A guest post by Jordan Wilson:
“Nevertheless, the high places were not taken away; the people continued to sacrifice and make offerings on the high places” (2 Kings 12:3).
“How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye” (Luke 6:42).
I have heard a few brothers in my circles questioning the wisdom of writing a book like The Problem of Slavery in Christian America. The murmuring goes something along the lines of, “Why stomp on the graves of dead mean?” (referring to their southern Presbyterian confederate heroes), or, “Isn’t this just playing into the hands of the cultural Marxists?” or, “Isn’t he just attempting to pander to blacks?” etc. Beyond some of these comments being just plain foolish, the knee-jerk reaction that any foray into the history of slavery in Christian America must by definition be a waste of time exposes a serious lack of understanding of how the progress of Christendom is realized.
First of all, the book is evenhanded: it rightly diagnoses the evil and complicity of both the North and South. The North is rightly excoriated for their vile complicity. There is no advocacy of forced reparations. This is not a northern propaganda piece. It is written by a sympathetic southerner who is not wearing rose colored glasses when looking back at his own heritage. If only the amusing degree of critical rhetoric foisted upon McDurmon by his critics could match the number of critics who have actually read the book.
Second, the biggest reason I am immensely grateful for this book is its relevance for today and the path we take in the future. How can a book about the past be an effort to move forward? Because affecting real change requires it.
For hundreds of years in the Old Testament age, following the split of the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel, there arose a vicious cycle of kings who reigned on the throne. A few were righteous, many were not, but even the righteous kings mostly failed to remove the “high places.” These high places had become sinful relics of the past which were enduringly popular vestiges of idolatry among the people. Israel and Judah were stuck in this cycle of futility and lack of meaningful progress because, for the most part, they refused to stop and take a good hard look at the past and what needed to be repented of. The “high place problem” was routinely glossed over. God didn’t fail to take notice. The sins of the fathers were passed down generation after generation. Had the high places been removed once and for all, God would have blessed Israel greatly. That they did not ultimately led to their exile. Can you imagine the excuses given for why the relics should stay? We must take note of Israel’s failure as a cautionary tale.
If we really want to press the crown rights of Christ in every realm and move forward, what steps do we need to take? Might I suggest that the biblical model of advance looks something like the following:
- Properly assess the victories and failures of the past.
- Repent of idolatry.
- Chart the course forward,
- Execute the plan.
There are some who want to forget steps 1 and 2, and jump straight to step 3 and 4. They will be doomed to failure.
Contrary to the cries of his critics, McDurmon’s work The Problem of Slavery in Christian America couldn’t be more relevant for the time we are in. It couldn’t be more of an effective tool against the secular humanists who use intersectionality as a means of solidifying the god of the state and the glorification of man.
Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. It’s not just the atrocities that were levied against Africans and their offspring who were brought in chains to America due to northern greed and southern demand. It’s also what was done under the very banner of Christianity and the justifications given by the “spiritual giants” of the day for the vile brutalization of their neighbor and their failure to advocate for the abolition of the “peculiar institution”.
What are the excuses we hear?
“Thornwell and Dabney were just products of their time.”
Yes indeeed. So were Spurgeon, Wesley, Garrison, the Irish Covenanters, and many more. These all just happened to reject evil while Thornwell and Dabney attempted to excuse and perpetuate it.
“The slave traders and slaveowners were actually doing the Africans a favor by bringing them to a Christian country.”
For what? To show the Africans what blatant hypocrisy and cruelty looked like? To steal them? To breed them as cattle to be sold on the open market? To rip apart their families? To subjugate them with the whip? To track down escapees and murder them in cold blood? This is just describing run of the mill American chattel slavery, not even its worst abuses. And we have the audacity to think they should be thankful to us? Excuse me while I vomit. Our condemnation is well deserved.
“Who are we to judge these men. After all, our society is filled with evil (abortion and sexual sin). How arrogant are we to suppose we are any better?”
