24 July 2012

Black and Tan

Update: As I've followed this controversy over the last week and read the clarifications that are offered, it appears that the issue this particular professor was raising was not that Douglas Wilson is a racist or pro-slavery advocate. While many of the sources said professor linked to made these accusations, he himself said that he is not accusing Wilson of racism or pro-slavery views. He is trying to say that it is bad for Christians to defend the Old South in any way. In his own words:

"Racism is not the core issue. The stumbling block is defending the cause of the Old South... Defending the cause of the South attracts racists, Kinists, ethnonationalists, and others, even as those who defend the South teach against racism and oppression... The "Old South," the Confederated South, is "rubbish" (beyond the "man stealing" and the racism) compared to gaining Christ and his Kingdom. Embracing the virtues, while rightly denouncing the vices reinserts division between the races."

I disagree with him, of course, but for the sake of integrity I want to make sure I'm not misrepresenting him. However, it is still true that many accuse Wilson of racism and pro-slavery views and the below stands as a refutation of those critics.
Douglas Wilson, no stranger to controversy, is embroiled in it again. This time the attack comes from out of left field somewhere. I’ll give you the link to the explanation in a minute, but very briefly, Wilson’s old book Southern Slavery as it Was and his newer book Black and Tan have come to the attention of a professor at King’s College in New York. This professor apparently thinks that Douglas Wilson is a terrible racist who wishes slavery had never been ended. This despite the fact that Wilson e-mailed him and offered to explain his views over the phone. His offer was rejected. Wilson also issued a public offer to the professor to come out to NSA in Idaho on Wilson’s dime and speak to the student body on any topic he wished to, and then have a beer with Wilson at the local pub. This too was rejected. Because Wilson is an evil racist. And racism is like cooties apparently.

The upshot of all this is that Canon Press has, for a limited time, offered Black and Tan as a free e-book, and as a $.99 Kindle book on Amazon. Follow this link to find out how to get your copy and, if you’re into wading through the muck, to read about the “controversy”.

I got my Kindle copy yesterday in order that I might read this book which proclaims itself to be “A Collection of Essays and Excursions on Slavery, Culture War, and Scripture in America.” Let’s look at it together, shall we?

I opened the book ready to find the shocking proof of Wilson’s rabid racism, ready to see the illustrations of him in a pointy white hat in front of a burning cross, ready to hear him spew racial epithets at anyone who is not of pure Aryan stock. Here’s what I found.

"And so we as Christians, and especially as American Christians, must denounce as a matter of biblical principle every form of racism, racial animosity, or racial vainglory. God created man in His own image and has made from one blood all the nations of the earth (Acts 17:26). We are called to believe firmly that in the gospel God has reversed the curse of Babel, and that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, male or female, slave or free (Gal. 3:28), black or white, Asian or Hispanic, tall or short. Jesus Christ has purchased men from every nation and tribe with His own blood, and His blood necessarily provides a stronger bond than ours does.”
Well. That didn’t go so well. Perhaps I can find a place where he twists Scripture to say that the races ought to remain separate.
“The leadership of the early church at Antioch contained at least one black man (Acts 13:1). And what happened to Miriam when she opposed the marriage of Moses to a black woman (Num. 12)? God turned her a little bit whiter than she had been previously, but it was the white of leprosy, and this was not generally taken as an improvement.”
Let's give it one more try. I know he's going to say something racist somewhere...
"’Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’ This means that regeneration, in the sense I am speaking of here, must include rejection of every form of racial hatred, animosity or vainglory.”

“My purpose here is not to defend any such practices-where and when they occurred. I have no interest in defending the racism (in both the North and the South) which was often seen as the basic justification for the system, and I do in fact condemn it most heartily.”
Okay, so maybe I don’t have evidence that Douglas Wilson is a racist. But surely I’ll find proof that he defends slavery and thinks it is a great thing. Let’s see.
“The slave trade was an abomination, and those evangelicals in England like William Wilberforce who led the fight against it are rightly considered heroes of the faith. The Bible clearly rejects the practice of slave trading (I Tim. 1:I0; Exod. 21:16). In a just social order, slave trading could rightly be punished with death.
(emphasis mine)

