The problems facing American Neo-Covenanting

There is much good in the Covenanter tradition, and this post will pain many (myself most of all).  But if they want an intellectual (Or even better, political) future then they need to own up to some challenges.  I honor and admire Richard Cameron and Alexander Peden (hey, they received extra-scriptural prophecy.  Anybody want to take up that one?).  I do not think, however, that the entire Covenanting tradition was able to hold the strings together.  And that’s not just my take on it. I think Moore argues the same thing (Our Covenant Heritage). These challenges are not simply my making up because people started slandering Christ’s elders in his church on Facebook (like Stonewall Jackson).  They point to deeper issues.

While the problems in the Covenanter tradition can easily point back to the Battle of Bothwell Bridge (cf Maurice Grant’s biographies of both Cameron and Cargill; excellent reads), I was alerted to some of the tensions by T. Harris.  Again, I am writing this so Covenanters can work out the difficulties now instead of having to make hard and fast choices on the field of battle later.   You can be angry with me, but I am your best friend.

1.  The Hatred of the South

This is myopic and almost unhealthy.   Modern covenanting talks about how evil the South is and never once tries to work through the sticky issues of how best to help freed slaves.   Or slaves who didn’t want to be freed.  As evil as slavery might have been, simply throwing the blacks out on the street only it makes it worse.   The slave-owners (and many slaves) knew this.

And it really comes back to the question:  is the relation between master and slave sinful?  This is a very specific question.  This is why Freshman atheists have a field day with us.  But I know the response:  buying stolen property, especially human property, is sinful.  Perhaps it is, but didn’t Paul know this when he outlined healthy parameters for both masters and slaves?  How do you think the ancient Romans got slaves in the first place?  Democratic vote?  They were often prisoners of war, babies of raped women, and worse.  And does Paul say, in good John Brown fashion, “Rise up slaves and kill your masters” (though to be fair John Brown actually killed white Northerners)?

Northern Covenanters love to boast on how they “deny communion to man-stealers.”    Harris notes in response,

Athenagoras, defending the church against the pagan charge of cannibalism said, “moreover, we have slaves: some of us more, some fewer. We cannot hide anything from them; yet not one of them has made up such tall stories against us.” (Early Church Fathers, ed. C.C. Richardson, p. 338). But Alexander McLeod says to the slaveholder, “you cannot be in the church,” (p. 25) and this posture was eventually ratified by the entire covenanter church. On this point, their righteousness exceeded even that of our Lord and the apostles. And that is heady stuff.

Am I saying we should have slaves today?  Of course not.  But we need to seriously think through these issues instead of giving non-answers like “Christianity provided for civilization to move forward without slavery.”  To which I say, “early Medieval Russia.”

2.  The strange love-affair with Lincoln

This is odd, too.  Lincoln really didn’t care for Christianity and he routinely made darkie jokes.   He was the biggest white supremacist of the 19th century.  He ran on the platform, in essence, that he would not free a single slave.  My Covenanter friends–you are being deceived.

Someone could respond, “You’re just angry that the South lost.”  Perhaps, perhaps not.  That brings up another point

3.  Consistently outmaneuvered politically and militarily

Why is it that the Covenanters who have such a heroic (and rightly earned) reputation for godly resistance during the Killing  Times have routinely been outmaneuvered in the public square?  I’ll give three examples: Bothwell Bridge, Cromwell, and The War Between the States.

Bothwell

The Covenanters had already proved themselves at Drumclog.  Further, Bothwell Bridge forced the Royalists into a chokepoint.   While the ultimate cause for the covenanters defeat was lack of artillery and ammo, the outcome was in the air for a while.   The problem was whether to allow Indulged parties to participate.  Granted, the Indulged sinned and were under God’s judgment.  Cameron and others were right to resist elsewhere, but Bothwell was not an ecclesiastical act.  It was a military one.   Indulged ammunition wasn’t sinful per se.

Cromwell

Covenanters call Cromwell the Usurper.   It is somewhat ironic given that these Covenanters had fought a war of defiance (rightly so) against the very same king.  I have to ask, though, precisely what did you expect when rallying behind the (well-known) debauched papal pervert Charles II?  Granted, he vowed the covenants.  Granted, he should have owned up to them.   Still, anyone could have seen how this was going to end.

