Mar

13

2013

Thabiti Anyabwile|1:58 am CT

Doug Wilson’s Views on Race, Racism, Slavery and the Bible

Yesterday I expressed my intention to engage Doug Wilson’s views on race, racism, slavery and the Bible as expressed in his book, Black and Tan. I think the first responsibility of charitable engagement is to attempt understanding the other person’s point-of-view and to accurately relate it to others. Without that step, there can be no real exchange. So, here is my attempt at setting forth Wilson’s positions on these subjects, quoting heavily from Wilson himself.

Wilson on Racism

The first thing to state, because it has often been denied, is that Wilson categorically denounces racism. The book is replete with such denunciations. Here are a couple:

“God created the human race in Adam and Eve, and all of us are descended from them, and are therefore cousins. Lest the point be missed, we are also all descended from Noah and his wife (again), and it turns out we are all still cousins. Racial vanity and racial animosity can find no foundation in Scripture” (p. 26).

“American slavery had the additional complication of its racial basis. And so we as Christians, especially as American Christians, must denounce as a matter of biblical principle every form of racism, racial animosity, or racial vainglory” (p. 38).

“I have no interest in defending the racism (in both the North and the South) which was often seen as the basic justification for the system, and I do in fact condemn it most heartily” (p. 42).

“Like radical abolitionism, all forms of race hatred or racial vainglory are forms of rebellion against God. Such things are to be vigorously opposed because the Word of God opposes them. In brief, God has raised up all nations from one man (Acts 17:26). We are all cousins. And not only are the races connected through God’s creation of Adam, we are united (this time in harmony) in the redemption purchased by the Son of God. ‘You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth’ (Rev. 5:9-10)” (p. 49).

We shall leave for a subsequent post why many people still charge Wilson with being a racist. But for now, in trying to let Wilson speak for himself and consider the letter of what he writes, we should let these statements stand as representative of his position on racism.

Wilson on Slavery As a System

Wilson’s views on slavery are more complex than his straight denunciations of racism. Let me try to sketch his biblical exegesis and then add a few quotes to further document his attitude on slavery.

To read Wilson’s view of the Bible’s teaching on slavery in more detail, see chapter 3, “Scripture and Slavery,” in Black and Tan. Wilson’s exegesis of the Bible regarding slavery might be summarized in several points.

1. The Bible speaks authoritatively about slavery and Christians are duty-bound to obey its teaching (p. 14, 37). In some ways, this is really at the heart  of this entire issue. Wilson writes to protect the Bible from its Christian cultured despisers, or at least those Christians who might be stumped and embarrassed when an antagonist points to the unpleasant subject of slavery in the Bible as a means of rejecting the Bible’s teaching at some other disputed points (homosexuality, for example).

2. The slave trade was an abomination and is clearly rejected in the Bible (1 Tim. 1:10; Exod. 21:16). Here, Wilson has in view “man stealing” and the trafficking of human persons. He insists that Christian participation at any point in man stealing was inconsistent with biblical teaching (p. 54). But he distinguishes man stealing from the system of slavery itself. Later, Wilson maintains that slavery itself was not an inherent evil and that godly Christians could be members in good standing in Christian churches while owning slaves (p. 44).

3. The slavery regulated in the Mosaic law differs from slavery in pagan empires like Rome. Slavery regulated by the Mosaic law was “little more than an indentured servanthood (bond apprenticeship for a time)” (p. 37) and include laws for manumission and release. It was temporary. However, these OT provisions for manumission and repatriation were being ignored by slave traders, who ignored the prohibitions of man-stealing as well, and according to Wilson this meant “the vast majority of the slaves had already been enslaved in Africa by other blacks”, “restoration of these slaves to their former condition was a physical impossibility” (p. 55), and “many of the slaves in the South were descendants of men and women who had been brought over generations before” (p. 56). Christians living under pagan governments that allowed slavery had a duty to “follow the biblical instructions for resisting the paganism of this slavery carefully so that the Word of God would not be blasphemed (1 Tim. 6:1).” Wilson sees a distinction between slavery regulated by God and slavery instituted by pagan government, “which was therefore to be subverted by faithful Christians living in accordance with the gospel” (p. 38). Despite such subversion through biblical obedience, Wilson understands that “The Bible permits Christians in slave-owning cultures to own slaves, provided they are treated well” (p. 47). “Nothing can be plainer than the fact that a Christian could simultaneously be a slave owner and a member in good standing in a Christian church” (p. 53).

4. Christians must denounce as a matter of biblical principle any racism, racial animosity, or racial vainglory involved in American slavery or any other race-based system of slavery. Wilson calls for the denouncement of racism, but he does not see a biblical mandate for denouncing slavery as such.

5. The gospel is antithetical to slavery as a system and would, over time, lead to the eradication of slavery everywhere. The fact that Christian slaves could pursue every lawful opportunity for freedom reveals that slavery is “inconsistent with the fundamental Spirit of the gospel, who is the Spirit of liberty” (1 Cor. 7:20-24; 2 Cor. 3:17).

6. The best subversion of slavery occurs when Christian slaves and slave owners carefully obey the dictates of Scripture. If the Bible’s teaching were followed closely, the peaceful elimination of Roman slavery and American slavery would have resulted in time.

