Archive for the ‘Slavery’ Category

Kevin DeYoung posted his friend Jason Carter’s thoughts about the Lausanne Congress here.  Here’s one part that grabbed my attention:

Perhaps the strongest prophetic voice issuing from Cape Town came from Dr. Joseph D’Souza from India when he spoke out against the Indian Caste System as (a form of modern) slavery in its subjugation of 250 million Dalit peoples.  D’Souza made the point that if apartheid was wrong, then so too the Caste System:  “25% of India’s population —  250 million people — has no rights, dehumanized, segregated, and silently enduring an apartheid system in India. We, of course, in India hang our heads in shame…”  D’Souza stated that there are more slaves in our world today than when William Wilberforce fought the Transatlantic slave trade and closed his rousing and prophetic message by calling forth the involvement of the global church:   “I am here to say to you here at Cape Town that nothing but the concerted opinion and involvement of the global church will bring down human civilization’s longest lasting slave system.”

I think that D’Souza’s eight minutes on the Lausanne platform, 20 years from now, might be one of the defining hallmarks of Lausanne III if the global church – working with Dalit Christians – manages to prophetically speak out and live out Christ’s transforming power in the midst of this (unbelievably) large-scale injustice, reconstituting Indian society from the bottom-up for the glory of Christ.

The link in the quote goes to D’Souza’s speech.

He says that the Dalits (Untouchables) have four pleas for the church:

  1. Free our children from socialization into inferiority and vulnerable to abuse and discrimination.
  2. Free our women from sexual predation.
  3. Be a voice.
  4. Bring the alternative community that Jesus promised, the church in which there is no discrimination.

Notice that in the first two points he gives examples of Dalits who saw redemption in their lives.

The BBC story that he referred to, about the Catholic graveyard with a wall between Dalit and non-Dalit graves, is here.  That’s the kind of stark image that can really symbolize injustice, like the separate Bibles for swearing in witnesses in the Jim Crow South.  Wikipedia’s article on caste and Christianity has more information.

Lord, move in the hearts and lives of your people everywhere to build your church into the community that you desire.

Rick Hogaboam pointed out a series of posts by Thabiti Anyabwile that reacted Brian Kemper’s defense of comparing abortion to slavery and the Holocaust.  Kemper believes that we must make the comparison because of the horrible reality of abortion that parallels slavery and the Holocaust and the denial of personhood that has taken place in defense of all three.  He believes that people take offense to these comparisons because “we have elevated what they consider to be a blob of tissue to personhood status.”

Rick posted a good quote from the first three posts.  Anyabwile’s consideration of this issue spanned four posts:

I wanted to focus on his first post, and you can read his others for his opinions on those topics.  Here are Anyabwile’s central objections to Kemper’s article:

Okay, the argument is basically fine.  But read Mr. Kemper’s opinion piece and tell me how many times he seems to deeply affirm the human pain and suffering African Americans endured in slavery.  He seems quite aware of the Jewish holocaust, referring to monuments and observances dedicated to never forgetting that human tragedy.  But how many such monuments and museums exist in honor of African people treated as chattel?  How many institutions work to ensure there is a deep, abiding recollection of those centuries of torture?  Not many.  Kemper certainly doesn’t mention many.  Now, here’s why some of us say “how dare you?”  Without demonstrating any genuine empathy, any continuing affirmation of the humanity of African people, the comparison simply seems to lack authenticity, familiarity, and empathy.  It merely sounds expedient.  Those who use the argument don’t really sound like they care about black people as such, but only about exploiting the pain of black people as a political expedient….

There’s one more element to this I’d like to highlight.  When I say, “How dare you make this comparison?” I’m also identifying someone who hasn’t shown up to support a lot of other causes I care about.  Not only have you not shown up to support, you really haven’t shown up to dialogue, understand, or persuade.  Most of your political and social positions lie across the river from my own, and though you own a boat you’ve never tried to row across.  Now you show up saying how much I ought to support your cause.  And you tell me how much this cause ought to mean to me, how I ought to care about the death of black babies.  You tell me this as if I don’t already care about the death of black babies.  But when I talk about the death of black babies due to crime, or poverty, or drugs, or slow death from a sub-par education, you tell me that’s my problem.  When you do that, you seem to care more about your political issue than you care about my black life.  You need to know that’s how we see you.  Your comparison reminds us of all of this.