How else was Cromwell to interpret this?   He knew the Covenanters were militarily capable, so he is seeing an armed host rallying behind the dynasty against which both had recently fought a war.  But even then, the Covenanters could have held him off and forced a peace.   Their actions at Dunbar as as unbelievable as they are inexplicable.  They had the advantage of both place and time.  Ignoring that, they decided to meet Cromwell on equal footing.  In response, Cromwell executed one of the most perfect maneuvers in military history (that was still studied and practiced in the 20th century by America, England, and Germany) and in effect subdued Scotland.

To make it worse, Grant notes that Cromwell’s subjugation of Scotland allowed the kirk to flourish spiritually.  Ye shall know them by their fruits.

Lincoln (again)

I must quote Harris in detail for full affect.

“Most of its members were enthusiastically for the war and anxious to participate in it as far as they could without violating their principle of dissent from the government.” (p. 58) This despite the fact that Lincoln himself constantly said the war was not about slavery. We now know Lincoln was a pathological liar; the covenanters must have known this in their bones as well, and gave vent to their approval of the “real reason,” concealed by Lincoln. At any rate, it is hard to imagine them getting so excited about a war that was about enforced union. In view of their history, that would be ironic indeed.

However, they exhibited a certain naiveté in two ways which may go part way to explain the madness. At one point, they concocted an oath to propose to the US as a basis for enlisting in the army, an oath that would be consistent with continued resistance to full submission. “I do swear by the living God, that I will be faithful to the United States, and will aid and defend them against the armies of the Confederate States, yielding all due obedience to military orders.” (p. 58) The charming bit here is the notion of defending against the armies of the CSA — armies which were purely defensive, and which would have been glad to disperse and go home, if it weren’t for the invading and marauding union armies. Somehow, they had built up a mythic view of an aggressive South, gobbling up adjacent lands by force of arms.

Covenanting on the Ground

This is open for discussion.  How exactly is National Covenanting going to work today?  Surely it means more than strong-arming congress in rejecting the First Amendment.

Note Bene:  Harris’s quotations are from David M. Carson. Transplanted to America: A Popular History of the American Covenanters to 1871. (Pittsburgh: Crown & Covenant Publications, n/d).

Drawing Conclusions

He continues with actual critiques of Wilson’s methodology, rather than saying “This hurts my feelings.”  In other words, now we are on to something.

It’s difficult to offer a critique of the history since there’s no clear substantive historical basis to the book. For example, Wilson writes that “it is necessary to get clear on the nature of American slavery, which was not what it’s abolitionist opponents claimed for it” (p. 4). But he doesn’t give us either a sustained critique of abolitionist claims or a sustained argument for a different view.

Well, he can say that. I thought the book offered history.  The world’s leading scholar on Antebellum slavery (Eugene Genovese) thought it offered history.  Who’s to say?

He summarizes Wilson’s thesis (accurately, I think)

Central to the book’s thesis and Wilson’s logic is the notion that “antebellum slavery was the normal kind of sinful situation” rather than “Apocalyptic Evil”

Here is why Wilson is right and Anyabwile is wrong:  the bible does not call slavery an apocalyptic evil, or even sin.  And if Cahill’s analysis of Hellenistic sociology is accurate, as I think it is, then Paul didn’t even call that institution evil, though he would have called the actions sinful.

And here is the dangerous challenge and warning:

At the same time, we should never allow secularists to come in and correct “mistakes” in our regular history that would also be considered (by our high gloss elites) to have been mistakes in the sacred history as well.

In fact, Wilson drops the hammer:

Why are we back-seat-driving for the Virginia plantation owner, or the Massachusetts farmer, when there is an abortion clinic just three miles from your house? What are we going to do about that, and why? Anything you praise a century and a half ago is praiseworthy now, right? Anything you condemn now should be condemned back then, right? If you would shoot somebody for doing “bad things” then, you should shoot somebody for doing worse now, right?

If slavery is evil and worth killing white Southerners over, and abortion is a greater evil (which all will grant), well…you aren’t stupid.  You can draw the conclusion. If you are not willing to draw it, then maybe you need to rework your historiography.