7. Godly social renewal is never bloodthirsty. The radical abolitionists’ insistence on immediate action, force and coercion short-circuited the gospel’s slow, leavening work and resulted in the horrendous loss of life during the Civil War, or War Between the States, as Wilson prefers. Points 5-7 represent the conclusion toward which the Bible points, according to Wilson. He writes later in the book, “the gospel over time necessarily subverts the institution of slavery generally. But this gradual subversion would have been reformational and gradual, and not revolutionary and bloodthirsty, as radical abolitionism was” (p. 45). Wilson sees the remedy of war as resulting in problems “every bit as bad as the original disease ever was” (p. 60).

Wilson opines that “the system of slave-holding in the South was far more humane than that of ancient Rome, although it still fell short of the biblical requirements for it.” He pictures the South as a thorough-going Christian country, writing:

The discipleship of the nations is a process. This means that the South was (along with all other nations) in transition from a state of pagan autonomy to one of full submission to the Lordship of Christ. Christian influence in the South was considerable and extensive, but the laws of the South still fell short of the biblical pattern. In spite of this, the Christian influence on antebellum Southern culture surpassed most other nations in the world of that time (p. 51-52).

In Wilson’s view, the South should have been sufficiently “Christian” to practice slavery as the Bible regulates it. The southern situation, being better than the Roman situation in which Paul wrote, was subject to NT teaching. He understands that “the Christians who owned slaves in the South were on firm scriptural ground” (p. 52). But failing to treat them in a biblical manner, God severely judged both the South and the North (judging the South with the North).

Beyond this basic exegetical approach, Wilson also communicates his personal attitude toward slavery. That attitude might be summarized with the following quotes:

“I am certainly not wishing for a return to slavery. I am profoundly grateful that chattel slavery no longer exists in our nation. Let there be no mistake here–the logic of the Christian gospel is contradictory to the institution of slavery generally, and as the gospel of salvation progresses through history, one of the necessary results is the gradual eradication of all slavery. Jesus Christ really is the ultimate Jubilee” (p. 47).

“The severe judgment that befell the South from the hand of God was true justice in part because of how the South had treated her slaves” (p. 49).

Why Bother?

Now all of this argumentation, in Wilson’s view, serves two major issues of importance: defense of the Bible and course correction for evangelical Christians in today’s culture wars. Wilson himself puts this in a nutshell when he writes:

Christians must live or die by the Scriptures, as they stand. Compromise on what the Bible teaches about slavery is directly related to the current pressures to compromise on abortion and sodomy. Southern slavery was an example of the kind of sinful human situation that called for diligent obedience to St. Paul’s directives, on the part of both masters and slaves. Because this did not happen, and because of the way slavery ended, the federal government acquired the power to impose things on the states that it did not have before. Therefore, for all these reasons, radicalism is to be rejected by Christians.

For Wilson, careful exposition of the Bible’s teaching about slavery remains critical for understanding contemporary evangelical engagement with cultural issues. Because, as Wilson argues, slavery was ended in an improper way, it enlarged the role of the federal government and has placed the Christian worldview and society in a weakened position against anti-biblical opponents. For Wilson, setting the story straight about slavery enables a more effective adherence to all the Bible’s teaching and a more effective engagement with the culture.

Conclusion

I hope this accurately represents Wilson’s views. I have tried not to editorialize but simply present Wilson’s positions as I understand them from Black and Tan.

But what are we to think of Wilson’s approach to all these issues? Are there any weaknesses in his exegesis of the appropriate biblical texts? Is his analysis of American slavery historically accurate? Why might some continue to see this book as racially insensitive if not racist?

We turn to these questions in the next couple of posts.

79 Comments

  1. Pastor Anyabwile,

    You’ve already done Wilson a great service, in my mind, in quoting Wilson’s own words to the effect that he believes the Bible unequivocally denounces racism. But slavery? Let’s see…

    Whether he makes his case that biblical slavery was (is) permissible – as distinguished from Greco-Roman slavery and modern “chattel” slavery – is for the careful reader to decide. But you’ve already gotten off on a much better foot than Wilson’s typical “Christian” detractors who can’t bear to do the careful (and charitable) work you’ve done here.

    Much appreciated.

    • Dear Mark,

      Thank you for your gracious comment, brother. Let me take the opportunity of your encouragement at the top of the thread to post an exhortation for us all.

      Dear all, let us please keep the comments here both gracious and substantive rather than personal. I’d hate to turn off comments in this series. But if the thread becomes unfruitful I will. Doug Wilson has asked folks not to “defend” him; he doesn’t feel attacked. And for that I am glad. Likewise, I don’t need defending; I’m writing here to hopefully give my own account and to do what little I can to have a productive exchange. If the two principles in the discussion are encouraged by things thus far, I hope everyone else can be prayerful supporters of continued fruitful dialogue.

      Let’s keep everything above the belt. Let’s avoid naming people and instead name issues or ideas. Let’s be slow to speak and do a lot of listening. Let’s be slow to anger. Our anger doesn’t produce the righteousness that God wants. Let’s remember we’ll give an account for every idle (and “idol”?) word we speak. Let’s seek the Lord and walk worthy of the calling we’ve received in Him.