So, yes, how dare you compare abortion to slavery?!  I love you.  But I’m afraid you don’t love me… at least not long enough to hear how your comparison affects me.  I’m in the trenches with you–at least I want to be–but the shrapnel from your rapid fire makes it hard for me to fire with you.

I think that these two objections both deserve attention.  From everything that I know, Anyabwile is first and foremost an evangelical Christian who doesn’t have a vested interest in racial politics and doesn’t subscribe to Afrocentric theology.  He wants to proclaim the gospel to all people, and knows that God is creating a new, multiracial people in Christ.  If he is right about how many black Christians will react to Kemper’s defense, then what he is pointing to is a fundamental mistrust and disconnect between white and black Christians.  I think that’s largely the case in American Christianity today; white and black Christians have such separate institutions and cultures that we often don’t register on each other’s radar.  Anyabwile’s thoughts here highlight the perils of white tonedeafness, but I think that both circles share some of the blame.

I also want to note something in Anyabwile’s article that I’m not so sure about.  We may not have monuments and museums about slavery, but I think that our educational system and the public presentation of history do pretty well with making people aware of slavery and the civil rights movement.  I think that it’s necessary sometimes to point out that America didn’t invent slavery, but that societies across history have had different forms of it.  This is not, of course, meant as a justification, but context is important.  We’ve got a long way to go in having a really just society or even agreeing exactly what that would look like here.  But to me this criticism, while it is surely sincere, does not describe the cultural reality. (more…)

Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile offers a 3 post series on abortion, slavery, race relations, and more. I am providing links to each part with some quotes that I found insightful:

Part One “How Dare Compare Abortion to Slavery?!”

Thabiti offers a stinging analysis of Toby Mac’s “Blues” music:

Yesterday I went to a restaurant with a brother in the Lord.  While there a Toby Mac song began playing on the restaurant speakers.  There was something oddly familiar, yet clearly distant.  The particular song seemed to be an effort at playing the blues by someone who grew up pretty affluent and problem free.  There was the basic form and melody of the blues, but won’t no blues in it.  The way, the how, of this comparison lacks blues for slaves and descendants of slaves.  It lacks familiarity with the suffering, pays passing tribute to the humanity of slaves, and moves too quickly to the rhetorical and political comparison.  It’s all too expedient and neat for an experience whose icon is a lacerated, bleeding, whipped back.

Part Two  “How I Would Talk About Abortion and Slavery to an African American Audience Were I a White Man”

Because the reality is this: There is among us another form of willful ignorance destroying life by the thousands every day.  There is another “looking the other way” by Americans who know better and should be better. There are significant numbers of people professing to be Christians either participating in, supporting, or playing blind bystander to untold human suffering.  These are the people living in our day who remain uninvolved in ending abortion the way some remained uninvolved in ending slavery.

Were a black man to remain uninvolved in ending slavery he would be called a “sell out.”  Were a white man to be uninvolved in ending slavery he would be worst than the slaveowner.  And my brothers and sisters, if a black man or woman remains uninvolved in the ending of abortion when abortion destroys more black babies than any other thing since slavery… that black man or woman is a “sell out” to his children before they see the light of life!  And if a white man or woman remains uninvolved in ending abortion… that white man or woman takes their place on the side of slave owners and slave merchants who were destroyers of life!

Ignoring suffering wasn’t right in 1830, and it’s not right in 2010.  Black life should have been valued and protected in 1830 and 1950, and it should be valued and protected now!