Wilson writes,

“It was the contention of this booklet that the way in which slavery ended has had ongoing deleterious consequences for modern Christians in our current culture wars, and that slavery was far more benign in practice than it was made to appear in the literature of the abolitionists” (p. 14; emphasis added).

Anyabbwile:  That’s a massive claim.

This is a commonsense claim.  I get really angry at conservatives for quoting Lincoln, comparing abortion to slavery, and then getting mad at Obama for executive orders.  So what that your state voted against sodomite marriages and a federal judge struck it down?  America fought a war that negated the 10th Amendment.  One of the consequences of that war is that a Federal judge has every constitutional right to strike down such a law (even if he will be judged by God for doing so).

.” I don’t begrudge Southerners telling their history and defending themselves at various points along the way.

Yes you do.

Anyabwile’s Specifics

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.

Anyabwile writes,

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.

The Anyabwile/Wilson debate

My take is different.  I am not here to defend the “Confederacy” or State’s Rights.  I am largely indifferent to the political minutiae of such issues.  My concern is that well-meaning Christians, rightly recoiling from concrete instances of racism, go beyond Scripture and proclaim as sin what Scripture does not call sin. This is the essence of Legalism.

I am not defending slavery. I am defending the Bible.  If the bible doesn’t call “slavery” a sin, then I can’t.  If the Bible doesn’t call for the Jubilee laws to be enacted on all Christians (whether or not that is a good idea) then we can’t say someone who doesn’t call for that is sinning.

Further, unless conservatives own up to the fact that the Bible sanctioned slavery as a regulation of ills in society, whether related to sin or just bad luck, they will lose every debate with humanists.

It’s difficult to follow this debate.  Neither debater does a good job collecting all of the posts for and against.  More often than not Anyabwile is not attacking biblical arguments but pointing out to Wilson that he is “insensitive.”  And?  After a while it gets hard to find yet new ways to “reconcile” or apologize for the infinite strands of racism.   Even worse, insensitivity isn’t  a biblical category.

Anyabwile begins with a list of agreements that most could agree on.  I do want to call attention to his “Jubilee” logic.  I agree that the Gospel liberates, but appealing to the Levitical Jubilee is problematic: 1) It’s in Leviticus so it isn’t immediately clear how it applies today (remember why Bahnsen got persecuted?) and 2) Jesus and the disciples did not make the connection between Jubilee logic and freeing slaves, whether or not such an inference is warranted.

Anyabwile rebuts Wilson for privileging constitutional arguments over GOd’s word.  If that is what Wilson truly were doing, then he’s wrong.  I don’t think that is the case, though.

Anyabwile writes,

Only an immediate end to slavery would have been consistent with the “jubilee logic” of the gospel and repentant of the “grievous sin” of racism upon which the practice was based.

I don’t want to sound cold or hard, but this isn’t true.  It flies in the face of Leviticus 25 (and if the Jubilee applies today, then so does chapter 25). And it is a matter of common sense that a person, white or black, who is culturally, educationally, and spiritually not as advanced cannot seriously participate in the advanced culture of a civilization.  Go to the ghetto today and tell me I am wrong.

Regarding #2: Speculation is vain.  We have no idea how slavery would have continued or ended if the South had won.  We do know that the Confederate elite:  Jackson, Lee, A.H. Stevens, and others rejected slavery and sought for better means of ending it.   Further, Wilson completely refutes Anyabwile’s logic:

For an American soldier to go the Middle East today and fight for “democracy” is also to fight against nations that don’t allow abortion-on-demand, and it is to fight for a nation that does. To help America is therefore to help abortion.

That is the most devastating rebuttal I have seen in the past few years.

Further, Wilson points out something painfully obvious:  Our obedience before God will be reckoned in how we dealt with the sins of our own era, not the sins of another. My central interest in all these historical issues has to do with how the legal principles that were laid down then are being understood and applied today.

Regarding #3 Anyabwile effectively concedes the debate to Wilson, only noting that we need to be gentle about “angular texts,” whatever that means.

Regarding #4:  I agree that the Constitution is a weak document and appeals to it are pathetically naive.

