The bible does sanction slavery

Dan Barker
Co-President
Freedom From Religion Foundation

An Associated Press article today reports that "tea party" rally organizers in Wausau, Wis., withdrew a speaking invitation to an Alabama attorney when it was learned that he believes slavery is ordained by God.

John Eidsmoe speaks regularly to white supremacist groups. A video captured him speaking at a February celebration of Alabama’s secession from the union, during which he said Jefferson Davis understood the Constitution better than Abraham Lincoln. When these facts became public, tea party organizers quickly distanced themselves.

But Eidsmoe is actually right. “[Slavery] was established by decree of Almighty God,” said Confederate leader Jefferson Davis. “It is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation . . . it has existed in all ages, has been found among the people of the highest civilization, and in nations of the highest proficiency in the arts.”

Christian clergy agreed: “There is not one verse in the Bible inhibiting slavery, but many regulating it. It is not then, we conclude, immoral,” said Rev. Alexander Campbell, a prominent 19th century minister. “The right of holding slaves is clearly established in the Holy Scriptures, both by precept and example,” wrote another prominent clergy, Rev. R. Furman, D.D., Baptist, of South Carolina.

America’s early politicians often used the bible to defend slavery. Referring to the biblical curse that Noah placed upon his son Ham, U.S. Senator James Henry Hammond said, “The doom of Ham has been branded on the form and features of his African descendants. The hand of fate has united his color and destiny. Man cannot separate what God hath joined.” Churchgoing South Carolina Senator “Constitution Charlie” Pinckney, a signer of the Constitution, said “the importation of slaves would be for the interest of the whole Union” and backed up his opinions with the bible. Rep. William Smith, also of South Carolina, wrote that “the Scriptures teach us that slavery was universally indulged among the holy fathers” and that “slavery has prevailed in every country on the globe, ever since the flood.”

Reading the bible itself, we see that Eidsmoe and his American-loving predecessors are right.

The vaunted Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 treat slaves (not to mention women) as property: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor’s.” The very next chapter (Exodus 21) gives laws for dealing with slaves. “If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve . . . his master shall bore his ear through with an aul . . . and if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the manservants do . . .” and so on. Nowhere in the bible does God denounce the institution of slavery.

God sold the Israelites to the king of Mesopotamia for eight years (Judges 3:8). He doesn’t tell us what he did with the money. He also sold them to the Moabites for 18 years (3:14), to Canaan for 20 years (4:2-3), to the Midianites for seven years (6:1), to the Philistines for 40 years (13:1) and to the Babylonians for seventy years. That’s more than a century and a half of slavery—more than twice as long as slavery existed in the United States.

In Leviticus 25:44-46, we read: “Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can will them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.”

Leviticus 25:48-53: “After that he is sold he may be redeemed again; one of his brethren may redeem him: Either his uncle, or his uncle's son, may redeem him, or any that is nigh of kin unto him of his family may redeem him; or if he be able, he may redeem himself. And he shall reckon with him that bought him from the year that he was sold to him unto the year of jubilee: and the price of his sale shall be according unto the number of years, according to the time of an hired servant shall it be with him.”

Slavery is not just in the Old Testament. Jesus incorporated it into his parables as if it were the most natural order, only cautioning masters to beat some slaves less severely than others: “The lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers. And that servant, which knew his lords will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.” (Luke 12:45-48) That is true Christian compassion. Don’t beat some slaves as hard as others.

The Apostle Paul, after telling children to obey their parents, said: “Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.” (Ephesians 6:5-6) “Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed.” (1 Timothy 6:1)

The United States, debatedly, would not have fought a Civil War had it not been for the bible and its pro-slavery injunctions, cited by churches south and north of the Mason-Dixon line. ("Infidels," such as Thomas Paine,were the earliest abolitionists in the United States. Only the Quaker denomination deserves some credit for being relatively early in condemning slavery.)

It is admirable that the tea party conservatives want to give the impression, at least, that they are stepping away from racism and brutality. In this respect, they agree that it is a good thing that America was not founded on the truth of the bible.

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