Part Three  “Now I’m African American and I’m Talking to African Americans about Abortion and Slavery”

In our short time tonight, we have not come to talk about slavery.  We’ve come to talk about its modern day step-child: abortion.  And I’ve come to tell you, beloved, my mama and daddy had a lot of things right.  But they were wrong when they told me that “abortion was a white person’s problem.”  It may have seemed that way to them watching the images on the TV in the 1970s.  It may seem that way to you and me when we see the images and protests on our TVs today.  But, beloved, you might be horrified to know the truth.

Since abortion became legal in 1973, over 13 million African American babies have been killed in the womb! Thirteen million!  That’s more than heart disease, cancer, accidents, violent crimes, and AIDS combined!  That’s more than some estimates of lives lost in 200 years of slavery!  In the 1980s, we labeled black males an “endangered species” because of the life-threatening effects of drugs, violence, and imprisonment.  But next to abortion, drugs, violent crime, and prison look like Spring break at Virginia Beach.  Write it down.  Make it plain.  The new slavery, the new force devastating black life, is abortion.

I continue my review of Andrew Napolitano’s, “Dred Scott’s Revenge: A Legal History of Race and Freedom in America” with this second installment on his 2nd chapter, “American Slavery”.

Napolitano shares what the typical life of the slave was like, involving being broken in, strict codes of discipline, teaching that livelihood was dependent on the good of the owner (thus creating sense of inferiority and dependency), and Bible Studies from selective Scripture to reinforce that slavery was their lot in life and needed to be accepted as from the hand of God.

A sad but revealing quote, “In general, even the most humane slaveholder, as paradoxical as the phrase is, could not afford to be too nice if he hoped to perpetuate his enterprise” (p. 16). This pretty much sums up the relationship of master and slave.

The Domestic slave trade was prompted by the outlawing of the African slave trade in 1808. The powers that be realized that a constant influx of slaves would perhaps lead to future revolt. Now that slaves weren’t being imported, the domestic slave trade got uglier. Masters were trying to breed more slaves to perpetuate their estate. Marriages were dissolved if there was infertility and it was plain ugly. The Northeners tried to abolish the slave trade, but they weren’t as lily white as some might think. Mills in the North processed Southern cotton, exported cotton overseas, and manufactured goods for the Southern market. Slavery was alive and well in the North prior to the Revolution and many slaves gained their freedom during the Revolution, only because it was offered in exchange for their fighting in the war. One can hardly call that emancipation based on conviction, but rather a leveraging of power over the slave to exploit their dependence on the State.

In spite of the heroic efforts of the Underground Railroad, which was based on conviction and noble intent, running away was simply not an option as the Federal Government enforced strict laws to bring fugitives back to their owners and money rewards were also offered to those who would capture slaves. Ahhhhh, how the smell of money always works its way into most every story and conflict in human history. I actually just picked up the book, “From Midnight to Dawn” based on the Underground Railroad that I hope to review sometime in the future.

The good old dollar also shows up for yet another reason why slavery was eradicated in the North (sorry to crash the party). White labor was considered more valuable than blacks, so many emancipation laws were designed to bolster the economic conditions of the whites. I guess it was, “Here’s your freedom…over there on the curb with gutter water and crumbs”. Makes slavery under a humane owner not look so bad. Reminds me of the Prodigal son who realized that servanthood in his father’s house sure did beat poverty in the distant land that allowed him to party with money, but kicked him to the curb when he was out of money. Not trying to justify slavery, nor say the Prodigal Son parable justifies slavery, but only noting that being a servant under a good master is better than being “free”, but poor and desperate to do anything for money to buy food and shelter.

Napolitano wraps up the chapter with a very interesting discussion of Natural Law, quoting from the likes of St. Thomas Aquinas, Justice Clarence Thomas, Thomas Jefferson, and Martin Luther King Jr. Aquinas argued that the government did not have the right to enact unjust laws. This raises the question of epistemology and how we can know anything, let alone whether something is right or wrong. How much can be known by “Natural Law”? Must one quote Scripture when self-evident “Natural Law” is no longer self-evident (yeah, I caught the logical fallacy as well). I am tempted to turn this post into a discussion of Theonomy, Natural Law, and more, but will refrain.

