Friday, March 28, 2008

Theology and the Slave Trade

I was recently reading the blog Ancient Christian Defender. The author Jnorm888 had a provocative post entitled Was Jonathan Edwards a racist?

It is a well known fact that Edwards was a proponent of slavery, and owned slaves himself. Unlike many contemporary slave owners, Edwards did not will freedom to his slaves upon his death. Due to Edward's position on slavery, there is some division in the African American community today on whether or not he is a person worthy of being honored.

Jnorm's post triggered some questions in my mind: Did the Calvinistic assumptions of Edward's theology contribute to his support of slavery? How did prominent Calvinists of the era approach the issue slavery, and how did prominent Arminians address the issue? Was there a difference in their approaches?

I think a difference can be demonstrated. In short, Calvinists of the era were more likely to support the institution slavery, and Arminians of the era were more likely to support abolitionism. For example (Calvinists) Edwards and Whitfield both supported slavery, while (non-Calvinists) Wesley, Asbury, Wilberforce, and Finney all advocated abolishing slavery.

There were some notable exceptions to the examples above - John Newton (author of "Amazing Grace") was a Calvinist and also an abolitionist. And over time many Calvinists joined the abolitionist movement. In fact Jonathan Edwards Jr fought against slavery. However, it is noteworthy that many of "trail blazing" abolitionists were from Non-Calvinist backgrounds, and argued against slavery using Arminian theological concepts.

When one looks at the two theological systems, this makes sense. Calvinists focus on the sovereignty of God. Part of that focus is a belief that the world is the way it is because God wants it that way. Thus on the issue of slavery a Calvinist might reasonably argue that slavery is ordained by God and gives Him glory.

Arminians focus on the love of God for all. God cares about each and every person. Each person is of great value, because he is created in the image of God. Thus on the issue of slavery one would expect an Arminian to advocate for the freedom of all, because every person is valuable, and every person is loved by God.

We see this Arminian heart in the abolitionist writings of John Wesley. Notice how he used Arminian concepts of God to advocate on behalf of the slave (bold mine):

O thou God of love, thou who art loving to every man, and- whose mercy is over all thy works; thou who art the Father of the spirits of all flesh, and who art rich in mercy unto all; thou who hast mingled of one blood all the nations upon earth; have compassion upon these outcasts of men, who are trodden down as dung upon the earth! Arise, and help these that have no helper, whose blood is spilt upon the ground like water! Are not these also the work of thine own hands, the purchase of thy Son's blood? Stir them up to cry unto thee in the land of their captivity; and let their complaint come up before thee; let it enter into thy ears! Make even those that lead them away captive to pity them, and turn their captivity as the rivers in the south. O burst thou all their chains in sunder; more especially the chains of their sins! Thou Saviour of all, make them free, that they may be free indeed!
(Thoughts upon slavery, 1774)

Notice how Wesley's arguments against slavery flow directly from his Arminian understanding of God:
  • God is love
  • God has mercy on all
  • Jesus "purchased" slaves with his blood
  • Jesus is Savior of all
  • Jesus wants us to be free
Arminian Theology is more friendly to the cause of the downtrodden, and Wesley demonstrates why here. God loves us. We all have value because we are made in the image of God. Jesus died for all. We ought to be free. These assumptions impact how we treat others.

This Arminian friendliness to the downtrodden seems to apply to other issues as well. We can see differing approaches in Calvinist/Arminian theology regarding:
  • the value of women
  • compassion for the poor
  • love for the homosexual
  • the death penalty
  • prison reform
  • reasons for going to war
  • the treatment of "heretics"
  • race issues
There is even a recent example on the issue of race: Apartheid. Apartheid in South Africa is a clear example where Calvinist theology was used as a method to promote racial division. Between 1652 to 1835 a large number of European Calvinists settled in South Africa. They became known as "Afrikaners" or "Boers". They imposed Apartheid upon South Africa, and used their Calvinist theology to justify it. Apartheid was not dismantled until 1994, and then only after great pressure from the international community.

It is my firm belief that Arminian Theology is more friendly to the state of the lost and downtrodden.

May God continue to give us compassion for all. Let us be the salt of the earth. May the world see in our lives the light of Jesus, and praise our Father in heaven. May our understanding of God be a help and hope to the world, instead of a hindrance.

Links of interest:

18 comments:

Dawn said...

There are still Calvinists today who believe slavery is sanctioned by God. You would think that these types of people were ignorant; however, they're highly intelligent people. Too scary.

On another note, are you suggesting that God has placed a moratorium on the death penalty?

Pizza Man said...

Thanks for stopping by Dawn.

