Friday, March 2, 2012

Jonathan Edwards—A man who owned slaves


In one of my previous blog posts, I addressed the topic of Charles Hodge and slavery. 


Not only was this blog post difficult to write, but I was challenged regarding my thinking and implicit agreement of Hodge's approach to the issue of slavery. 

The individual (who called himself.....or herself...."Anonymous") challenged my position by asking this question....
"Is it fair to equate the New Testament concept of slavery to the different concept of 17-19th century American slavery? Is that not comparing "apples to space-ships" (oranges)?"
Now initially, I responded to this by asserting that there is a difference, but not a fundamental difference. In other words, slavery (whether because of racism or oppression) is fundamentally wrong, mainly because humanity is made in "the image of God". 

Yet Anonymous continued with this challenge: 
"Slavery in Paul's time was fundamentally and totally different from his day and age compared to 17 - 19th centuries of American slavery which was based strictly on color of one's skin. Therefore, we must stop comparing the two (uncomparable) slavery accounts in the same category. They are fundamentally different, and we must acknowledge that the Fallacy of Equivocation occurs when one uses the same term with fundamental different meanings."

Though I hate being challenged (since I am a prideful man)....but I believe Anonymous' reasoning is correct. 

Now what is also interesting is that apparently God is not finished with me regarding this issue because I received an e-mail encouraging me to read this paper presenting by Thabiti Anyabwile on Jonathan Edwards, Slavery, and the Theology of African Americans. This paper was balanced, gracious and honest. I would encourage anyone to read all of it, but this blog post will just interact with Anyabwile's section on Edwards' Doctrine of Slavery. 

Here is the link to the entire document: 

__________________________________________________________________

Questioning Edwards’ Doctrine of Slavery 

The third way we might approach our topic is to ask: “Should Edwards’ doctrine of slavery and slaveholding be accepted by anyone today?”

This question moves the discussion from theology proper to a question of proper exegesis of certain biblical texts regarding slavery.

How did Edwards “theologize” about slavery? What doctrinal position did he take?

We have precious little regarding Edwards formal doctrine of slavery. What we do have comes from one source, a 1741 outline Edwards drafted in defense of a fellow pastor named Benjamin Doolittle. Doolittle’s congregation denounced their pastor for a range of offenses, including slaveholding. The controversy was referred to the Hampshire Association of pastors for mediation. The Association apparently assigned Edwards to offer a defense of Doolittle. The case is filled with irony since the congregants accusing Doolittle were supporters of Edwards’ view of the revivals while Doolittle himself was suspected of anti-Calvinist Arminian tendencies. The one time Edwards officially addresses slavery, he finds himself defending a slave owner who rejects his theology against a group of parishioners who support his theology.

Sherard Burns takes Edwards’ defense of Doolittle as evidence of “theological compromise” and “socially ingrained and acceptable” attitudes toward “the oppressions of Africans in America.” He continues: “The prime motivation behind Edwards’s action was the reality that he himself owned slaves. It was not that he felt a great burden against the atrocities of slavery, if indeed he knew them at all, nor that there was great desire to see the institution abolished and men gain the freedom that he and others like him enjoyed as gifts from God.” Burns views Edwards as “Driven by a dual reality—namely, that he owned slaves and knowing that a threat to the slaveholding of any one minister was a threat to the slaveholding of any minister—Edwards dismissed theological differences and defended Doolittle, the Arminian.”

Perhaps there’s another explanation for Edwards’ defense of Doolittle. After all, everything else we know of Jonathan Edwards suggests to us a man of scrupulous integrity—theological and otherwise. It seems to me that Edwards’ defense of Doolittle had little to do with slavery—in that regard, Burns is probably correct to suspect “socially ingrained” attitudes toward the institution. Rather, Edwards defended Doolittle because he saw threats to both the New Light revivalist cause and to the clergy-dominated aristocracy that ruled New England. If the parishioners could arraign and convict a pastor—of whatever theological stripe—that signaled a kind of anarchy that Puritan and aristocratic elites could not suffer.

But should we adopt Edwards’ view of slavery? Was his exegesis correct?

We might outline Edwards’ position by highlighting some things he got wrong, from our perspective, and some things he got correct, making him ahead of his time in retrospect.

Wrong:

• Argued that it was not in itself sinful to use one’s “neighbor’s work without wages”.
• Defended slavery as not wrong in itself.