      God make His face shine upon us all,
      T-

  2. I really enjoyed this post. It is an excellent summary of the issues. I’m looking forward to the rest of this series.

  3. Thank you!

    You have already done a good bit of what Wilson has lamented that his other critics have not done. You have begun to engage his actual arguments and why he makes them.

    I can already see in what you have presented a few places that his ultimate conclusions have serious deficiencies such that it is no wonder that he has such critics, but some of the arguments that he makes must be accurately heard because they are actually helpful for taking the Bible seriously.

    The danger is this. We cannot let any culturally difficult, painful, and sensitive subject cause us to participate in cultural assumptions and conclusions about history and the Bible just because looking at both history and the Bible will be a painful, though fruitful, process.

    God, only let us come through a process and to conclusions that are filled with grace and reveal your holiness and glory!

  4. Thank you, Thabiti. I look forward to seeing whether Wilson sees this as a fair representation of his views, as it clearly is meant to be.

    And I look forward to being educated by you as you evaluate and assess what you’ve listed out here. Thanks in advance.

  5. This is the way dialogue on contentious issues ought to go among Christians. You have earned the right to be heard because of your care in presenting Wilson’s arguments as he would himself. Bravo.

    I think it should be noted, whether one agrees with Wilson or not, his motivation seems to be fidelity to scripture.

    I am very eager to read the rest of the series.

  6. Thank you for this, Thabiti. My concern would be his historical account and views of slavery. I simply think about the women (raped, beaten) and the teaching to slaves in church and I can’t wrap my head around how this would have been “Christian.” With that said, I appreciate you sharing his quotes about racism and I agree it’s about racial insensitivity. I look forward to reading the rest of this series. I’m quite hopeful and I’m thankful to see you and Wilson already corresponding! This excites me! Thanks for your pastoral care!

  7. THANK YOU. Thank you. Thanks. I pray that God would sharpen us all with great discernment in thinking through these issues. And if nothing else good comes out of this, may every reader learn how to engage another person by first allowing that person to be defined in their own words and then engaging them on the merits of what they argue. I think EVERYONE is highly anticipating the subsequent post. May every word be inspired by God for the unity of his body and a witness to the yet regenerated.

  8. Great job Thabiti. From my reading of the book this is a fair reading of what Wilson says and believes.

    In addition, I would add a couple of points about where Wilson is coming from:

    Wilson’s postmillennialism is fundamental to how he frames this issue. This in turn causes him to see some “cultures” as superior to others. And these superior cultures, in Wilson’s view, are brought about not inherently because of the people, but as gifts to those cultures who believe the gospel. That’s how he buffers against the charge of racism.

    “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty, and when Christ brings men to salvation, He also brings them (over time) into cultural maturity” (loc. 360 on Kindle)

    “What possible exegetical grounds could we have for saying that blacks can be forgiven, but are somehow excluded from enjoying the fruits of cultural maturity?” (loc. 361)

    “As a postmillennialist, I look forward to the time when the cathedrals, symphonies, and literature of Africa will put to shame the current achievements of dead white guys-not to take anything away from them, but there is a lot past seventh grade awaiting all human cultures in Christ.” (loc. 466)

    In Wilson’s view, Christ’s kingdom here on earth isn’t simply a spiritual kingdom, but is visible and is seen as the gospel transforms the culture to greater “maturity,” which in Wilson’s mind seems to mean more sophisticated architecture, music, and literature.

    I look forward to finishing the book to learn more of Wilson’s views and reading your analysis on the book in the days to come.

    • Jim, I agree with your assessment. I think Wilson’s view on slavery is what one would expect given his postmil interpretation of cultural transformation. (And, obviously, trying to deal with the NTs commands toward the master/slave relationship.) I wonder what all the postmil guys of centuries past (like Edwards) thought about slavery (if they wrote about the issue at all)?

    • This comment explains A LOT! Thank you, I’ve never understood why many white Christian Southerners had such a firm confidence in their culture and in God’s exclusive favour over them.

      Anyway, Thabithi has treated Doug Wislon graciously. May God be praised.

  9. Thabiti,
    I just finished the book, and you have represented Wilson’s views fairly and clearly. He clearly is NOT a racist, and his views are more complex than some might have thought. That said, there are major problems with his positions. I’m looking forward to the rest of this series. For what it’s worth, I posted a short review of the book on my blog this morning. I hope that a number of others will do the same. We need intelligent discussion around these issues, and I hope that this could be the start of more mutual understanding.

    -Danny

  10. Thabiti, I am truly grateful. When I teach students how to engage in debate, one of the basic things they must be able to do is state their opponent’s position in terms that the opponent himself would own and accept. You have done that here. Not only that, but in over a decade of controversy, you are the first critic to have done so. Thank you.

    So, for the record, and for the sake of keeping this discussion edifying, what Thabiti has summarized above is a faithful representation of my views. I would also like to add that the element mentioned by Jim Upchurch, my postmill theology, is on point and a helpful reminder. Thanks again.

    • Excellent.

      At this rate, we should have the whole topic solved and wrapped up in a few days’ time! Yayy!

      (c:

      • Except for the face to face discussion. But hopefully that will follow, even if it is only private and summarized later. Here’s to hoping!

    • Thank you for participating, Pastor. I hope people are able to rightly read your character, concerns, and intentions through these expressions of grace.

