A guest post by Matthew Eyre
Doug Wilson recently wrote a rather controversial blog post about slavery and homosexuality. I’d like to offer my thoughts on it, my agreements with him, and my disagreement with his conclusions. The original post is here, and I recommend you read it in full for proper context. With that out of the way, I’d like to jump right in.
“1. We know that sodomy is worse than slavery by how God responds to it.”
I have a point of agreement with Wilson here – but just that the Bible says that sodomy is worse than slavery. Leviticus 20:13 calls for homosexuals to be put to death. You will find no such punishment for slave owners prescribed in the Hebrew Bible. He goes into detail to make his point, but I don’t need convincing.
“2. Sodomy is a particularly virulent form of slavery to sin, and slavery to sin is the foundation stone for every other form of objectionable slavery. Political and civic liberty, whenever it has occurred in history, has been the result of widespread gospel influence. Apart from that gospel influence, slavery is the natural and normal condition of mankind.”
Citation needed. If the Gospel is what brought about the end of slavery, why are verses calling for the end of slavery conspicuously absent from the New Testament? This is a major problem for Wilson.
“3. Any society that takes its own revulsion against certain atrocities as the automatic base line standard, instead of submissively applying Scripture to moral questions, has taken the first and fundamental step in supplanting the Word of God with the words of men, and that cannot end well.”
Let’s leave aside, for a moment, the fact that “Word of God” is a vacuous term that has only ever been used to refer to the opinions and writings of humans. If Wilson followed his own advice here and submissively applied scripture to moral questions, he wouldn’t be saying that slavery is a moral evil. You will find no condemnation of slavery in either Testament of the Bible. Some will cite Exodus 21:16 as evidence that the Bible is against slavery, but they are wrong. At most, this verse merely contradicts the majority of other verses that condone the practice of owning other human beings as property. [RF: For more, see Slavery. Bible Style.]
Like many fundagelicals, Wilson claims that culture is calling good what “God” (human Biblical authors) has called evil. I submit that, in condemning the practice of slavery, Wilson is calling evil what “God” has called good. Further support for this is found in Wilson’s own words:
“In the first century, a man could be excommunicated for being a harsh master, but not for simply being a master”
If one is uncomfortable with my claim that Wilson is calling evil what God has called good, at the very least, Wilson is calling evil what God has not condemned. Wilson’s horror at society supplanting “God’s” word with their own opinion is ill placed. Instead, he should be horrified at the prospect of attempting to do moral reasoning from Scripture alone. There is simply no way for Wilson to reach a condemnation of slavery using a Sola Scriptura approach without committing the very same twisting of the text that he criticizes liberal Christians for.
Next, we reach a rather baffling part of Wilson’s article:
“When conservative Christians adopt a “that-was-then-this-is-now” hermeneutic with regard to slavery, they then have no answer when that same hermeneutic finds its way into the mouths of the advocates of same sex mirage today. So instead of being aghast at my answer, ask yourself why Matthew Vines even brought up slavery in the first place. He brought it up because he knows that there is a profound weakness in our line here, one that he can exploit.”
If you’re wondering what I’m baffled at, it’s Wilson’s lack of self awareness. Does he not realize that he has painted himself into a corner just the same as the “that was then, this is now” Christians? Wilson’s own approach of submission to the words of Biblical authors leaves him with no way of condemning slavery.
“So let me spell it out. The institution of slavery in human society is a memorial to the sinfulness of man.”
I’m glad Wilson holds this view, but I don’t see how he can get there by practicing the submission to scripture that he preaches. Where in the Bible does it say that slavery is sinful? Sure, it might suggest that being an overly mean slave owner is sin, but there’s not a word of condemnation for the practice of owning other human beings as property. If you think I’m wrong, go find one and show me. I’m open to correction.
“And don’t try the hand-waving dodge that ancient slavery was somehow magically “better.” I know better, and no, it wasn’t. The Christian faith did make it better, on the way to eradicating it, but that required obedience.”
It’s encouraging to see Wilson cleaning up some bullshit with his first sentence, but disappointing to see him spill twice as much with the second. How did the Christian faith make slavery better? By telling masters to tone it down on the threatening when just verses earlier slaves were told to “be obedient to those who are your earthly masters, with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as to Christ”?
You know what would have made slavery better in lieu of abolition? Telling slaves that their masters were imperfect humans capable of evil who are not to be obeyed like one would obey Christ, informing slaves of their right to be treated humanely, and commanding slave owners to treat their slaves humanely. You don’t see any of that in the New Testament though. At most, there is a mild improvement from the status quo.
“4. And last, a society is in grave moral danger whenever their reflex and very defensive response is that all the really wicked sins were “back then,” and the “correct moral sensibilities” are all right now. It turns out we are the good people, which is all very convenient.”
I heartily agree with this, and that’s why I oppose moral “reasoning” like Wilson’s which fossilizes the opinions of men from ages past and esteems them as divine. It is foolish to think that we have it all figured out in 2015. I submit that it is vastly more foolish to think that a collection of ancient texts from millennia ago has it all figured out, and it is moral suicide to canonize the errors of our forebears by pretending that their ignorance is divine wisdom.
The biggest irony of Wilson’s piece is that he’s mostly right: the Bible does teach that homosexuality is worse than slavery. And that shows us exactly why we shouldn’t be following the Christian religion, or at least not the Sola Scriptura flavor he’s so fond of. It’s clear that we need more than just the Bible to properly do moral reasoning, and I for one will gladly engage with those who realize this, whether they are Christians or not.
To Wilson and the significant number of Christians like him who wonder how we can possibly deduce morality without the Bible, my advice is to just look at yourselves. Do you repudiate slavery? The Bible doesn’t. Do you think it’s wrong to put rebellious teenagers to death? The Bible doesn’t (or didn’t). Do you abhor genocide? The Bible doesn’t, so long as you’re killing the people Yahweh told you to kill.
You worry about what will happen when mankind starts to go against “God’s” word, but we’ve been doing it for a while now and you’ve all contributed. We have made moral strides in spite of the Bible, not because of it, and abandoning the notion that we ought to derive all morality from the words on those pages can only benefit humanity.