Aquinas echoed what many folks in the Reformed branch of Christianity would assert, that a government is only legitimate when it is enacted some assumed aspects of morality based on the Decalogue (10 Commandments). You can read Romans 13, where it is assumed that the Civil magistrate is punishing evil behavior…behavior called to be evil like murder, stealing, and the like. So far as the government is operating within this minimal guidelines, can they be considered as remotely legitimate. Now what about a government that is not just on a lot of things, while being just on many other things? Therein lies the dilemma that all people live under. Aquinas suggested that only “just” laws were to be obeyed. This presumes that the citizen is defining justice by some standard in which the government itself is subject to. What is that standard you might ask? Is it the Bible? Part of the Bible? Natural Revelation? This is tough. Laying that debate aside, Judge Clarence Thomas said the following about his notions of a higher, binding natural law:

Without such a notion of natural law, the entire American political tradition from Washington to Lincoln, from Jefferson to Martin Luther King, would be unintelligible.

Napolitan adds:

He (Clarence Thomas) said that he subscribes to this principle because it guarantees equality, even if the words of the Constitution do not.

Back to Thomas:

Natural rights and higher law arguments are the best defense of liberty and of limited government.

Thomas Jefferson also appealed to a higher law that he understood the magistrate to be bound by, almost as if it were a trust that needed to be guarded and protected. Jefferson was hardly an  Evangelical by modern definition, but he was a Deist and rooted inalienable rights as something, “endowed by our Creator”. I have heard that some scientists and atheists are most tempted to Theism because of the Moral argument for the existence of God. One becomes a tyrannical dictator when they enforce laws that they must admit originate in their own minds. Even utilitarianism subjects a dissenting minority to the rule of the majority and doesn’t resolve whether something is true, beautiful, and good. If the majority wish to cleanse their land of a race of people, whose to tell them that they’re wrong, irregardless if 99% think the same say for that matter?

Martin Luther King Jr., in his famous letter from the Birmingham jail, said:

…an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law

So my question to those reading this: Is there such a thing as “Natural law”? Can it be know for certain? What is it? Was Aquinas, Justice Clarence Thomas, Thomas Jefferson, and MLK Jr. right in appealing to “natural” law?  What exact “natural” law were they appealing to?

“Dred Scott’s Revenge: A Legal History of Race and Freedom in America” by Andrew Napolitano (2009). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

A review by Rick Hogaboam for Booksneeze as part of their blogger program.

I rarely read books apart from the topics of theology, Biblical study, etc., but chose to delve into a something that has always interested me: America’s history of race. I recently read “Black and Tan” by Doug Wilson and learned quite a bit. My esteem fro Abraham Lincoln went down several notches. The history books we used in public school never mentioned his racism and abuse of federal power over the states. I guess that history really is written by the victors.

I have respected Judge Andrew Napolitano’s analysis and thought this book would be a fair and judicious presentation of America’s history of race in relation to the 3 branches of government.  He didn’t disappoint. I will offer a review of each chapter, beginning with chapter 1.

Chp. 1- Slavery Comes to the New World

Napolitano notes that slavery was not new to America but was practiced in every major civilization and that the Greeks even thought it was necessary for a prosperous society. At the height of Rome, roughly 1/3 of the population consisted of slaves. Interestingly, Napolitano does note that Roman slaves did participate as equals in certain religious celebrations, no doubt making mention to the Christian faith, “Despite the many horrors that Roman slaves faced, they also participated in family religious worship and seasonal feasts, often socially mingling with their masters and apparent equals” (3).