  11. Thabiti – Thanks for this. I’m looking forward to reading more.

  12. Wow. This is such a superb start to this discussion. Thank you, Pastor Thabiti. You have written your summary of Wilson’s views so evenhandedly that a careless reader could even come to the conclusion that you find nothing wrong with Wilson’s book. That is truly the mark of a charitable and faithful summary. After the sad posts/tweets from others over the past weekend, this post encourages me greatly.

  13. Thabiti,I just wanted to add my expression of gratitude to those of others for your providing such an example of how to handle the ideas of others with whom we disagree. I can’t recall where, but I remember reading several years ago about a young man who, after meeting with Francis Schaeffer, came away saying that while there was still fundamental disagreement between them, he nevertheless felt that he had been understood. Thank you for the care you put into this. I look forward to the remainder of your posts and the interaction between you and Doug.

  14. Thank you pastor Thabiti for engaging the book and am looking forward to the continued dialogue. May it be an example for future engagement.

  15. This is enjoyable and educational.

  16. This was a great, objective representation of Wilson’s views. This is how dialogue between Christians on contentious issues should begin. I hope Wilson responds in kind to your posts. I’ll be following closely, hoping that the two of you can talk about this amicably.

  17. Thanks Thabiti. I appreciate you not going all “Anthony Bradley” on us!

  18. The charity and kindess here is beautiful. We need more of this flavor of godly critique in the church, while other flavors fly off the shelves, this is well pleasing in the eyes of God. SDG.

  19. Robert Sakovich

    Great work, Thabiti! I wish that we could take your posts like this and make them part of the teaching for people in churches. Then people could see a good example of how to discuss any issue that they take with what another Christian says. I also appreciate brother Doug Wilson’s comments to show that he is willing to engage in dialogue on his book. That should also be lauded as an example of how things should work in the Church.

  20. I think, a fundamental question which may be unanswerable, is. . . If Paul was alive in 1820 in Alabama and saw the situation, would he have reacted the same way to that sort of slavery?

    See, I think Pastor Wilson assumes too much in the bible’s teaching of slavery. . .that all slavery is at least similar and all falls under the biblical teaching. We need to hear that fleshed out in this debate. . .to what degree were 1st Century Bond-Servitude and 19th Century American slavery similar? different? bound by the text?

    Just because the text in the NT says “slaves” doesn’t mean Paul would be familiar with, have any support/patience for, or have the same response to, that word in the 19th Century South.

  21. Thank you. For you to write in such a manner that Doug Wilson sets a great example for Christian dialogue on contentious topics. Well, done Sir. I look forward to your further analysis.

  22. Thabiti, If this conversation/dialogue with brother Doug continues to grow in this manner Christ will be honored and His people enlightened. I am looking forward to looking in.

  23. I’m sorry, but calling southern slavery humane is dead wrong. Comparison to Rome is irrelevant. The weight of historical evidence and writing against Wilson’s claim is heavy, and the fact that the Gospel Coalition even needs to have this debate is sad. Of course a reading of Black and Tan exposes Wilson’s contempt for academic historians – largely because they disagree with and dismiss him. I don’t mean to sound alarmist, but the career of David Irving is instructive here. He did not start out as an outright Holocaust denier. He started by claiming that Hitler didn’t know about it…

    Maybe Wilson would like to go back in time to tell the beaten, lynched, and exploited slaves of the south that they should have waited for their allegedly Christian masters to see the light over time. This is an incredible statement. Southern slavery was profoundly racial and inherently violent.

    In the Jim Crow era southern whites made postcards of lynchings – postcards! – which is one expression of the racial hatred and violence at the heart of the institution.

    To fix in the public’s mind the idea that the American South was one of the most Christian nations in history, which permitted the form of slavery that it did, is a great apologetic error.

    • Caleb, Some have argued that prior to the outbreak of the Civil War the abolitionists were motivated by their post-mil views. It was their desire to cleanse the nation of its sin of slavery to usher in the era.

    • Caleb,

      You may be right on Southern antebellum slavery (I’m interested to see what Thabiti has to say), but doesn’t the fact that Eugene Genovese, one of the foremost academic historians of the antebellum South, commended Wilson as having “a strong grasp of the essentials of the history of slavery and its relation to Christian doctrine” (read the full endorsement at amazon.com) mean that we should refrain from equating Wilson with Holocaust deniers until AFTER we’ve proven his history wrong?

      Incidentally, the fact that you move so quickly between antebellum slavery and the Jim Crow era is telling. Racial hatred exploded after the South lost the War, but one of the reasons was because, well, the South lost the War. Whether the intense racial hatred you mention was typical of the entire South PRIOR to the Civil War is precisely what some of us are wondering about.

      • There are many slave narratives that attest to the violence of the institution. And why would the violence of the Jim Crow era be so racial if it was just about losing the war? Why was it directed at former slaves?

        I’m not equating Wilson with a Holocaust denier. I’m saying that he is on a very similar trajectory. Also, it is important to remember that Genovese wasn’t always so sympathetic to views like those of Wilson. See Roll, Jordan, Roll and From Rebellion to Revolution. He later began to change his mind as he embraced Catholicism, but let’s be clear that his endorsement of Wilson is a minority view among professional historians.

