Looking back, we now see the inhumane and horrendous nature of the abduction-and-racially-based slave trade supported by many church members for a significant period in our history. But let’s also look at how many church members in England and the United States clung out of self-interest to some isolated texts of the Bible, without considering the larger issues of justice, and mercy, and without comparing the social and cultural conditions that changed between the times of Old Testament Israel, the New Testament Church, and our national founding fathers.
Imagine being non-African, colonial land owners who are profiting financially through the human slave trade, while knowing that Moses regulated slavery; that neither Apostles Paul or Peter called for the end of slavery; and that both urged Christian servants to submit even to cruel and abusive masters.
How could we have ended up on the side of the abolitionists in light of the fact that the New Testament repeatedly says things like, “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps” (1Peter 2:18-21).
Today, it doesn’t take being of African ancestry to see the enormous humanitarian evils of of abduction-based, involuntary, human slavery, let alone the most basic principles of doing unto others as we would have them do unto us. But look what happens if we focus on inspired words to ignore the plight of others, while overlooking what our Lord called “the weightier matters of justice, mercy, and faith.”
Yes, some will think that treating any text of the Bible as being temporary counsel based on social conditions— rather than as an expression of God’s unchanging will– opens the door to what some us us would call “the slippery slope.” But I’m guessing that first century religious leaders would have thought Jesus was walking on that slippery slope when he said, while knowing full well the importance of no-work Sabbath policy, “Which of you, having a donkey or an ox that has fallen into a pit, will not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day” (Luke 14:5)?
Seems to me that sometimes it is necessary to carefully climb down a slippery slope of Bible interpretation and application to get to those who have fallen into a pit on our “Sabbath”…