I am not willing to say that God has placed a moratorium on the death penalty. Only He knows. I realize a good case can be made to keep it. And no doubt there are Arminians and Calvinists on both sides of the issue.

I'm against it because:

We all deserve death, yet God has offered us life.

I want to be consistently "pro life".

I believe the death penalty is easily abused by oppressive governments. To be frank, I don't trust our government with this authority. Particularly in the future, as we move further from our Judeo/Christian heritage.

There are people on death row who are not guilty. It is a travesty if they are put to death. We hear over and over about cases where people on death row have later been found not guilty (because of DNA or other new evidence has been found)

I believe life in prison without parole is an appropriate punishment, and provides as severe a deterrent as does the death penalty.

I believe life in prison gives a person more time to be saved, to get right with God.

Jnorm888 said...

Great post. I posted this blog & a link to your blog in a thread at the HolyCultureradio forums.

We do squabble over this issue alot.



JNORM888

Dawn said...

I agree that it is sad that there are a few on death row who should not be there, but I do not believe that to be a legitmate reason to do away with the death penalty as the vast majority of people on death row are guilty. What we should do is make it easier for those who proclaim innocence to have DNA testing done whenever biological evidence is available.

You said, "I am not willing to say that God has placed a moratorium on the death penalty. Only He knows."

I think "we" know from scripture. I see no evidence in scripture where God has changed His stance on the death penalty or for any sin/crime punishable by death. He is the same yesterday, today and forever.

You said, "We all deserve death, yet God has offered us life."

True, but God has made stipulation for certain crimes to be punishable by death on the word of two or more witnesses. This is the word of God, not just my opinion. God knows that there will be times when innocent people may well pay for a crime they did not commit; thus, the penalty for the false witness is also death. (Deut 19:15-19) If they do not get caught in this life, they will pay for it in some way here on earth and at the judgment.

You said, "I want to be consistently "pro life"."

Is God, the Maker of this law, not "consistently pro life"? The reason God instituted this law IS pro life. It is to be a deterrent when meted out quickly and swiftly, a safety to society from any further murderous acts from the perpetrator and a just punishment for the crime.

You said, "I believe the death penalty is easily abused by oppressive governments. To be frank, I don't trust our government with this authority. Particularly in the future, as we move further from our Judeo/Christian heritage."

The law is not only for Christians. God's law is for everyone. (Romans 13) Was Rome or any other country in the world particularly christian at the time Paul wrote his letter to the Romans? No. Yet Paul still tells us that the law is good and given by God FOR us. Our government, though not anywhere near perfect, is a far cry from the oppression you envision. Besides, they're steadily moving away from the death penalty. Do you think the government can't abuse the life in prison without the possibility of parole sentencings for innocent people? Do you think it doesn't happen now?

You said, "There are people on death row who are not guilty. It is a travesty if they are put to death. We hear over and over about cases where people on death row have later been found not guilty (because of DNA or other new evidence has been found)."

I agree, this is a real travesty. See answer above.

You said, "I believe life in prison without parole is an appropriate punishment, and provides as severe a deterrent as does the death penalty."

I respectfully disagree. Prison these days, while not a total cake-walk, is far too easy a punishment. The perpetrators are free to continue to murder, torture and abuse others within the system, including the guards. There is always a possiblity of escape or re-trial and conviction overturning due to "technicalities".

You said, "I believe life in prison gives a person more time to be saved, to get right with God."

It only takes a split second to be saved. You either repent or you don't. Remember the theif on the cross?

Thanks for stating your opinion. It looks like we may have to agree to disagree.

I have written a little more extensively on the subject if you, or anyone else reading, care to take a look.

Law? Grace? Or Both?

You said, "May God continue to give us compassion for all. Let us be the salt of the earth. May the world see in our lives the light of Jesus, and praise our Father in heaven. May our understanding of God be a help and hope to the world, instead of a hindrance."

Amen and Amen!

Jnorm888 said...

The thread was deleted by the mods. It was called too divisive. It was also called a "hate thread".

The HCR forum is mostly calvinistic, and we do fight over such things alot...I guess this time the topic was too sensitive.

One called it a "genetic falacy". And both sides argued over that. One side thought it wasn't a genetic falacy while the otherside thought it was.

I thought it was a great blog post, and I know that alot of the Arminians over at HCR thought it was too.


You said:

"This Arminian friendliness to the downtrodden seems to apply to other issues as well. We can see differing approaches in Calvinist/Arminian theology regarding:

the value of women
compassion for the poor
love for the homosexual
the death penalty
prison reform
reasons for going to war
the treatment of "heretics"

race issues"



I think one can add "Big business vs their employees" to the list as well.