        • Joe said: “Whether the intense racial hatred you mention was typical of the entire South PRIOR to the Civil War is precisely what some of us are wondering about”

          I’m glad that you have a genuine interest in a historical and moral question like this. Please don’t restrict yourself to this blog or the interet in your search for an answer.

          I would suggest doing some reading on the legal history of slavery to get clear idea of the violence and inhumanity of owning other human beings – to make them your property. See the Fugitive Slave Acts, for example. With all due respect to Thabiti and Doug, this blog series and Black/Tan should not be anyone’s primary source of information on this history.

          • Thabiti Anyabwile

            Hi Caleb,

            Thanks for engaging the conversation. Just one brief point for clarity’s sake: I’m not using Black and Tan as a primary source of information on this history. I’m simply engaging the book’s argument and claims. I hope to make my own sense of the history clear as we take this discussion one step at a time.

            Again, thanks for contributing.
            T-

            • Thanks for responding Thabiti. My remark was directed at the commenter who said he was interested in a particular question, not to you. I was encouraging him to read beyond this blog. I understand that you are simply critiquing Wilson’s text and assume that you’ve read more than that text. And I thank you for doing so.

        • Ah, yes, Caleb… where WOULD we be without those inimitable “professional historians” – the very ones that re-read/write history to marginalize the influence of Christians throughout.

          And what does it matter if Genovese’s endorsement is part of a minority? Should I discredit YOUR views on Christianity because they would be (I think?) in the minority in the academy?

          And becoming Catholic means his views on race-relations in Antebellum south become suspect?

          • As someone in ‘the academy’, I find your first remark to be incredibly ignorant. University history departments are diverse places with historians representing a wide range of perspectives, methods, political and ideological positions, etc. To dismiss them all as trying to “marginalize the influence of Christians throughout” is nonesense. There is actually a lot of very rich writing about the Christianity of African American slaves in the south and elsewhere.

            I was merely trying to say that Genovese changed his mind later in his career, as he became a Catholic. I did not say that his becoming a Catholic made his views on race relations suspect.

            As for a minority view, we need to understand that when there is a widely held historical view (that is not about trying to marginalize Christians…note the historiography on slave religious traditions), the burden of proof to overturn it is on Wilson to do serious primary source research and to get published by a press other than his own. In fact, given the disdain around the GC for academic historians, I find it odd that someone would bring in Genovese at all. After all, he’s just a professional historian, so who cares about his perspective on history? I wonder why Wilson sought his endorsement at all! Are we seeing the absurdity here?

            I understand that Wilson thinks he needs to defend southern slavery because he thinks that the American South was a Christian nation. But his idea of what a Christian nation is and it means to defend one (and to use the defense of slavery as some kind of culture wars weapon) is off base.

    • I agree that the racism that existed in the South was grotesque and of the worst kind of evil. But I wonder, and we will never know, what percent of all master/slave relationships were bad? If today, hypothetically speaking, 20-percent of Southern white people hated black people and acted violently toward them and regularly killed them, we would no doubt consider Southern whites in general as a bunch of evil racists, even though 80-percent might act lovingly toward all neighbors and races.

      Today the South is considered the “Bible-belt” of America, where the highest saturation of Christians reside. But those that live in the South know that Christians actively following Christ are by no means a majority. In the same way, the South of 150 years ago was heavily Christian, more than today, but there were no doubt plenty of masters who cared nothing for loving Christ and obeying his word.

      There were in those days “Christian” masters who thought that the current system was the cat’s pajamas, and even argued from the Bible to defend it, but let’s be honest: they were the equivalent of today’s Westboro Baptist. I think everyone here would agree that the Westboro family, despite what they think of themselves, are in no way Christian.

      With no proof, I would guess that active Christian masters in the old South tried to treat their slaves with dignity and respect. And I think here is one point Wilson tries to make–the master/slave relationship is transformed by Christ so that, even when the relationship still exists, and one day it won’t, it is one that can be filled with mutual love and respect between the two parties.

      Again with no proof, I imagine there are billions of people around the world who would very much like the option (!) of becoming legally bound to work for a wealthy Christian master for a period of time, who would treat them with dignity and respect and provide them with good housing, food, and clothing. While not ideal, it would be a step up from poverty and gangs and warlords. I’m not saying it should be an option, but only pointing out that the bound-by-lawful-contract-to-a-master idea is not evil by itself.

    • @Caleb,

      I’m sorry, but calling southern slavery humane is dead wrong.

      Agreed, but look more closely. Wilson didn’t say that southern slavery was humane–he said it was “far more humane than that of ancient Rome, although it still fell short of the biblical requirements for it.”

      It looks like he’s down-playing the inhumanity, but not going so far as to call it humane. (Perhaps like saying that Greenland is far warmer than the North Pole.)

      Maybe Wilson would like to go back in time to tell the beaten, lynched, and exploited slaves of the south that they should have waited for their allegedly Christian masters to see the light over time. This is an incredible statement.

      Agreed.

      Southern slavery was profoundly racial and inherently violent.