Here, one can see the powerful influence of the Gospel at work in breaking down barriers. Clearly, the NT speaks to slaves and masters within the institution of slavery. There is much more that can be said about this, which I do not wish to get into in this review, but God clearly intended for both salves and masters to be cognizant of the fact that they both serve a common Master.  The NT also makes clear that the worship gathering is not the place to highlight distinctions between rich and poor, slave and free, etc.  We all gather as those clothed in Christ, sharing a common faith, Lord, baptism. The NT therefore offers a strong critique of those who thought slaves to be ontologically inferior, devoid of their humanity and dignity. This humanity and dignity was restored through the Christian faith in Roman, even while not mandating the dissolution of the institution of slavery.  Clearly, the NT offers a critique of “chattel slavery”, where humans are seen as mere objects of possession, subject to whatever the master should request, whether it be sexual or immoral. Scripture always condemns such a system. Indentured servitude, however, would be more like the system that God would allow, a system of voluntary service for wages, much like how folks work for money today. Of course, there would be contracts that would prohibit folks from choosing another master who would pay more. This, too, is modeled in certain aspects of our modern economy.  I think that the major sport leagues provide an illustration for slavery.

Let’s take Major League Baseball as an example of present-day “slavery”. A player is drafted out of high school or college by a team (master) that owns rights to the player. There are many other nuances which I will leave out for brevity sake. More detailed information can be found here. You will notice that there are exceptions to what I present as the general rule. The player will sign a contract with the team. If the player rejects the team’s offer, they would reenter the draft the following year and will go through the same process.  Once a player signs a contract, they will be under the club’s control for 6 years. There are rules that allow the player to be released if they spent so many years in the minors without major league service time. The player is also paid the major league minimum salary for the first 3 years regardless of performance.  The club still has control of the player for years 4-6, but the player is now given arbitration eligibility, where their salary may reflect their performance compared with what other players are compensated. The team can retain the player and pay the arbitration amount, negotiate a contract before negotiation, trade the player, or release the player if they think it too expensive. (more…)

While looking at Doug Wilson’s blog one day, I happened to notice that he wrote a book on slavery and culture wars.  Black and Tan: Essays and Excursions on Slavery, Culture War, and Scripture in America seemed to be a great book to pair with America’s God, since both books discuss 19th-century American Christianity.

The story of this book begins in the 1990s when Wilson and his fellow Presbyterian minister Steve Wilkins wrote a pamphlet called “Southern Slavery as It Was.”  Controversy erupted when they argued that the abuses of Southern slavery were exaggerated.

Black and Tan reiterates the main points of that pamphlet and discusses the controversy that resulted from it.  The central points might be listed as follows:

  • The Bible does allow for slavery within certain guidelines, although as the gospel does its work within nations, slavery will be abolished because the institution of slavery is against the logic of the gospel
  • Racism and the slave trade are roundly condemned by the Bible
  • Slavery was abolished in the United States in a radical and unbiblical way rather than that gradual way that it should have been if the gospel had done its work in American culture
  • The Civil War empowered the federal government in such a way that it overthrew the truly federal system of government that the Constitution provided for, and this empowerment of humanistic instead of Christian values (which he compares to the French Revolution) paved the way for the current culture wars over abortion and gay marriage by, for example, giving the Supreme Court the power to overturn all states’ abortion laws

This blog post by Wilson also gives a good insight into his purposes.

In my view, there are great strengths and important weaknesses in this book, and I’ll discuss the strengths first.  Wilson’s explanation of the biblical view of racism leaves no doubt that God’s will is to replace racial hatred with racial reconciliation in Christ.  Wilson is emphatic and convincing that racism is sinful.  His discussion of slavery is also good.  Wilson is careful to state that he does not miss slavery and believes that God judged the South for its sins by handing it defeat in the Civil War.

He also does not defend the Southern practice of slavery as biblical, although he does believe that the conditions have been exaggerated.  Wilson believes that Southern slavery was more humane than ancient Roman slavery or slavery in the Caribbean plantations.  This is something that I don’t have the expertise to weigh in on before reading more about it, and the details are not discussed much in this book.  I believe that it is discussed more in the original pamphlet, and this portion became part of the plagiarism controversy that enveloped it because Wilkins did not footnote material that he had taken from a book called Time on the Cross.  I hope to check out the full pamphlet sometime.  For now, it is enough to say that I was impressed with Wilson’s principles and exegesis on slavery, the slave trade, and racism.  An honest look at the Bible will show that slavery with limits appears in the Bible, and I think that Wilson does an admirable job interpreting what it means.

