A Dialogue/Commentary on Slavery


Please forgive me for simply repeating the contents of one of my comment boxes here; however, I feel the words important enough to rest at the upper level of an archive and not to rely simply upon the vagaries of commenting systems to survive or die. Many commenters have made very cogent remarks regarding a post below, and I would like them to be prominent and useful for the future.

Thanks for your indulgence.


Thank you for sharing your insights. Slavery is a tough one; it existed when Jesus was alive (as human) and He didn't do anything about it.


Dear Katherine,

True enough, but neither did Jesus say a word about procured abortion, which, while not as prevalent as it is today, was still common enough practice to be denounced in the Didache.

His silence does not indicate approval, merely that there was limited time in His mission to say all that was essential to carry the world forward in pursuit of God.

In addition, the Old Testament Levitical regulations certainly indicated that no person should be kept in permanent bondage (one of the purposes of a Jubilee year).

Thus I see a two-fold approach--we look to the wisdom of the old Levitical law and we use that, in part as a basis for moving forward in pursuit of God.

Surely if we follow Jesus we cannot allow that He would have whole-heartedly approved of slavery. He might have noted that the slave was in a better position to access God than the person who "owned" him. (Perhaps this is one of the reasons why, "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. . .")

In sum, I think the issue may be easier than we make it out. We are not supposed to "make our treasure here on Earth" but to "store up treasure in heaven." By this reasoning, we certainly should not be in the position of owning people.

Perhaps Jesus did not comment directly, but I believe His instruction and his attitude are quite clear in the words that are left to us.

Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to elaborate on this very important thought. We must never allow a similar system to crop up here again, and justice demands that we work to the best of our ability to abolish this practice wherever it may exist in the world today. Call it what you may--reste-avec, slavery, it cannot but be clear that persons must never be regarded as objects to be owned and used at will.

(By the way, I know that you did not imply any of this in your reply--I do not impute these thoughts to you. But I do thank you.)




I for one do not think that slavery and freedom can be defined by the presence or absence of chains, fences, concentration camps, and other devices that commonly come to mind when these words are used. Such devices delimit forms of physical slavery, which indeed may never exist again in this country, but that is not the only form of slavery. There is slavery that can be mental, emotional, psychological, and against these forms, which are debilitating to the mind and soul if not the body, I think we are still struggling.

We enact laws to proscribe the outward forms of slavery, but our laws are powerless to affect the workings of the human heart. We can prohibit someone from legally owning another, but we have not the means to prevent someone from seeking to subjugate another's will to their own. And conversely, we cannot force freedom on someone who does not fully desire it.

The mistake I think many people make is to assume that since the signs of slavery are no longer evident, we need be concerned about it no longer. But if by slavery and freedom we mean something more than the physical and the legal, then we need to look a bit deeper into what we are seeking to avoid and what we are seeking to promote. But such an effort is today complicated by the fact that slavery and freedom are emotionally-loaded words, and rational discourse on such subjects is frequently difficult.

Everybody nowadays "knows" that slavery ended a long time ago, and also "knows" that as a consequence everyone is now free. But ask them what they mean by "free" and more likely than not you'll get them upset. This may be because thinking with catchphrases is easier than defining one's terms. But I think it is also due in part to chronological snobbery, the attitude that ours is the first generation in human history that had everything figured out, and the vast bulk of humanity were all unwashed heathen, whom time and death have cast into the outer darkness to wail and gnash their teeth.

This attitude scares me, because it entails scorn and derision for our ancestors and their beliefs and traditions, and raises the distinct possibility that we will most likely be condemned to repeat history, since we lack the humility to learn from it. No, I don't think we'll resurrect the plantations, but there are more invisible and consequently more effective forms of slavery.
Franklin Johnston
I think the important point about the Revolution is that the founding fathers had the right words and the right goal: endowed by their creator with the inalienable right to life, liberty, and freedom. What they lacked was the intestinal fortitude and the follow through on the "for all." They did, however, fight with their lives and livlihood for fuller embrace of these principles. Sadly, it took much too long and much too much blood.for the fullness of these words to achieved for people of all races. Yet, these failings to attain a full embrace of this noble goal should not diminish the courage it took to gain what was gained. What truly diminishes us as a nation, is that we, in this time of plenty and wealth unimagined, are consciously choosing to RETREAT from these these noble goals. Our mantra is life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness -- for all races, religions, creeds, sexual orientations as long as you happent to be economically viable and not a resource drain on society or your family and friends. In other words, the unborn, the chronically ill or disabled, and the dying are excluded from these inalienable rights. This truly is sad. It is one thing to have the most noble of goals and fail to attain it; it is another to achieve the most noble of goals and then repudiate it.


Dear Anonymous,

Thank you, well spoken and quite poignant. Agreed and seconded in all points.

Dear Franklin,

[post edited to reflect the fact that in my haste to comment, I simply repeated what Franklin says above, implying that he did not say that Slavery may return and those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.]
However, slavery is NOT gone from the world--and that is a tragedy that must be addressed. In Haiti they have the institution of the Reste-avec (means Stay-with) in French, which is ostensibly a servant, but in all practicality a slave. I do not know that the hacienda system is completely dead everywhere in the world--but to be owned by the company store is slavery. I do not think we should suggest that the scourge is eradicated. Because it does not exist here does not mean that it does not exist.

However, the thrust of what you have to say is extremely important. Such attitudes and trends make possible atrocities beyond our ability to conceive. T. H. White's dictum, which I am fond of quoting notes that 90% of humanity are sheep; 9% are blackguards and knaves; and the 1% fit to lead, know better.

As long as we are sheep to fashion and the world, we are in danger. It is only in becoming the sheep of Christ that we have the power to resist the glamours of the world.



Such thoughts and words should not be allowed to vanish into the dim depths of commenting archives where they may or may not survive. I love good dialogue about important issues, and this issue has stirred a great deal of very good thought. Thank you all for contributing and thank you for helping me to grow in understanding and in my walk with Christ--for it is only in facing the truth squarely that we begin to see His face in the events that surround us each day.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on December 1, 2002 10:06 AM.

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