      On “profoundly racial”, Wilson did say this: “American slavery had the additional complication of its racial basis. And so we as Christians, especially as American Christians, must denounce as a matter of biblical principle every form of racism, racial animosity, or racial vainglory”

      • My point was that whether or not it was more humane than Roman slavery is not relevant to a discussion of its morality/humanity. If something is fundamentally inhumane, than what is the point of calling that thing more humane than another form of it? Southern slavery was a more humane form of inhumanity than Roman slavery? When Christians create a society founded on racial hierarchy and the violent social crime of slavery, they’re a little nicer than pagan Romans?? Besides, there are other sections from Southern Slavery As It Was and Black and Tan that come awful close to calling slavery humane. I’m sure you can see how slippery Wilson is being. Again, David Irving comes to mind.

        I’m not sure what you mean by “Agreed.” Would you like to see him do so because you think he is correct to make that argument and that history would be better for it? Or are you agreeing with me that he is wrong?

        I would also argue that the racial basis of American slavery is part of its violence. To be enslaved and marked as such by one’s physical attributes is a form of violence. Your quotation from Wilson is unsatisfactory. He says that American slavery had a racial basis and that we must denounce racism. He never says that we must denounce American slavery because it was racist.

        I would like to echo Matt’s comments below.

        • You said:
          My point was that whether or not it was more humane than Roman slavery is not relevant to a discussion of its morality/humanity. If something is fundamentally inhumane, than what is the point of calling that thing more humane than another form of it?

          If the Scriptures instruct roman slaves to obey their earthly masters and submit to them, then why should Paul’s words not apply to a more humane form of evil, i.e. American slavery. This is Wilson’s argument. Do Paul’s words apply? The only way to answer the question is to compare American slavery to Roman slavery.

  24. Pastor Thabiti,

    I just want to personally thank you for this series of posts. I am an associate pastor in a multi-ethnic congregation in Texas (we’re about 40% white, 1/3 black, and the remainder hispanic). Our senior pastor and I love and are grateful for TGC. We have used many of their resources, including your blog, in our teaching. Thus far I have been forced to do so with one caveat to our congregation: “don’t be shocked when you go to their website and stumble across quotes by or nods in blogs to a guy named Doug Wilson who says some patently untrue and unhelpful things about race and slavery.”

    I find it astounding and disappointing that the criticism of Wilson’s positions that yourself, Lorritts, Bradley, and other black leaders have raised have not been affirmed and supported by more of the white leaders at TGC. I want you to know that as you work to challenge Wilson’s positions in the godly, rigorous, and intellectually generous manner with which you have begun that you have the full support and the hearty amen of a great many white ministers out here in the world who do not have a public platform to express it. I will personally pray for you during this series of posts that the Lord continues to grant you the wisdom and charity that would glorify Christ, edify the readers, and purify the church.

    Thank you for publicly challenging Wilson’s positions on race and history. May God bless you in this endeavor and in all your minsitry.

    • EMSoliDeoGloria

      Well said, Matt! And thank you, Pastor Thabiti. You also have the support of congregants like myself who have been longing to see this sort of respectful and much needed theological and practical engagement between Christian leaders in the reformed tribe.

  25. Just wanted to comment that we still do have slavery in this country and in most countries today. They are mostly young boys and girls and women who are sex slaves. There is a prosperous slave trade going on in this world. Maybe we should concentrate on trying to end the slavery of today.

  26. Thanks, Thabiti. And thanks, Doug, for affirming Thabiti’s representation of your positions. I pray this is an edifying critique/exchange on this sensitive topic.

  27. Great work! Before you can poke holes in one arguments you must know what they believe and be able to articulate it! I am so encouraged by this dialogue! Thanks TA for being a model of how to love and communicate. May the Lord be gracious and open the eyes of all our hearts! Beautiful!!

  28. [...] Anyabwile has written a fair and succinct summary of Doug Wilson’s controversial book Black & Tan: A Collection of Essays and Excursions on [...]

  29. l read yo blog with interest until l went to Mr.Wilson’s response to your tweets with others. that response was at once condescending and patronising. mr. wilson, for instance, invited you to moscow on his dime, ehile he would find ways to come to you. pliz T, just do your pastoral duty im yo responses and then move on.

  30. Is it only 19th century Southern slave owners (and those who don’t defend them, but attempt to ‘balance’ the picture) who view slavery with ideological prejudice or might we be guilty, too?

    My father – a kind, generous, but unbelieving man and US History teacher for 30+ years in public schools – raised me to think that slavery was the principle sin of America. To hate the South. To think the WORST of every white man born in the 19th century… because he had slaves. He never used those words, of course, but this was the sum total of this Ivy-educated, tolerant, and irreligious “bigot.”

    Now, my father knows Christ and, while he would still find Southern slavery and the racism that gave rise to it abhorrent (as would his son…), he’s come to something of a more modest position on slavery… especially when the death toll is tallied (per Wilson’s point).

    But after YEARS of public/government school indoctrination (which conveniently ignores/leaves out the African contribution to enslaving their own countrymen), can we really expect anything else.

    Obama’s the most murderous thug of president/leader we’ve ever seen and African-American Christians (and guilt-ridden white ones) stand in line to wave palm branches.

    American chattel slavery was terrible, but its not the only terrible thing by a long shot.

    Oh, and who should I ask forgiveness from? Which African-American have I offended? (Where in the Bible do we derive the teaching that I repent for anything except what I’ve done or ask forgiveness of anyone except those whom I’ve sinned against?)