There are some weaknesses that need discussion too.  His characterization of the American Revolution against Britain as “not a true revolution in the modern sense of the word,” with the true revolution coming with the Civil War, is useful but also too simple.  Much of the leadership of the American Revolution indeed did not want anything like the French Revolution, but the Revolution also unleashed democratic, anti-authoritarian forces in such a way that they frightened some of the Founders (see Federalist No. 10, for example, where Madison openly says that democracy is bad).  Mark Noll’s America’s God and Gordon Wood’s The Radicalism of the American Revolution discuss this trend well.  Peter Leithart commented on the radical nature of the American Revolution recently when he said, in response to a review of a book on aristocracy and revolution:

Different as France and America were, the example of America was key for French revolutionaries, since the US (in Doyle’s words) “showed the European world beyond America that a society without nobles was possible, and could work.”   American opposition to nobility is enshrined in the Constitution (Article 1, sections 9-10).  For all the “conservatism” of the American revolutionaries, Armitage’s review neatly captures just how radical the American experiment was.  To European conservatives, the US – with its rejection of throne, throne and altar, and nobility – must have appeared to be an effort to change the operating system of human society.

I think that most historians would argue that there was a democratizing trend that continued from the Revolutionary period through the 19th century.

One example of revolutionary nature of the American Revolution is its most famous document, The Declaration of Independence, which is hardly anti-revolutionary.  It traces government’s authority to “consent of the governed” rather than God, and has its intellectual heritage in Enlightenment deism rather than traditional Christianity.  I think it’s far better to see the American Revolution as supported by different people for different and overlapping reasons rather than as simply conservative or radical, Christian or deist.

Also, although Wilson writes that the North was not monolithic, he tends to identify the North with secular humanism because of people like radical abolitionists and Harvard’s Unitarian leadership.  His view doesn’t allow for enough nuance in viewing Northern society in the 19th century.

He also refers to the inferiority of African culture when compared with European culture without much description of why.  Now, it’s important to say that he does not do this on a racial basis.  He gives some details on European barbarism before Christianization, and he says that he looks forward to the day when Christianized Africans will produce the magnificent cultural achievements that European culture has.  For him, the key is the gospel’s influence in culture rather than any notion of innate European superiority.

Because I have secular training in the discipline of history, I’m sure that I have my own blind spots on this.  To me, though, his easy assignment of inferior African culture didn’t seem particularly reflective.  I’m not so sure that a traditional culture, once Christianized, has to take the same route as European culture.  The key is faithful Christian living, which will certainly change the culture, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will produce the cathedrals and grand musical compositions that Wilson expects.  Secondly, his point of view doesn’t do very well in explaining Mesopotamia, Egypt, or China, which all had quite “advanced civilizations,” by most people’s standards, without the gospel.  I’d like to hear more from Wilson on this point, but I think what he has in Black and Tan is too simplistic.

At not much more than 100 pages, Black and Tan is worth reading.  Wilson’s a great writer, discussing important ideas with clarity and an economy of words.  His sense of humor is outstanding as well.  It will make you think about the origins of the culture wars and the trajectory of American history, even if you can’t agree with him on everything.  As he points out in the introduction, one needn’t be a professional historian to write about history.  And though I have disagreements with the book, I’m glad that he didn’t keep his opinions to himself.

After chronicling the Americanization of Calvinist and Methodist theology, Mark Noll in America’s God turns to American biblical hermeneutics, the way that Americans read the Bible, in Chapters 18-20.  Noll argues that the American approach to Scripture in this period also came from both their Protestant heritage and their revolutionary/early national circumstances.  Noll has argued that republican government and commonsense moral ideas replaced the traditional authorities that held sway in the colonies, and that society was becoming increasingly democratic.  Evangelicalism often followed these trends even as it created what Noll calls “a formidable Christian civilization” (437) out of the former colonies, displaying a willingness and sometimes even a preference to work in the wide-open marketplace of religious choices, offering a view of human nature that owed quite a bit to Scottish Enlightenment ideas, and expressing theology in language drawn from Enlightenment and republican ideas.