Correct:

• He condemned the Transatlantic slave trade, rejecting the idea that other nations had power or right to disenfranchise all the nations of Africa.
• He rejected the idea that Israel’s history could serve as precedent and warrant for Colonial abuse of Africa.
• He held that under the gospel God would not “wink” at unjust manstealing, but called his people to love their neighbors (writ large) as themselves.
• He explicitly denied that Africans and Native Americans were inferior in God’s eyes. He did not deny either their full humanity or the need to seek their spiritual good. He regarded them as equal to Christian nations (read, “White”) in their rights and potential.
• He regarded Africans and Native Americans as spiritual equals. He was the first pastor in Northampton to allow full communicant membership to African people.
• In the 1740s, he argued that there could be no advance in “Gospellizing” Africans until the slave trade ended.

When you consider that apart from early Quaker writings there was no abolitionist movement to speak of during Edwards’s day, it seems that Edwards was both a man of his time and ahead of his time. Still, it will not do for anyone today to take the ambivalent stance the Northampton pastor took. What Edwards got incorrect jeopardized millions of African Americans who lived in the wake of his life. Edwards attempted to thread a needle between ending the Transatlantic slave trade, on the one hand, and supporting the domestic servitude of Africans on the other. When he wrote the congregation in defense of Doolittle, he chided them for their hypocrisy, for condemning slavery but enjoying the fruits of slave economy. Perhaps it’s fitting to simply state: It takes a hypocrite to know a hypocrite. Or, more charitably, Edwards saw the inconsistency of others more clearly than he saw his own in this case.

The only way to resist evil is to be consistently and completely against it. There can be no compromise with evil and injustice. Perhaps Edwards would have developed more completely had he lived longer and reflected more. Again, we only have a fragment of his thoughts on this issue. But given what we do have, we have enough to say that exegetically there was more to say than Edwards said. And pastorally, there was more opportunity to say it than Edwards took advantage of. At this point, he failed to be prophetic, even if his fragmentary thoughts show evidence of being ahead of his time.

Again, our doctrine of slavery is no distant historical and sociological curiosity. Today, slavery ranks behind illegal drugs and arms trafficking as the third largest international crime industry. Modern day slavery is believed to generate profits of an estimated $32 billion, according to a 2005 report from the International Labour Organization. Of that number, $15.5 billion is made in industrialized countries.

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So, Anonymous...I dedicate this blog post to you. I may never see you on Earth, but I am confident I will see you in Heaven. Until then, my friend. 

14 comments:

  1. Could you explain Col. 4:1. Why does Paul not say "Masters free your slaves"?

    I do not quite understand where anonymous is coming from when there were white slaves as well as black slaves. The basis of his analysis (racial) is flawed. It may have been mostly racial in the United States, but from what I understand, the slave trade has been filled with wicked opportunists rather than racists.

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  2. Hi Clint:

    Your Eagerness to read the online posts, books, & articles of those who embrace a different position from you is refreshing.

    Thank you for your kind online post above.

    I will write later regarding my thoughts on the above.

    Again, thank you for your desire to challenge your own viewpoint (even as I struggle with my OWN PRIDE and my OWN SIN) to challenge my own personal thoughts and opinions.

    You are a "Berean" kind of Christian.

    Thank you.

    Mr "A" as in Anonymous

    :-)

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  3. Hi Joshua:

    I will write back later regarding your comment.

    Thank you.

    Mr "A".

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  4. Hi Joshua:

    The historical facts behind the following book provides some of the background behind my position:




    Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II

    Douglas A. Blackmon (Author)

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  5. Joshua:

    If you have free time, may I please ask you 2 questions?

    I assume you are an Evangelical Christian and that you are a brother in the Lord.

    Question:

    Would you agree with me that the pro-life ("Sanctity of Life" issue) is one of the most important political or societal issues our country has ever faced? And that from the perspective of God, it is such a serious and grave issue for a professing Christian to be on the wrong side? Why or Why not?

    Question 2:

    Could an Abortion doctor go to heaven? Could an abortion doctor who uses his hard-earned MD license to extract unborn babies by vacuum suction or with scissors go to his deathbed knowing that he will soon be in heaven? Would God welcome him into heaven if he is a Bible-believing Christian on Sundays, but yet this same church member supports his family by providing abortion services Monday thru Friday as a service to low income women.