    • Could you explain more clearly why your father’s conversion ‘moderated’ his views on slavery? And perhaps you could say specifically how they changed?

      No one ever said that American chattel slavery was the only terrible thing. I don’t see how that changes its moral status as an abhorrent thing and, yes, one of America’s principle sins.

      I am truly astounded that one finds such strident opposition to the denouncing of American slavery and its racial hierarchies on the Gospel Coalition website.

      • Caleb, with all due respect, until you can stop attacking straw men (no one is in “strident opposition to denouncing American slavery”), you should sit this one out. Thabiti is being gracious and accurate, let’s keep the dialogue at the honest level, please.

        • Can I just say “opposition” then? Hesitation? What would be an accurate way to characterize those who have responded to my comments so far? Thabiti also called Wilson’s position ‘primitive’ – I would call that gracious and accurate but maybe you wouldn’t?

          • There has not been any hesitation from anyone, least of all Pastor Wilson, to denounce the racial hierarchies of American slavery. Until you can admit that (as Thabiti has), you’re doing yourself a disservice. That being said, let’s give Thabiti and Wilson the opportunity to further flesh out this discussion before we form our lines. We’ll get to theological dodgeball eventually, I’m sure, just not yet.

            The tweets that originally started some of this discussion after Loritts’ emotionally-charged post were unfortunate in their brevity (of course, they ARE tweets, so what would one expect?). This series of posts is a great step in ameliorating some of the potential damage created over the weekend.

            • Last comment, and then I will ‘sit this one out.’ Everyone denounces racism here, of course. That is the common sense thing to do and we all know that we won’t get a hearing without doing so. But there is a hestitation about American slavery. And I do see a hesitation to denounce American slavery as a racial project for some commenters. The content of some of the comments here is not consistent with their rote “of course I think racism is bad’ qualifiers.

              I wonder how many self-published, self-proclaimed revisionist historians we are going to take this seriously?

  31. I allow that biblically, slavery is not forbidden. However, for what Wilson says to work, abuses of slavery in the American South must have been occasional or sporadic. I would disagree, and say that there were widespread systematic abuses in the slavery and racism of the American South, at times aided by the North. Also, the transformation of the South by the gospel wasn’t happening; in fact, it was going the opposite direction. Slavery was growing, and many Southerners wanted to see slavery expand into new American territory and even enslave the population of Latin America. As I said in the comments on the initial post before this one, there were 4 million slaves (more than previously) in 1860 (out of 32 million total people in America), and parts of the Lower South had a 90% black population.

    • I appreciate this comment.

      Jill Lepore has an excellent popular book on slavery in the north called “New York Burning”.

    • John,

      I see your point here. And I think the increase of the number of slaves in the 19th century is one of the reasons that God brought judgment on the US (and especially the South). One question: Do you think that abuses of slaves by masters must have been occasional and sporadic in the era of the New Testament?

      • Good question. Some people have argued that Roman slavery was far better than Southern Slavery, but I would think there were plenty of abuses in the Roman system, but I don’t have particular information. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Does the Bible implicitly forbid slavery through “loving your neighbor as yourself?” and other passages about “freeing the captives”. That’s a good question as well, but I don’t go that far. And if Thabiti is wise here, he will stick to Southern Slavery and not so much slavery as a whole in this debate.

        • John,

          The reason I ask is that Wilson premises much of his argument on the fact that Southern slavery (with its abuses) is similar enough to Roman slavery (with its abuses) that the commands in the New Testament about slaves and masters would apply to Southern masters in the same way they did to the Ephesians and Philemon. Thus, it’s conceivable that one could have been a God-honoring owner of slaves in the South, despite the cruelty and evil of many masters.

          I think you may be right about the implicit biblical argument against slavery (that’s how Wilson argues in his book), but that implicit argument sits alongside explicit commands for masters to treat slaves well and for slaves to obey masters. Wilson argues that obedience to the explicit commands (ALL of them) would have brought about the demise of slavery over time, because of the implicit “logic of the gospel” (his term).

  32. Great that you’re engaging Doug Wilson on this, Thabiti. Even greater that Doug has come to the comments and said “yes, that’s my view”. Over the years, there’s been so many folks who I’ve told that they don’t get a particular view right so they don’t have the right to critique it and they refuse to listen and keep attacking their strawmen.

    Glad this is going well. Looking forward to the rest of the discussion and critique.

  33. [...] with various portions of the text, I hope with God’s help to be charitable and accurate. Having stated Wilson’s case in a manner Wilson himself judged accurate and fair, I want to offer some critique with those summations in [...]

  34. This debate is interesting. I agree with the opinion of the book here described. But I need to say something about the statement: “I am profoundly grateful that chattel slavery no longer exists in our nation.” (p. 47). The slavery is present in America even at this days, maybe not legal or authorized by the Goverment: the women and children that are sold for prostitution or the latinamericans that have to do whatever their employers want, even when it’s inhuman things, because otherwise they could call Immigration and kick them out of the country. As christians we cannot ignore this, if we do ignore this slavery we will be doing the same thing as the South did. Also, as mexican I would like to see on the news what is doing the christian church in the USA to object the laws SB1070, HB56, HB87. Blessings.

