moment. Per Matthew 18, eventually Wilson should be excommunicated from the church (let’s pretend the Federal Vision didn’t happen for a moment). By extension, that also means that anyone who thinks Robert E Lee is a noble human being is also guilty of racial insensitivity and thus risks excommunication, which is being cut off from the Kingdom of God.
How is this any different from Romanist tyranny? Racial inensitivity is not a biblical category, and so it isn’t a sin. Aspects of said behavior might be sinful in “not putting others first,” but that’s a different question. While we are on racial fellowship in the church, when I used to attend Auburn Avenue (this was a long time ago) there were black people in the church (how many white PCa churches can say that today? LOL). We had the Lord’s Supper every week. Thus, blacks and whites were sharing communion and eucharist with each other. I would say at the same table ala Galatians 2, but churches don’t eat communion at tables any more, Galatians 2 notwithstanding. But you get the idiom.