I'm seeing a similarity between slavery and the abuse of power by modern Big business.

In watching conservative cable news and radio shows I noticed a tendency of over looking the abuses of Big business.

It seems as if all the blame of wrong doing always fall on the employees.

And even with this issue of Big Banks giving out bad loans....for some reason they want to blame the people who received those loans instead of holding the big banks accountable for what they did.

In American slavery. The Slave master wasn't held accountable for his/her abuses.

I think both sides needs to be held accountable, but for some reason I'm seeing the same mindset in regards to those who justidied the abuses of Big Business.

I hope I didn't go on a rant.





JNORM888

Dawn said...

JNorm, you said, "I'm seeing a similarity between slavery and the abuse of power by modern Big business."

Can you please expound on this idea for me?

JNorm, you said, "And even with this issue of Big Banks giving out bad loans....for some reason they want to blame the people who received those loans instead of holding the big banks accountable for what they did."

I think both are to blame, but the ultimate fault lies with the borrower. No one put a gun to their heads and made them take the loans. These people should have done their homework and should have tried to live within their means. They were just as greedy as the banks but on a different level.

Dawn said...

P.S. Just so you know, I agree that Big Business has become extremely greedy.

Jnorm888 said...

Dawn said:
"Can you please expound on this idea for me?"


Sure,

When one is in dept it seems that the Lender can do to the borrower whatever they want.


Lets say a credit card company wanted to increase your interest rate from 12% to 20% to 30%.

I know someone who paid off his credit card and the credit company boosted his rate up to 80%.

Now maybe the person is lying but he said if his wife didn't catch it then they would of piad a hefty price the next time they used that credit card.

I don't know....maybe it wasn't true, but it seems as if the people who are in debt are being treated as if they are "semi-slaves".

It is as if the lender can do whatever they wan without being held accountable.



You said:
"I think both are to blame, but the ultimate fault lies with the borrower. No one put a gun to their heads and made them take the loans. These people should have done their homework and should have tried to live within their means. They were just as greedy as the banks but on a different level."


I agree with you that the borrower is ultimately to blame. But I have to admit, that I don't read everything my credit card company sends me. And alot of it is long and I signed on the dotted line.

My interest rate started out around 9% but jumped to 19%/20% when I was a day late for one payment. So you are right. I am to blame for being a borrower, but I also think that a little bit of accountablility should be on the side of the Lender as well....especially when alot of lenders are doing the samething, so the choice of getting a good deal are slim.

In this society is is getting harder and harder to go against the grain. Our country wants us to spend money in order to keep our economy going.



You said:
P.S. Just so you know, I agree that Big Business has become extremely greedy.


Yeah, they have. I do understand why for the most part they only get a slap on the wrist.....I think it's because they employ alot of people, and they are good for the U.S. economy.

However, if they are not slightly regulated then there is nothing stopping them from "doing the wrong thing" for it's American employees, and our country.

I'm not for alot of regulation, but if both sides are not held accountable then oneside will have all the power, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

If the greedy banks and big Bussiness pass a law through congress that will allow the debt of the parent to transfer to their decendants then we will have a form of "semi-slavery".,,or serfdom


Take care and God bless.




JNORM888

Dawn said...

PM, you said, "This Arminian friendliness to the downtrodden seems to apply to other issues as well. We can see differing approaches in Calvinist/Arminian theology regarding:

*the value of women
*compassion for the poor
*love for the homosexual
*prison reform
*reasons for going to war
"

If you ever get the time, I would be interested in reading your views on these others issues you have mentioned and how the two sides differ. I have a feeling I know where you might go with them given your views on the death penalty, but I could be wrong.

I am staunchly non-calvinist, but I do believe the Calvinists are correct on many of the issues you've mentioned. (I'm not talking hyper-Calvinists here, as I know they are way off base on these issues.) Moderate Calvinists, however, tend to view these issues biblically. In our post-modern culture, Calvinists can come off as harsh when the truth is they are simply being obedient to the word of God; of course, there are always exceptions and some will abuse the word to suit their own selfish desires.

I agree with JNorm. Even though I would probably disagree with you on the issues mentioned above, this was a well written article and, hopefully, it will cause others to search the word of God to see how they should approach and treat these issues for themselves and those whom they disciple.

Dawn said...

JNorm, thanks for taking the time to explain your views.

You said, "It is as if the lender can do whatever they wan without being held accountable."

To my knowledge, there IS a cap on what the lender can charge for interest. At least I think that is true for credit card companies. (Sorry, I'm running late and don't have time to verify this right now.)