  35. [...] Inquisition. Even race-based slavery in the United States was instituted by Christians using biblical passages to justify the enslavement of millions of people. I get Marcus’ point. In fact, on my Facebook page under religious views I put [...]

  36. I’ve followed and enjoyed Wilson’s writings for a while, though I’ve never read this book or reviewed a summary of his overall view. From what I have read of Wilson’s, I had concluded he must not be a racist. But never having seen a summary, I didn’t know precisely what his view was.

    Thank you for the summary, but thank you most of all for showing how two people, perhaps with very different views on topics that mean much to them personally, can come together charitably to discuss them. You may have to agree to disagree, but you have shown that there can still be love in the midst of the disagreement. Exchanges like this – even if they don’t bring about total agreement – have the opportunity to promote healing far, far beyond anything our politicians could ever accomplish.

    Well done (so far) to both of you. Praying it continues.

  37. [...] Why Respond Publicly to Doug Wilson’s “Black & Tan” | Thabiti Anyabwile Doug Wilson’s Views on Race, Racism, Slavery, and the Bible | Thabiti Anyabwile Does the Driving Logic of “Black and Tan” Hold Up? | Thabiti [...]

  38. [...] Black and Tan by Douglas Wilson - In Wilson’s view, the South should have been sufficiently “Christian” to practice slavery as the Bible regulates it. The southern situation, being better than the Roman situation in which Paul wrote, was subject to NT teaching. He understands that “the Christians who owned slaves in the South were on firm scriptural ground” (p. 52). But failing to treat them in a biblical manner, God severely judged both the South and the North (judging the South with the North). - Thabiti Anyabwile Share this:ShareFacebookTwitterTumblrPinterestGoogle +1Like this:Like Loading… Posted in: Helpful Book Reviews [...]

  39. There were many quotes from Pastor Wilson’s other slavery book, “Southern Slavery As It Was”, that really make it look like Pastor Wilson defended the slavery of Black persons at one point. While he doesn’t explicitly say it was Biblical, he said that Black families have never been better off than they were under slavery and that the Southern slaveowning society was possibly the greatest multiracial society in the history of mankind. Here are some quotes from the book, none of which Pastor Wilson has ever repented for or even taken back:

    “Slavery produced in the South a genuine affection between the races that we believe we can say has never existed in any nation before the War or since.”

    “Slavery as it existed in the South was not an adversarial relationship with pervasive racial animosity. Because of its dominantly patriarchal character, it was a relationship based upon mutual affection and confidence. There has never been a multi-racial society which has existed with such mutual intimacy and harmony in the history of the world.”

    “One could argue that the black family has never been stronger than it was under slavery. It was certainly stronger under the southern slave system that it is today under our modern destructive welfare state.”

    “Ironically, if slavery had not been so pleasant an experience for the majority, this mentality would not likely have such a strong hold upon the minds of some of their descendants today.”

    “And nothing is clearer — the New Testament opposes anything like the abolitionism of our country prior to the War Between the States. The New Testament contains many instructions for Christian slave owners, and requires a respectful submissive demeanor for Christian slaves.”

  40. [...] Douglas Wilson’s Views on Race, Racism, Slavery and the Bible (TA) I attempt (successfully, according to Wilson) to summarize the main argument and points included in Black and Tan. I quote at length Wilson’s comments rejecting racism and slavery, and attempt to summarize Wilson’s motivation for writing Black and Tan. [...]

  41. Brendt Wayne Waters

    I read point #7 regarding Wilson’s view of the gospel’s gradual subversion of the institution of slavery (and his affirmation that you stated his view correctly) and I know that I need read no further. In the 1980s, I was being taught by racists (and I don’t use that word lightly) who were professing Christians. I’m sorry, but an additional 120 years (at least) is too “gradual” for my tastes.

  42. [...] Douglas Wilson’s Views on Race, Racism, Slavery and the Bible (TA) [...]

  43. [...] “Christians must live or die by the Scriptures, as they stand. Compromise on what the Bible teaches about slavery is directly related to the current pressures to compromise on abortion and sodomy. Southern slavery was an example of the kind of sinful human situation that called for diligent obedience to St. Paul’s directives, on the part of both masters and slaves. Because this did not happen, and because of the way slavery ended, the federal government acquired the power to impose things on the states that it did not have before. Therefore, for all these reasons, radicalism is to be rejected by Christians.” [2] [...]

  44. janhoi mccallum

    ridiculous

  45. janhoi mccallum

    “Wilson calls for the denouncement of racism, but he does not see a biblical mandate for denouncing slavery as such” yeah, that’s pretty much the line of reasoning many of the slave owners used. We dont hate blacks, we just believe its our god ordained duty to own them as slaves because the Bible says so…..ridiculous. This is where fundamentalism leads

  46. Doug,

    What are your thoughts on this article that shows that whites are still stuck in their racist past. This is happening right now. White evangelicals are so afraid to come out of denial and confront these feelings. These states that keep pushing this agenda are made up of a majority of largely white, conservative Christians.

    http://www.salon.com/2013/03/16/the_south_still_lies_about_the_civil_war/

  47. […] “Doug Wilson’s Views on Race, Racism, Slavery, and the Bible” […]

  48. […] “Doug Wilson’s Views on Race, Racism, Slavery, and the Bible” […]

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