Elsewhere, Anyabwile tries to give concrete definitions on “racism” and “sensitivity.”  This is good, as many are notoriously vague on this point. He defines it as,

I would suggest it’s a certain inability or unwillingness to sense and lovingly consider the concerns, feelings, and perspectives of others across racial lines

Fair enough.   We should all be aware of common courtesy.  I’m just not clear on the biblical directive that I should use this as the filter for all truth and discussion.  Further, anybody to the left of Hillary Clinton is a racist by these standards.

He goes on to say,

So, who gets to decide? I don’t know if they get the final word, but the person so hurt should at least have the first word

 

Looks good on paper, but this can go back and forth.  Given the ubiquitous dominance of rap music, particularly its lyrics about women–white and black–does this count as a “hurt party?” (Just consult any Dr Dre song about white women getting raped and killed).  Anyabwile then gets to the heart of Wilson’s book, which I will address in another post.

 

When “That Devil” got saved

No, I am not a universalist.  That was a reference to NB Forrest.

Predestination and Sovereign grace expose the Pharisee in all of us. We want “bad” people to “really get it good and hard,” but then God saves them. This offends many. Predestination is offensive because if Forrest received forgiveness, then Christians are obligated to forgive him, too. 

The author gives a decent summary of Forrest’s life. The style is obviously pastoral, not historical. He has read all of the relevant material and is accurate in his analysis of it. There are some problems which I will list at the end of the review. 

Forrest’s enigma is that he exhibited Christian principles before his conversion. Even more, these very principles enable him to succeed. Yet, he refused to call himself a Christian. Part of the problem is that he knew he was obligated to hard violence in defense of Southern women and culture, yet he could not see–like many Christian pacifists today–that there is no tension between hard violence and holy violence when we defend the weak. It is a shame Forrest did not have good teaching on this point.

Forrest’s heroics make for good fiction, except that they are real. Passing over these (admittedly exciting) stories we will look at his rise through the Confederate ranks to emerge the military genius and hero to oppressed Southern women and children, both white and black (after the war a man was whipping a black woman and Forrest killed him). 

The author does a good job in showing what really happened at Ft Pillow, where Forrest was accused of butchering surrendering troops. A quick listing of the facts shows that the case against Forrest wouldn’t stand in any court:

  • Forrest urged Union commander Bradford to surrender. Bradford refused, raised the flag high, and fought. If anything, he is the guilty one.
  • Only 42% of the Union garrison died. Not only is that remarkably low for Civil War standards, if Forrest truly wanted to massacre the garrison, well, why didn’t he?
  • Many of the soldiers who surrendered their weapons picked them back up. In any military or police setting, drawing a weapon on an armed military opponent is a death sentence. This is common-sense.
  • While it’s possible that Forrest’s men executed the soldiers at point blank range, a more likely explanation for the powder burns is that Forrest had long told his men to fight primarily with revolvers and shotguns, and given the close-quarters combat of the fort, this makes more sense.
  • The Union garrison at Ft Pillow had long raped and extorted the local population. It was so bad that Union commanders ordered a stop to it (which was disregarded by Booth and Bradford).
  • Kastler doesn’t mention this last point, but Forrest’s men hit the fort from three sides.  The contingents hitting the fort later in the battle wouldn’t have known anything of the surrender ahead of time and would have only seen the Union flag flying.


After the War:

Legend has it that he started “The KKK.” Lost Cause adherents try to vindicate Forrest by saying it wasn’t the same Klan as it was today. Of course, that’s true–but what’s the point? No one will believe it. They will also point out that the Radical Republican governor of Tennessee called for the slaughter of most Southerners in the state, and so the Klan was formed as a defense unit. Again, that’s true but no one will believe it. 

What is historically verifiable, though, is that Forrest did not start the Klan. Forrest denied he was ever a member (though Morton says he was). In any case, Forrest was instrumental in stopping the Klan during its first phase.

Conversion

It is better to speak of Forrest’s regeneration than trying to pinpoint a specific conversion experience. Regeneration is the new birth. Conversion is a revival back to life (which may at times overlap with regeneration). I disagree with Kastler that the sermon on Matthew 7 was the “defining moment.” I think his praying a few weeks earlier was. But no matter. It is a beautiful story nonetheless.

