Two things can be said about the vast majority of us who are Southern Baptists.
- We believe that every word of God is true, inspired, and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.
- We believe that slavery is a deep stain on America’s history which was ungodly, unjustified, and evil.
That makes certain verses, like Ephesians 6:5-9 troubling for us.
Slaves, obey your human masters with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as you would Christ. 6 Don’t work only while being watched, as people-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing God’s will from your heart. 7 Serve with a good attitude, as to the Lord and not to people, 8 knowing that whatever good each one does, slave or free, he will receive this back from the Lord. 9 And masters, treat your slaves the same way, without threatening them, because you know that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.
The perfect word, which we honor, commands slaves to obey their masters. It seems to command something we hate.
This difficulty came to the fore again recently when Texas Tech basketball coach Mark Adams was fired after he quoted the Scripture referenced above about slaves submitting to their masters to a player on his team. The conflict was clear. He was fired for QUOTING THE BIBLE on the one hand, enflaming the passions of Christians, but he dared to call Black players to submit to their White coach using a passage that referenced SLAVERY! This offended many, understandably.
One SBC entity head posted a hot-take about the sad state of affairs when a coach is fired for quoting Scripture, and later posted a humble apology for the offense he gave by seeming to support slavery. When he posted that, the Twitter hordes jumped on him. How could he apologize for the Bible?
Here is where we are, as Bible-loving, Scripture-honoring Christians. We love God’s word and (almost all of us) hate slavery. Yet the Bible we love clearly commands slaves to obey their masters. What do we do about that?
Here are some of the options I have seen put forward to deal with this.
1. The Bible approves of slavery and we should stop condemning it.
This was, of course, the view of the founders of the Southern Baptist Convention. They were racists and slave owners who broke from Northern Baptists so that they could continue to be racists and slave owners and still do missions. Them’s the facts, folks. Somehow, people who loved Jesus and God’s word couldn’t see that owning other humans was wrong, and the way they treated them was wrong.
Some of that seems to have been drawn from the Calvinist doctrines of some of the founders, mixed with their extreme racism. Since God ordained things as they were, and brought the spread of Christianity through white Europeans, we should accept what God ordained as good. The sick twisting of Scriptures among our Calvinist/racist founders (and among other non-Calvinist but equally racist founders) is why we stood to repent of the racism that has stained our history as a convention. It is an ugly stain.
There are still some arguing for versions of this idea, toned down a little, but still heinous. Some pockets, especially among extreme Reformed communities, justify slavery as God’s will. There are also pockets in the Deep South that hold on to the Lost Cause views of Civil War and blatant racism. I believe both of these are small minorities in the SBC, but they are present.
We must reject completely the idea that slavery is okay. Racism is evil. Slavery was evil. White supremacy is evil. Case closed. Can I get a witness from the congregation?
2. The Bible’s social views are outdated, relics of an ancient past, and should be rejected.
There are some who believe that the Bible is a product of its times, which subjugated women, authorized slavery, and promoted a morality that our enlightened modern minds have come to reject.
This view is prominent in our world, but not in the SBC. Since we hold to the truth and authority of God’s word, we reject this view, and little more need to be said.
3. The passages on slavery in the Bible are more about employer/employee relationships.
I heard this one a lot growing up. “Slaves obey your masters” really means that employees should be submissive to their employers. That view fails on many levels. Yes, as Christians, we should be good employees, but employees are different than slaves. An employee can quit and find a new job, file a grievance, confront his or her boss – the differences are many.
There may be some principles that apply to the employer/employee relationship. but slavery and employment are different and we cannot dodge the difficulties with this one.
4. The slavery in Bible times and the chattel slavery of America were different.
I will admit that I am not an expert on slavery in biblical days. I understand some slavery was economic – debtors became slaves until their debts were paid off. Defeated armies often became slaves to the conquering nations. There were different forms of slavery. Maybe some historians can weigh in here.
Two thoughts about this. First, one would guess that injustice between masters and slaves was a problem even in First Century slavery. Maybe the brutality and racial component that existed in America didn’t exist then. I don’t know. Still, second, this distinction seems like a way to avoid dealing with the fact that the Bible commands slaves to obey their masters. “Well, the slavery there wasn’t as bad as the slavery we had.”
Slavery was not good in the first century either and the Bible commands slaves to obey their masters. The difficulty remains.
5. Paul’s command was not a justification of slavery but an instruction to godly living.
This has some merit. Paul continually instructed the First Century Christians on how to endure in hard times, how to live for Christ in evil days.
In the Old Testament law, strictures were placed on slavery, just as they were on divorce and remarriage. Paul was instructing us how to live godly lives in an ungodly world. We would love for him to have “called out” the system of slavery, but he didn’t. He did tell Philemon to treat Onesimus as a brother, and he told slaves that if they had a chance to find their freedom, do it. He was more focused on spreading the gospel than anything else.
If this view is true, Paul:
- Did not endorse slavery – it is part of a sinful world system.
- Other truths Paul taught clearly teach us princ
- He only instructed Christians how to honor and glorify Christ within an evil, fallen system.
6. Your great idea here……
Do you have a better way to deal with this?
We are absolutely tied to biblical truth, yet God’s word commands slaves to obey their masters. This is uncomfortable, isn’t it? How do you handle this?
We live in the in-between, in the upside-down. We trust God’s word even when we don’t understand it all. When I am asked why God commanded the killing of all the Canaanites, even the women and the children, I have an answer, but I admit it bothers me a little. There are issues in the details of harmonizing the Gospels that I cannot completely work out to my satisfaction. I don’t think easy and thoughtless answers are the way we should go. Sometimes, we can admit that we don’t have all the answers.
I don’t have the answers here yet. I believe God’s word 100%. I also believe 100% that slavery was an offense against God. How do we bring these two together without either discounting God’s word or authorizing what is clearly heinous?
I am still working on it. Any good ideas?