I've been mulling this discussion over and over again in my head. When I encounter believers who are extremely uncomfortable and even disgusted at the modern faces of slavery (as we all need to be), but become confused as to what the Bible actually says about slavery, some deep and serious questions arise.
Evangelicals assuage the OT's take on slavery by interpreting it as being more of an employer/employee relationship. If we make it look like our modern business world as much as possible, then God for sure would be against all forms of REAL slavery.
The thing here is: that interpretation doesn't hold water. At all. When purchasing a slave (in Bible times and into modern times), the master often purchased the whole family, all of their possessions, and rights to property. The master did not just buy someone's services. They bought the person. In the flesh. Slaves were owned as property just like cattle, graineries, fields and vineyards. While we might find this difficult to swallow ("How could our God EVER allow such a thing?!"), it is important to have an accurate perspective from the outset before placing our perceptions not only of God, but of our cultural world onto things that took place in the past.
So what about slavery in the Bible?
What about slavery that was church sanctioned in past centuries? What theologies justified such action? What ramifications are we living with now?
What about today?
One woman wrote her thoughts in an email agreeing that sexual slavery is most certainly an offense to God at all times, especially against children. However, she found no problem with labor trafficking. If we were to effectively end labour and chattel slavery in our world today, our entire economic and employment systems would collapse. In her mind, there is a time and place to purchase people.
Could just be me, but I feel as if I've heard such claims before…
Anyway… in the coming weeks, I'm going to delve in the Bible and other documents to get a better grasp of why slavery ever existed to begin with, why Christians sanctioned it throughout history (and why some didn't), and… does God sanction slavery? Did He ever?
For some, freedom for captives isn't even remotely a part of the Gospel so these discussions might stop for some before they start. Others find social justice to be a vehicle TO their version of the Gospel. I'll be up front and declare that social justice IS a part of the Gospel as a whole. It cannot be divided from the Good News, nor taken from Christ's heart for the poor and oppressed.
So that's where I'm coming from. Stay tuned. The ride could get interesting.