Evaluation

The book is quite good. Kastler (for the most part) keeps a tight narrative. I read the book in one afternoon. There is a lot of speculation and sometimes it gets the better of Kastler. While I am sure Forrest was a “racist” (whatever that Marxist term means), Kastler contradicts himself on this point. He accuses Forrest of racism but never gives a specific example. And I don’t think racism governed Forrest’s actions in the slave-trade. For one, Forrest refused to break up families, 2) Forrest, having grown up poor, was likely more influenced by money than some sinister racist plot, and 3) the Freedman’s Bureau, no friend to white Southerners, criticized Forrest for being too nice to blacks! 

What could they have done?

In reading my following arguments, someone will likely conclude, “But you are defending the Confederacy” or “You are defending slavery” or “You are wacisth.”  However, I advance the opposite conclusion: any black racial commentator, while not agreeing with some of my conclusions, will agree with the presuppositions behind those conclusions.  Further, with the black activist I agree that many of the neo-conservative counter-arguments on the race war are either lame or hypocritical.

(Further, I need to say one more time so no one draws the wrong conclusion:  I reject the Confederacy as a political unit, leaving other questions about society and culture aside.  Even more: while I think abolitionist exegesis is bad, I don’t think slavery is a long-term good for society, so I am certainly not advocating that).

Further, and in full agreeance with the black commentator, Southern appeals to “states rights” as opposed to slavery’s being the cause of the War are either misleading or frankly wrong.  True, the most notable white supremacist of the 19th century denied he was fighting to free slaves.

Further, I am not saying that the Confederacy was right en toto. I certainly do not agree with the Davis Administration on its key points. The conservatives who say, “It wasn’t about slavery, but states’ rights” miss the point:  precisely what were the states seeking to preserve? The conservative would answer, “Their rights.”  Very true, but what was the most notorious of those rights? The formal cause of the war was states’ rights–I agree.  The material cause was slavery. There is no getting around that.  (Of course, there are other causes, too, like economics).

Granting that man-stealing is wrong (and so the Yankee capitalists who engaged in it should have been put to death), we need to ask if the current unionized model of labor is really superior to biblical slavery.   Of course, I am not saying the South did it correctly all the time.

Trick question:  how many slaves came to America on ships carrying the Confederate Flag?  What about the Union Flag?

“Okay,” the American Communist might say, “we admit that the Yankee merchants who kidnapped the Africans should have been executed because of God’s law, but the South was wrong to buy stolen property.”

To which I say, “Maybe.  But what exactly would have been the best thing to do for the African?”  Few people have seriously thought about this question.   Set them free?   It sounds noble and Oprah-ish, but think about it.  Today, if you go to the ‘hood’ or to an Obama gathering and you ask them why blacks are so poor today, the response will not be “Crime” or “rap music” or “welfare system,” but it will be “Da Man is keepin’ me down.”   Both liberal and conservative whites get angry at that response, and I used to, but think about it for a moment: the interlocutor touched on something important: if you place someone in an advanced society who does not have the resources, culture, values, or skills to participate in that society, what will happen to him?  He will fall behind ad infinitum.

The southern gentleman knew this.  He knew that simply saying, “Thou art loosed” to the slave would be the worst thing for him. The slave would not have the resources to continue in society. He would immediately be thrown to the gutter without any recourse to labor or wealth.

So what should have happened instead?  I don’t know.  Just pointing it out.  Sometimes the solution is worse than the ailment.  In fact, any government solution is necessarily worse.

What should have happened?  As I’ve mentioned before on dominion, if the slave was regenerate, the master should have placed him in progressing degrees of responsibility so that he could practice being a priest-king of the new creation.  If we want to fault the Southerner, this could be a valid criticism. Further, I don’t think the South was as fully Reformed as some want to make it.  Some states like Maryland, elements of the Carolinas, Florida and Louisiana were Catholic and probably resisted any kind of biblical reformation.  So while my idea is noble and fundamentally correct, I entertain no delusions of its actually working.