    Would God welcome this abortion doctor into heaven? Why or Why not?

    Thank you for letting me leave you with those 2 thoughts. I will respond later to your earlier post.

    Thank you.

    Mr "A"

    :-)

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  6. Hey Joshua:

    Thank you for your patience.

    You wrote the following earlier:

    "Could you explain Col. 4:1. Why does Paul not say "Masters free your slaves"?"

    ****"Mr A" comment*****

    The word "Slaves" is used differently here than in the contrasting socio/economic/cultural context of the same word "slaves" when discussing the horror and Holocaust of 16-19th century Institutional Slavery.

    The English word may be the same in our vocabulary. But the foundational presuppositions or (underlying background issues or underlying context) are totally different.

    It is a logical fallacy to use the same term "slaves", but to use the same word to mean 2 different things.

    Just like it is a logical fallacy for me to say, "Hi Joshua, how many Catfish did you catch at the bank today?"

    Here the word "bank" is used for "River Bank", but the reader could easily get confused and think I am referring to a financial institution.

    The point is:

    The word "slaves" or "Slave" was used in a totally different way in the first century A.D. New Testament context and culture than in the contrasting different culture of the 16-19th century Holocaust known as Institutional Slavery.

    The English word may appear to be the same, but the concepts that underline that word have changed.

    Here is another example:

    In the first century, the Greek word APOLOGIA meant to provide a legal, reasoned defense". Now centuries later, the same Greek word translated into English is often translated into a totally different meaning: "To Apologize because I did something Wrong."

    The point is:

    We may use the same English word in our Bibles, but the underlying, Background Contexts have totally changed. In 1 Peter 3:15 the Apostle Paul was not saying: "Christians, you Must Apologize for your Christian faith because you are wrong." No, he was saying: "Give an Apologia" in the 1st century context of providing a reasoned, Legal Defense.

    Same English word, but notice how the contexts and background issues have totally changed over time. It is the same with Slavery. The English word "Slaves" may appear, but the background context and historical issues have totally changed over time. Their meanings have changed over time.

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  7. Joshua wrote:

    "I do not quite understand where anonymous is coming from when there were white slaves as well as black slaves. The basis of his analysis (racial) is flawed. It may have been mostly racial in the United States, but from what I understand, the slave trade has been filled with wicked opportunists rather than racists."


    ****Mr A*****

    I hope the above proved helpful.

    As a history buff, I strive to better equip myself with facts and I constantly want to know more.

    On a final note (Which is NOT directed at our mutual friend Joshua) that is directed at myself and to the Church at large:

    "Why are Christians so quick to call Abortion a "Holocaust" and to deny communion to a practicing Abortion doctor, and to practice church discipline against an Abortionist, and yet silence........on the Holocaust of slavery and race.

    I am white.

    I get tired of the American LEFT liberals like Al Sharpton (Al Sharpton cares about Al Sharpton) using RACE as a Weapon to further aid and abet the growing Socialism and Secularism of America.

    Yet, while disagreeing with the American Left Wing and their sinister tactics, I often wonder about the Silence of American Christians regarding Race and Slavery.

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  8. Note: this is NOT directed at mutual friends Clint and Joshua. This is directed at the Church at large, including myself.

    Why the deafening silence regarding the Holocaust of Slavery and Race in America? Why are evangelical Christians so silent about Race and Slavery?

    Why is Abortion called a Holocaust, yet the evils and utter wickedness of Slavery and past Race issues Not considered more of a Holocaust?

    Read the literature of history. Read about how a white, 19th century Christian elder leaves a Sunday night church service, and then does "prayer time" with his family, and then at nighttime around midnight, he goes out to the slave quarters and picks his African slave to have sex with.......

    In 16-19th century American context, black slaves were considered to be Property. They had no rights, ...nothing. They were bred as cattle, raped, abused, and treated worse than animals.

    Unlike white slaves, who served for a brief time in order to pay off a debt. Black slaves were slaves for a Lifetime of Hell and Holocaust. Even so-called "freed black slaves" could NEVER live in the same town or neighborhood of their former slave owner out of Fear. Freed black slaves were always scared of being recaptured and forcibly taken back to the holocaust.

    In my earlier example of the so-called Christian plantation owner having sex with the African slaves, imagine being the father of one of those young African slave girls who are being raped by the white plantation owner? Who are you going to call for help? The sheriff? The police?

