Monday, July 18, 2011

An' be-fo' I'd be a slave. I'll be buried in my grave; An' go home to my Lord an' be free: The Bible and Slavery? God and Slavery?

For the second time in about six months I’ve been asked about the Holcolm Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) [first appeared in full in 2004 – height of politicization of religious right?] and the translators’ insistence on translating doulos as slave in the New Testament and never as servant. Promotional materials state that the HCSB was created for accuracy. Given examples of its accuracy are the translation of Yahweh instead of LORD and slave instead of servant (for the Greek word doulos). I don’t know the motives of the HCSB translators. Certainly, doulos does mean slave and should not be sanitized. Perhaps, in the matter of doulos, the impact (if not the intent) could be to attribute sacred status to slavery; maybe the multiplied appearances of the word slave (doulos [masculine]/doule [feminine]) in the NT will encourage HCSB readers to understand slavery and the owning of slaves as something not so bad but in fact good, a reminder of a sacred southern past [HCSB is promoted by Lifeway which provides resources for the Southern Baptist Convention]. Interestingly, last week Michelle Bachmann and other tea party conservatives signed a pledge that stated that black families were better off during slavery than under Prez. Obama! [Of course black families during slavery were separated from their spouses and children while they raised the master’s children; black men were forced to breed and black women to be raped and bred, etc etc.]


Some people in fact determine the appropriateness of behaviors, rituals, relationships etc. by whether or not they simply appear in the Bible, never entertaining or critiquing the implications of God inserting God’s self into a messy and fallible world. Roman society was one of many slaveholding societies. As the Romans (like other empires before and after them) expanded and conquered, they enslaved conquered peoples. A Roman citizen could not be enslaved. Like all slaveholding societies, slaves were socially uprooted, considered property, and a slaveholder/master could do with his or her slave as he or she pleased. Slavery is cruel and inhumane wherever it is found.  Whether it is rehearsed in a play or a novel, remembered in the history books, or (re)inscribed in sacred writings such as the Qur’an, the Hebrew Bible, or the Christian Testaments, it is evil and should be detested. Why should we loath modern-day slavery and not be repulsed by slavery in the Bible?  We can desensitize ourselves to evil and injustice when we fail to realize that “Justice denied anywhere diminishes justice everywhere,” as Martin Luther King Jr. stated. Why do we think it appropriate that God be compared to a slave master who owns slaves and punishes them severely when they do not conduct themselves in the ways expected of good slaves?


Chris Cahill said...

The urge to possess people, like the urge to possess things, traces to the original sin that infects all of us. The original temptation was "to be like God, knowing good and evil," and the immediately evident result of that sin is our rush to judgment.

Case in point: the first word an infant really learns how to use well is "NO!" as he / she "asserts her independence" (euphemism for "I'm the god around here!"). The second word an infant really learns how to use well is "MINE!" and from then on we each progress to a life of accumulation.

Yes, slavery is an evil practice, no matter how you whitewash it. It results in evil being perpetrated upon its victims in many different respects; but even when slaves are well-treated, it is inherently evil because it arises from the "owner's" sinful desire to be god over the person owned. That's a First Commandment issue, and that's sin.

The Gospel response to such sin has to be more than just "Oh, you're a slave? Well, Jesus loves you, so be of good cheer." Doesn't the Gospel response to any sin including confrontation of the sin (slave-owner / child-abuser / wife-beater / addiction / afflicting demon) for the freedom and healing of the person enslaved? I can't help but think that when Jesus "broke the chains of Hell" it was these hells, too, that He broke.

WomanistNTProf said...

Thanks for sharing Chris. Great analogy re children's first words - so true. I agree with you.