Uh oh. This doesn’t seem to be any better than the charges of racism. Perhaps if we dig deeper…
“Therefore, the logic of the Great Commission requires the eventual death of slavery as an institution in any place where it might still exist.”
What possible exegetical grounds could we have for saying that blacks can be forgiven, but are somehow excluded from enjoying the fruits of cultural maturity? This is important because paternalistic Christian whites have sometimes allowed blacks into the faith because they have no trouble seeing how blacks need forgiveness. But the astounding grace of the gospel never stops with just forgiveness; the forgiven one is always summoned to glory. And not an invisible Gnostic glory either.
Seriously folks. How are we going to nail this Wilson guy with the charge that he wishes Southern slavery had never ended?
Of course, in posing this question, I am certainly not wishing for a return to slavery. I am profoundly grateful that chattel slavery no longer exists in our nation. Let there be no mistake here-the logic of the Christian gospel is contradictory to the institution of slavery generally, and as the gospel of salvation progresses through history, one of the necessary results is the gradual eradication of all slavery. Jesus Christ really is the ultimate Jubilee. But this is not accomplished through revolutionary means, through the bloodletting of social cataclysm.
Aha! And there’s the controversial issue!

The real reason Wilson is accused of racism is that he believes slavery should not have been ended by war and bloodshed. He points out, quite rightly, that the New Testament contains injunctions for slaves and slave-owners, and that nowhere in Scripture is authority given to violently overthrow slavery. He offers the following illustration:
“Suppose a man presented himself for membership in your church. Upon inquiring as to what he did fur it living, you learned that he was an abortionist. Should he be admitted into membership? Of course not. Now suppose this same church was moved back in time, and a man presented himself for membership along with three of his slaves. Now what do you do? If he is admitted to membership, then it is clear that abortion and slavery cannot be considered to be ethically equivalent. And if he is refused membership, then what are you going to do when he (his name was Philemon) goes back and tells the apostle Paul what you did to him? For the year was not A.D. 1860 but rather A.D. 60.”
However, it is a historical fact that Roman slavery disappeared under the teachings of Christianity in the Middle Ages, and that slavery disappeared from England through the efforts of William Wilberforce. No wars needed to be fought in order to end these practices. Wilson writes:
These scriptural instructions, carefully followed, resulted, over time, in a peaceful elimination of Roman slavery, and had they been consistently applied by Southerners, they would have had an analogous impact on the slavery of the antebellum South.
In other words, the whole direction of redemptive history is in opposition to slavery. However, the Biblical method of ending slavery is by faithful preaching and teaching of the gospel, not by starting an unnecessary war and killing 600,000 people.
At the same time, because the gospel of Christ necessarily brings liberty to captives, it should also he obvious that the spread of the gospel over time necessarily subverts the institution of slavery generally. But this gradual subversion would have been reformational and gradual, and not revolutionary and bloodthirsty, as radical abolitionism was.
Wilson also affirms that the South was generally in the right constitutionally and theologically when it comes to the Civil War. However, he is careful to articulate that this does not mean he supports racism and slavery:
Because of a strong popular bigotry against the South, it is necessary for me to assert as strongly as I can that racism and sympathy for the Southern cause are not necessary companions. Rather, when biblically understood, they are antithetical. In my view, the natural economic death of slavery in our nation would have been hastened had there been more widespread obedience to the Word of God on the part of everyone-radical abolitionists, slaves, and slave owners. So wherever true racism appears (North, South, East, or West), or whenever it appears (in this century or the last), it must be opposed by consistent Christians. But this opposition to racism does not require us to be ignorant of the great theological and cultural issues that were at stake in the war. This is necessary because these same foundational issues are still with us today, and all of them reduce to the practical authority of Scripture.
In conclusion, it appears that it is not enough to repudiate racism or to say that slavery stands in direct contradiction to the gospel. If one even hints that slavery should have been ended peacefully, as Roman slavery was in the Middle Ages or as slavery in England was in the 19th century, one is automatically branded a racist and slavery apologist. This seems pretty odd to me. Isn’t there room among God-loving, non-racist Christians to openly discuss whether, for example, Robert E. Lee were a godly man, or whether the Southern states had a Constitutional right to secession without immediate charges of racism being bandied about? I think so. Apparently some professors at Christian colleges think otherwise.

So, go get your free e-book and decide for yourself. Can we as Christians have these discussions or are they totally taboo and off the table? And if they are taboo, why Scripturally should this be so?

5/5 stars


Erica said...

Got it, will be reading it tomorrow. When I'm not sleepy.

The other problem in this equation are the people who adamantly deny that the Civil War was about anything other than slavery. Therefore, Civil War=slavery, saying good things about the South=racist. Or some illogical conclusion like that.

Rick said...

I just made a new post about that very topic. I had been preparing it as a top 5 when the controversy broke, so it's perfect timing.