I'm with you, I am mostly against regulation; however, if a business or industry cannot regulate itself, there comes a time when I believe the government must come to the rescue to protect the people. I hate it when that happens because it takes a very long time to de-regulate when needed. The government loves to get its greedy little hands on our businesses, not to mention our incomes!

I do see your point about once someone has made the horrible mistake of getting into unnecessary debt. I just wish more people would try to get out of debt and make purchases based upon the money they actually have in the bank.

Please don't take this as me being judgmental because my husband and I were once in credit card debt ourselves. Thankfully, we were not in over our heads and we quickly learned about finances. I think there is much more awareness today about the potential debt disasters in which one can immerse themselves and how to avoid them. Information is just a click away. :-)

Rachael said...

JNorm,

"The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender." Proverbs 22:7

Borrowing does indeed put you at the mercy of the lender, so it is important to do your best to stay out of debt. Sometimes things get tight, but as a rule, if you don't have the money, don't buy it. This philosophy makes for a whole lot less stress. There has been a time in my life where my husband and I had to have student loans, but as a rule, I once heard someone apply this Scripture to money and I've made it my own motto as well: "Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law." Romans 13:8

God bless. Rachael

Pizza Man said...

Thanks Dawn and Jnorm. Good comments. I'm at work right now, but will add my two cents later this evening when I get a chance. :)

God Bless,
Kevin

Pizza Man said...

Thanks too Rachael for stopping by. Didn't notice your post when I made the previous comment.

I too have been through the credit card issues. What a pain :(

I took Financial Peace University (FPU - Dave Ramsey) a couple of years ago and learned a lot of good stuff from that class.

Pizza Man said...

I think I'll work on a couple of new blog posts on both debt and the death penalty. Both topics deserve more than a quick rant.

Dawn, I'll try to respond to your death penalty comments soon, but it might be a couple of days. I agree with some of your points in part, but am still against the death penalty. I didn't give scriptural comments earlier, but there are a number of scriptures that I think support my position. I freely grant that a strong case for Pro-death penalty can be made from scripture as well. We may still disagree, and that's fine. :)

Jnorm888 said...

Rachael,
Said:
"The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender." Proverbs 22:7

Borrowing does indeed put you at the mercy of the lender, so it is important to do your best to stay out of debt. Sometimes things get tight, but as a rule, if you don't have the money, don't buy it."



I agree that the borrower is at the mercy of the lender, and that the borrower is a servant to the lender, but I also know that the Bible is against "usury".

Psalms 15:5 He that putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh reward against the innocent. He that doeth these things shall never be moved.

And usury in the Bible in and of itself is tricky....for they weren't allowed to do it to their brothers but they were allowed to do it for strangers.

To thy brother

Deuteronomy 23:19 "Thou shalt not lend upon usury to thy brother; usury of money, usury of victuals, usury of any thing that is lent upon usury:"

To strangers


Deuteronomy 23:20 "Unto a stranger thou mayest lend upon usury; but unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon usury: that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all that thou settest thine hand to in the land whither thou goest to possess it."



This verse makes it seem that God wil judge everyone. Both the Lender as well as the borrower.



Isaiah 24:1-2 "Behold, the LORD maketh the earth empty, and maketh it waste, and turneth it upside down, and scattereth abroad the inhabitants thereof. And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priest; as with the servant, so with his master; as with the maid, so with her mistress; as with the buyer, so with the seller; as with the lender, so with the borrower; as with the taker of usury, so with the giver of usury to him."





So my whole focus was about "high interest rates". This is where I want the accountability to be.

I am all for paying back loans. I am just against "high interest".


But this is making me want to live more within my means......and that's always a good thing.



But thank you for your point of view. What you said is very true. But my focus was "high interest rates"



JNORM888

Rachael said...

Pizza Man,
In response to one of my comments, Dawn asked for my position on the death penalty. I deemed my reponse too long to post into a comments box, so I posted it to my blog. In my post, I address a few of the things that you and Dawn have discussed. If you'd like to check it out the name of the article is Question on the Death Penalty. God bless. Rachael

Pizza Man said...

Hi Rachel, you make some good points, although I disagree with your conclusion. Thanks for taking the time to post your thoughts.

God bless,
Kevin

The Seeking Disciple said...

Good post Kevin. Living in Georgia I often have heard the story of George Whitefield's visit to Georgia in the 18th century. Whitefield went before the Georgia legislation asking them not to condemn slavery but to embrace the practise and he cited the NT as well as history to prove that slavery is how we can spead the gospel to the pagan Africans.

Wesley, of course, opposed Whitefield's views until the very end.

BTW, John Newton was a 4 point Calvinist. He did not embrace limited atonement as far as I know. I found that interesting since Calvinist love to embrace Newton and claim him all their own.