But back to the original objection: the southern slave owner should have not bought the property and/or returned it because it is “stolen goods.”  Again, the nature of the case precludes a solid answer.  On one hand if I have stolen goods in today’s society, I’ll probably get in trouble, so I can understand the objection on that ground.  However, does that mean that William the Conqueror’s (my ancestor, actually.  Pretty cool, huh?) invasion of England was wrong?  Probably, but reasoning by extension that does not mean the entirety of English history is necessarily illegitimate.  As Dabney points out,

“The Norman Conquest resulted in a complete transfer of almost all the land in England to the hands of new proprietors; and nearly all the land titles of England, at the present day, are the legal progeny of that iniquitous robbery, which transferred the territory of the kingdom from the Saxon to the Norman barons. If lapse of time, and change of hands, cannot make a bad title good, then few of the present landlords of England have any right to their estates.”

Defense of Virginia, 299.

With a brutal inference Dabney concludes, “If the Virginian slaveholder derived from the New England or British slave-trader, no valid title to the African, then the trader had no valid title to the planter’s money” (301).  I am going to carry Dabney’s analysis one step further: future possessors of that money from the exchange are necessarily sinning by using the money. I disagree with the idea of reparations for former slaves, but if you grant the abolitionist’s point that buying previously stolen slaves is sinful, then you must logically carry the thought to the money from the exchange. While I think Je$$e Jack$on is a racist clown, if the above objection stands, then the conservative who votes Republican and watches Fox News really has no way to answer him.

Far from being the racist curmudgeon people make him out to be, Dabney observes,

“The title by which the original slave catchers held them may have been iniquitous. But these slave catchers were not citizens of the Southern colonies; these slaves were not brought to our shores by our ships. They were presented by the inhuman captors, dragged in chains from the filthy holds of the slave ships; and the alternative before the planter was, either to purchase them from him who possibly had no right to sell them, or re-consign them to fetters, disease, and death. (302).”

Sometimes noble ideology is the cruelest of schemes.  And this one quote by Dabney shows how utterly despicable liberalism is.  Lincoln wanted to send them back to Africa.  Aside from the sheer impossibility of it, it would have been a two-fold death sentence.  If the return voyage didn’t kill the slave, Africa would have.

Towards a Critique of Dabney

This does not mean I agree with Dabney in all aspects.  He defends the lawfulness of fugitive slave law:

“”But when we have proved that the relation of master and slave is no intrinsically unrighteous, and have shown that the fugitive slave law carries this out,” then we should obey it (Discussions III: 66).

The first half of Dabney’s argument is logically sound: any discussion of slavery as right or wrong must first answer the question of the relation between master and slave, and this has not been done.

I do not agree with his conclusion, though.  Deuteronomy 23:15 provides a method of freeing the slave, lawfulness of the purchase notwithstanding.

Further, Dabney’s attitude towards blacks after the War is hard to justify.   Sean Michael Lucas made much of Dabney’s refusal to grant black’s full status in Presbytery.  And Dabney was wrong.  However, I suggest Dabney should have handled it this way. He should have simply kept his mouth shut and nothing would have changed.  Freed slaves weren’t about to become ruling presbyters any time soon.

I’ll prove it by way of illustration.  While I do not endorse his theology, the sexually depraved theologian Paul Tillich pointed out that something like Erastianism always happens.  He is not advocating that the state rule the church, but notes that the “civic elite” usually find roles of leadership within the church.  This is official in countries like England and Germany. But in Presbyterian towns the most educated and affluent usually sit on college and seminary boards, if not rule in the church.  There is nothing wrong with that.  They are probably affluent because they are good stewards.  They deserve leadership roles.  Except at RTS Jackson.

Which brings me back to my point: the wealthy, civic elite likely had no intention of giving freed slaves anything more than a nominal role.  Thus, Dabney’s fear of an uneducated, unprepared populace leading the church would never have happened anyway.

But he said he was sorry

U. S. Attny General and drug lord/gun runner Eric Holder urged America to have “an honest talk about race.”  What he meant was, “Shut up and listen to me gripe.”  I doubt an honest conversation will ever happen because emotions run high on both sides.  Still, it’s worth a shot.