These historical developments impacted the way that Americans read the Bible, Noll argues.  As the American Revolution and the democratizing forces that came from it laid waste to traditional authorities and evangelical churches expanded their membership, American culture displayed great devotion to “the Bible alone.”  This meant that the plain meaning of Scripture could be understood by the average person without help from theological traditions.  Noll notes that Americans rarely cited the Bible itself to justify this way of interpreting the Bible. He calls the American style of interpretation “a Reformed, literatal hermeneutic,” which had three basic characteristics:

  • an adherence to the Reformed tradition that the whole Bible was important as a guide for all of life
  • a belief that the Bible was plain to all people without help from tradition; Noll quotes Restorationist Alexander Campbell to illustrate this point: “I have been so long disciplined in the school of free enquiry, that, if I know my own mind, there is not a man upon the earth whose authority can influence me, any farther than he comes with the authority of evidence, reason, and truth…. I have endeavored to read the Scriptures as though no one had read them before me” (380)
  • a belief that because the Bible was simple, it offered simple solutions to “problems in theology, morals, and society” (384)

But this hermeneutic did not provide simplicity on the subject of slavery.  In fact, theologians and others in the North and South could not reconcile their respective commonsense readings of the Bible with each other.  In fact, the American hermeneutic favored the Southern position: slavery was clearly in the Bible and rules were given to govern it in both the Old and New Testaments.  This meant that some abolitionists, like William Lloyd Garrison, rejected the Bible completely.  Consequently, this made other abolitionists vulnerable to the charge that they too were faithless.  Noll shows well how pro-slavery interpreters could back up their positions using the American literal hermeneutic.

He doesn’t show as well how the anti-slavery evangelicals believed that their own reading of the Bible as anti-slavery was literal, but he does give the general arguments that they used.  They tended to either argue that American slavery was different and worse than slavery in the Bible or, more commonly, that the spirit of the Bible condemned slavery even if the letter did not.  This second view distinguished between the facts recorded in the Bible, which were not to be taken as encouraging all recorded behavior, and the moral teachings of the Bible.  But these views generally did not hold up in debates against theologians who defended slavery.  Noll argues that the Civil War had the elements of a theological crisis that American theology simply could not solve.

There were other theological perspectives outside of these competing evangelical alternatives.  Interestingly, Noll also argues that British and Canadian evangelicals, who did not share the American hermeneutic, often found it strange that Christians could defend slavery.  African American theology tended to be very Bible-centered, but tended to look at the broader biblical story.  Roman Catholics criticized Protestant individualism and claimed that the authoritative interpretation of the Church could solve the debate.  Lutheran and German Reformed theologians in American tended to look to their theological traditions while also becoming Americanized.  None of the American traditions had the cultural capital to make much difference, Noll believes.

The one theological school that Noll gave a chance of impacting the debate was the conservative Reformed, such as the Old School Presbyterians.  He gives the examples of Charles Hodge of Princeton Seminary and Robert Breckinridge.  Both came to the position that though the Bible allowed for slavery, larger biblical principles pointed the way to abolition because of the sinfulness of the practice of the Southern slave system (Breckinridge) or the biblical limitations on slavery that ultimately undermined the system (Hodge).  But Noll believes that this perspective could not overcome the power of the Reformed, literal hermeneutic.

Noll closes Chapter 20 with a great reflection on American “common sense” about race in the 19th century and how this interacted with ideas about slavery and the Bible.  He argues that while defenders of slavery looked at the letter of the Bible to defend slavery, they allowed their common sense about the inferiority of blacks to overrule the Bible’s teachings on race.  Hence, defenders of slavery were quite comfortable in asserting that not only was slavery divinely sanctioned, but black people were meant to be slaves.