    My only point is that Silence Screams. And the scream is deafening when one simply reflects on the silence of the White Evangelical Church concerning the Holocaust of 16-19th century American slavery. Yes, there were some notable exception, but Christ the King will always preserve a Faithful Remnant.

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  9. One final note to Myself and to the Church at Large:

    "How can one claim to Love God who he has NOT see, yet hate his brother who he has seen".

    1 John 4:20

    Abortion is a Holocaust. The quick 2-3 hour medical procedure (murder of an unborn baby) is SIN and a Holocaust. But the enslavement of a people group over a Lifetime of Hell and Holocaust and Rape and forced mistreatment is, in my opinion, a far greater Holocaust in terms of quantity of untold suffering and human misery.

    The writings of well-known Christian authors like Steven Wilkins (Moscow, Idaho) and Douglas Wilson (didn't he just speak at John Piper's conference recently.......hmmmmm) who have argued that Abolitionists were the "Bad Guys" and that slaves of the South had a "good life" (see their book: Southern Slavery: As It Was ) tells me that to this day, sadly, many in our ranks do not view our sick, wicked Slavery past as a holocaust.

    I remember that Tony Evans, a great expositor of the Word based out of Dallas, Texas, was turned down by many Christian radio stations in the year 1990 because of "your kind". And Tony Evans, who publicly supported both Republicans for president in 1984 and 1988, is far, far different from a Race-baiting left-wing Lunatic named Al Sharpton. My point is: and yet as recent as the year 1990 Tony Evans was told in person "no, we cannot agree to broadcast your sermon messages because you are **not one of us.** Your kind of black folks are different from us."

    And that was in 1990.

    New Testament slavery was economic in nature. And it was totally different from the Racial Holocaust of 16-19th century American slavery.


    http://hnn.us/articles/9142.html

    Thank you for listening and sharing my .02.

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  10. It is sad that the secular, unbelieving world has to scold and correct and rebuke Christians for not following the counsel of 1 John 4:20:


    http://hnn.us/articles/9142.html




    At the center of the furor is a small thirty-nine page booklet entitled Southern Slavery: As It Was, co-authored by local pastor Douglas Wilson and League of the South co-founder Steve Wilkins, on the one hand, and an even shorter book review of it, on the other hand, by two University of Idaho history professors entitled Southern Slavery As It Wasn’t: Professional Historians Respond to Neo-Confederate Misinformation.

    Wilson’s and Wilkins’ booklet, published by Wilson’s “Canon Press” in Moscow, argues that southern slavery was not only sanctioned by the Bible but, thanks to the patriarchal kindness of their wise evangelical masters, a positive, happy, and pleasant experience for the majority of southern blacks. Wilson and Wilkins are quite specific about the many benefits of slavery for African-Americans, and they conclude that southern slaves genuinely appreciated those benefits and supported the system that provided them. As such, they claim that “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 [the Civil War] or since.” (p. 38). Their praise of the institution is almost unbounded in places. “There has never been,” they argue, “a multi-racial society that has existed with such mutual intimacy and harmony in the history of the world.” (p. 24). They repeatedly deride the consensus view of slavery that has emerged over the last fifty years of academic scholarship as “abolitionist propaganda” and “civil rights propaganda.” Most of the modern problems confronting the United States, they feel, are the logical result of the theological heresies implicit in the abolitionist movement and its unfortunate victory over the South in the Civil War.

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  11. Before I respond I should correct part of one of my statements. I should have said that anonymous' statement "May" have been flawed. I unfortunately don't have enough data to make such a pretentious statement as to say it was entirely flawed.

    On the other hand, I think my main point stands, which was that the issue of slavery should be addressed beyond the issue of race. In order to be theologically coherent we do have to recognize slavery objectively as a distinct theological problem, before race is addressed. The issue of race discrimination of any kind in American history is a shame and embarrassment to the Christian Church. That some in the Church would approve of slavery because of race, or lay bondage upon a person because of the color of their skin is reprehensible and in violation of the character of God. On the other hand "Slavery" is distinct from the subject of the abuse of "slaves" (which is specifically addressed, and condemned in Scripture Col.4:1). If you want to use the word "Servant" in this context that may be more correct, but it still does not address the seeming treatment of slaves in the Old Testament as people's property. In my understanding God is more concerned by our knowing that we are all humans treated equally before His face with pure and holy justice than He is with our physical status. Note, that I am in NO WAY condoning unjust actions by anyone in the past. Nor do I think that Christians should own slaves. The Scripture is pretty clear in the Old Testament that the Israelites were to not keep their brother under bondage, and we should use this as our example. Paul also implies in 1 Corinthians 7:21 that we should enable the freedom of brothers who wish to be free from any kind of obligatory servitude.