The Impossibility of an Honest Talk about Race

I saw on my Facebook feed a PCA thinker, who is a black man, complain about Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary’s creating a chair in Morton Smith’s honor.  He is angry because Smith created the PCA with the values of the Old South in mind (He seemed surprised.  I thought this was common knowledge years ago to anyone who read more than an hour’s worth of Southern Presbyterian history).   Of course, the situation today is somewhat amusing since the PCA is more likely a pale reflection of the SBC’s Worship Committee’s than a continuation of Dabney, but I digress.  I really don’t care one way or another that GPTS is doing this.  The Reformed seminary world has long been dead to me and I refuse to even look back.  However, it raised other questions.

Is the PCA still racist?

The aforementioned black gentleman is concerned that the PCA is still allowing racist things like this.   How does one respond?  Morton Smith’s actions simply aren’t representative of the PCA.  In fact, he is probably the minority (no pun intended). But the gentleman wanted to the PCa (and presumably by extension any white Presbyterian male) to really apologize for racism.   Here is where it becomes problematic.  How does one really apologize for racism?   Well, the PCA (and the Missouri Lutherans and the SBC) issued statements condemning the nebulous entity known as racism (the SBC does this on a yearly basis).  Is that good?

No.  It isn’t.  Presumably he wants “racist” ministers disciplined.  Fair enough, but keep in mind this is the PCa and no one ever gets disciplined.   A PCA pastor pointed that out to the gentleman.  Not good enough, but we need to remember if the PCA will publicly condemn the Federal Vision but refuse to discipline guys who write books promoting the Federal Vision, that should tell you something.

But all of this raises an even harder question that is at the heart of the problem.  Hating other colors is wrong (and not even Kinists advocate that).  Discriminating at the communion table is wrong (and maybe I missed something in the PCA during the 80s, but was even that a problem?).  Heck, I remember attending Auburn Avenue one Sunday during its Confederate Heritage Conference and I saw a number of black people in church “amen-ing” and “Oh glory-ing.”

So we’ve ruled out “discrimination” and “hating” so what else is left?  It wasn’t exactly said, but I think “racism” in this context means “continuing to love the Old South.”   That is a bit more concrete, but is still problematic.  Loving “what” about the Old South?   I highly doubt Morton Smith means sitting on the front porch of the Massa’s House drinking mint juleps while watching the slaves happily sing in the fields.   I could be wrong, but I doubt it.

But maybe he means “Loving the Confederacy.”  But even this is ambiguous.  Do I love the Confederacy?  Not really.  I think their political system was doomed from the start and the only way they really had a chance of winning the war was to let Stonewall and Forrest go nuts and do whatever they wanted.  That wasn’t going to happen.  The Confederate Establishment thought Virginia’s soil too sacred to be polluted by the foot of an invader. So maybe to prove to the world I am not “racist” (undefined Marxist term that it is), maybe they want me to “apologize” for the Confederacy.

Well, that’s problematic on several levels.

  1. The Confederacy doesn’t exist today.  You aren’t a slave.  I am not a Confederate soldier.  This is silly.
  2. 2/3 of my ancestors weren’t even in America at the time.
  3. The 5th commandment and Hebrews 13:7 demand I honor my superiors and those who brought me to the faith.  Stonewall Jackson is one of those.  To attack him is open sin.

In fact, all of this reminds me of Sheldon Cooper’s trying to apologize to Howard.

And the truth of the matter is I don’t really like the Southern Presbyterian ethos.  They were Baptistic on the sacraments and their descendants made it worse, if anything (this is one of the few areas where the Federal Vision guys legitimately nailed them).  If we are going to have an honest conversation about “race,” then the infractions must be concrete.  Saying, “They really mean otherwise” or “They really don’t like us” or “They really have their fingers crossed” isn’t helpful.  If they are saying things like “Coloreds and Whites should live in different neighborhoods or go to different churches,” then that’s entirely different.  The fact is, and I have read Smith’s Q & A and he is ethically wrong, but probably sociologically accurate, most people aren’t saying this.

If cultures are organic outgrowths, which thousands of years of human history have demonstrated beyond doubt, then they will inevitably reflect this.  Am I arguing for segregation?  Of course not. I would be against government-enforced segregation and government-enforced integration.  Why?  Because it isn’t the government’s business.  People want to live where people want to live.  (Of course, I’m the exception on this since I have many black neighbors around my street.  Which white liberal agitator can say that? None).

By all means attack racism, but attack concrete examples, like when Ice Cube talks about killing white girls.