Political correctness, not Bible, upheld slaveryPublished 10:48am Monday, July 16, 2012
Slaveholders in America did not come to the notion of human slavery from an understanding of moral truth or even from a sense of common human decency. It pleased some slaveholders to claim they found slavery in the Bible, and it pleases some of today’s politically correct advocates to exploit this vacuous claim. The historic and conceptual facts, however, are that slavery in America was the politically correct thing. Not morally right, but politically correct.
Outrageous as my assertion must sound to those who do not know the Bible and ignore history, it is fact by the very nature of political correctness. It is political without being moral and correct without being right. While the term is recent, the notion is actually ancient. The term simply attempts to dress invalid suppositions in some social dignity.
In an earlier column I pointed out that, despite the desperate or self-assured claims of some slaveholders (including clergy), they did not find slavery taught or supported or tolerated by the Bible. They did not find it there, because it is just not there. These slavery people did not read slavery in the text of the Bible, but they read it into the text. They conveniently seized upon the earlier European/Arab notion and even earlier African practice of slavery for economic advantage, not conceptual conviction.
Even in undergraduate study of the Bible, I could not find slavery there — and I had reason to look for it. In all the references to “servant” or “bondman” there is nothing to suggest slavery as we think of slavery. In the English version used by southern slaveholders (King James, 1611), the word appears but once in the Old Testament and once in the New Testament. Even these are unfortunate translations, unjustified by the texts’ Hebrew and Greek.
The Mosaic Law actually forbids “American” style slavery and stipulates many regulations to safeguard voluntary servitude from degenerating into it. The historical narratives of the Hebrew experience exhibits these regulations being practiced and infringements being punished. The New Testament references to servanthood are aimed at improving the conditions.
The essential factors of the slavery practiced in the South (and often indulged in the North) were involuntary capture, permanent ownership as property, severe totalitarian personal oppression, no legal redress for wrong done to them, and a racial base. The Bible not only teaches no such thing, it rules against anything like it.
One reason for my being especially alert for possible biblical support is that a large portion of my family had been slaveholders in South Carolina and Georgia. My great, great grandfather not only owned (inherited) slaves but preached slavery as a Baptist pastor and wrote in support in his Charleston newspaper. He studied the Bible again and this time to dispute the arguments of abolitionists who asserted what I have written. Coming to recognize what the Bible does not claim and what it does require, he freed his slaves as early as 1837 and became himself an abolitionist.
He wrote and published “Slaveholding Examined in Light of the Holy Bible” (Philadelphia, 1846). I own an original copy and am pouring over his argument. It is in reading Grandfather’s exegesis of the Bible and description of slaveholding as he observed it himself, that I came to recognize political correctness as the actual allowance of slavery.
His was not philosophic speculation or even empirical historical research, but personal experience and observation. He not only came to understand the Bible, but he sustained a conceptual understanding of the culture in which he had been raised. He describes in minute detail how he had and his contemporaries continued to read the plain scriptures through glasses colored by their inherited notions of slavery.
This is political correctness: the quantitative conformity to a notion that is achieved by political pressure. Grandfather experienced this pressure. He lost his readership and fled the South when he was warned a tar-and-feather party was on its way to get him. He preached the Bible does not support slavery and was dismissed from the pastorates of the principal Baptist churches in Cincinnati and Madison, Wis.
Grandfather never found slavery in the Bible, but conformed to the social pressure of the political correctness of his day. It was not only the Bible that set his slaves free, but himself.