    In essence I am trying to say that the theological issue of slavery is distinct from the issue of treatment of slaves in the United States. Not separate, but distinct.

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  12. I see that there is more than one "Anonymous". I am not sure how to respond to the questions regarding abortion.

    It is a horrid evil. The murder of life, the destruction of the image of God.

    I do not feel that I could answer the questions regarding the abortion doctor's eternal destiny in a satisfactory manner.

    Finally, what is there left to say? If we are consistent in applying Scripture to all parts of life, what we preach in the church will be preached in public.

    19th century slavery was purely driven by greed and was reprehensible. What is left to say? It happened in the 19th century. We don't live there anymore. We have slavery of similar kinds, but presenting their own distinct problems in our own century. We cannot live in the past. We can learn from it, but it is no longer here.

    I am curious as to your conclusion as to what we ought to do with Jonathan Edwards. Shall we dispense with his writings? My question is not meant to provoke, I am curious as to what your conclusion is.

    As a side note; the Civil War was not about slavery. Slavery created the problem, but it was about greed and impatience. Greed on both sides and impatience and myopia of purpose on the part of the North. Even though I think the North was more in the right.

    Enough rabbit trails. I have rambled much too long.

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  13. Hi Joshua: (from "Mr A" - Anonymous)

    Sorry for my late response: things have been crazy.

    You wrote the following:

    "If you want to use the word "Servant" in this context that may be more correct, but it still does not address the seeming treatment of slaves in the Old Testament as people's property. In my understanding God is more concerned by our knowing that we are all humans treated equally before His face with pure and holy justice than He is with our physical status. Note, that I am in NO WAY condoning unjust actions by anyone in the past. Nor do I think that Christians should own slaves. The Scripture is pretty clear in the Old Testament that the Israelites were to not keep their brother under bondage, and we should use this as our example. Paul also implies in 1 Corinthians 7:21 that we should enable the freedom of brothers who wish to be free from any kind of obligatory servitude. In essence I am trying to say that the theological issue of slavery is distinct from the issue of treatment of slaves in the United States. Not separate, but distinct."

    ______

    Mr A's remarks:

    I agree that you and I both are appalled and disgusted at the horrible sin of 16-19th century American institutional slavery. I agree that you and I already share much agreement here.

    Let me add further thoughts:

    a.) I still think that Old Testament "slavery" was fundamentally Different ("apples") in comparison to 16-19th century American slavery ("oranges"). Because of their fundamental difference, no comparison can be made from the Scriptural text.

    I agree with you that the Imageo Deo ("image of God") is Broad Enought and Big Enough concept that includes both Old Testament slavery as well as the American slavery.

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  14. Hi Joshua (from "Mr A" - Anonymous).

    Here is my second comment of the night.

    Thank you for your patience.

    ------

    I am curious as to your conclusion as to what we ought to do with Jonathan Edwards. Shall we dispense with his writings? My question is not meant to provoke, I am curious as to what your conclusion is.

    As a side note; the Civil War was not about slavery. Slavery created the problem, but it was about greed and impatience. Greed on both sides and impatience and myopia of purpose on the part of the North. Even though I think the North was more in the right.

    Enough rabbit trails. I have rambled much too long.

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    -------

    Mr A comments:

    My answer to your first question is that we should be careful and Discerning when reading Jonathan Edwards.

    I do not think we should burn Jonathan Edwards book.

    But we should be very, very careful reading them. And discerning.

    I agree with you that the War between the States was not about Slavery. It was largely about the Issue of Federalism.

    Even when the tide of the War was clearly in the North's direction, the Emancipation Proclaimation was not issued until.......1864.

    And Race Relations between Whites and Blacks were strained and difficult in the North too. But at least there were freed Blacks walking around......with the fear of bounty-hunters catching them though.......

    16-19th century American slavery was a terrible blight on our country.

    Thank you for our discussion.

    I enjoyed the dialogue.

    take care,

    Mr A

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