The arrogance lies when we will not rightly judge evil to be evil because we respect men rather than God. Can we not see the difference between the evil that is in society and the evil that is in the church? We expect the world to be evil! When evil within the church becomes a matter of shrugging our shoulders, get ready, because God is about to spit you out of his mouth, which is exactly what God did with the South and why the South is comparative rubble today. Men who call themselves Christian, but advocate for the perpetuation of the legality of institutions like manstealing-based, American chattel slavery or abortion should not have good standing in the church. This shouldn’t be a matter of controversy for the mature Christian. This is Christian ethics 101. If you can’t get this right, forget whatever legacy you are trying to build. It doesn’t matter if you can pen a 600-page tome on systematic theology, if you are unable to discern between simple good and evil, the Hebrews 5–6 test of Christian maturity, you lack maturity.
Defining the Battle Lines
We must understand that the humanists (“Cultural Marxists” if you must) like to draw the lines of battle like this: Those who want to head back to a modern version of the confederacy vs. those who want a new future based on glorification of man as god. It’s an effective ploy. Faith for all of life Christians must reject this false dichotomy, not play into their hands. Christians own justice, not the world. We have authority from Christ, they only have their gelatinous man-made conventions.
We are not fighting for a future where we gloss over and repeat the same mistakes of the past, clinging to high places that need to be jettisoned. To reject this false humanist dichotomy, we must draw bold lines in proclaiming that that for which we are fighting. And what is that? A society based on proper biblical law and jurisdiction. Sorry to break it to you, but we cannot credibly point to the Old South as a shining example of that—quite the opposite. Ironically, it is those who obstinately refuse to unshackle themselves from the failings of the Old South who are in reality empowering the agenda of the so-called “Cultural Marxists.”
Do not give away the farm and let the humanists own the title of those who care about justice. For what? So we can cling with a misplaced allegiance to a legacy of racism and cruelty under the guise of honoring heritage? Any of those men who are your southern confederate heroes who actually were Christians are now in heaven facepalming as you cling to their rottenest failures. Think of all those kings of Israel wishing they would have just gone ahead and done the hard work of removing the high places. The command to honor father and mother is not license to gloss over evil. In comparison to our devotion to Christ we better be ready to reject (“hate”) father and mother if they entice towards idolatry or we will not inherit the kingdom of heaven.
It is painful to accept, but like a good doctor who gives a blunt diagnosis, we must understand the reality that there is a big, giant, ugly, painful, cancerous tumor on the legacy of the South and its institutions (especially the church). When we go parading around excusing it, acting like it really wasn’t that bad, or worse, celebrating it, we make fools of ourselves and discredit our witness to speak prophetically to the culture. The proposed medicine of hypocrites who can’t properly diagnose their own malignancy will not be respected or even listened to. We must first remove the log from our own eye.
What Joel McDurmon does in his book is to sow the seeds of victory and advance by first removing the log from our own eye. Now, we can see clearly to speak prophetically into the future on matters of law and justice.
Just read McDurmon’s The Problem of Slavery in Christian America, where the painful but necessary log-pulling is under way. Injustice always proceeds from departures from God’s law. Own the painful truth. Unshackle yourself from the slavery of allegiance to the high places which you refuse to remove. There is much freedom to be had in doing so, and freedom is only to be had in doing so.
There was no time in America when the majority of Christians, particularly as led by their leaders in church and in state, did not join, endorse, enjoy, and provide divine sanction for the evils of the American slave system. The few voices that demanded reform and change based upon applications of Scripture met not only opposition but a deluge of scorn, not to mention physical threat, from a vast ocean of proslavery ecclesiastical forces.
While everyone agreed that abuses abounded in the system—from its earliest days in Africa, through the horrors of the transatlantic trade and the middle passage, to the shores of North America, to the chains and whips of day-to-day life, to sexual and physical abuses, to the lack of legal protections for slaves’ lives, to segregations after freedom, and much more—the majority of mainstream and evangelical Christian bodies not only did virtually nothing to stop it, they provided the most powerful and popular defense of the system, the religious one. A few faithful voices continued pointing out the obvious violations of God’s commands, but like the Israelites at Sinai, they did not want to hear God’s voice. American Christians thus preferred wandering in the desert, not only in their disobedience to God, but also where there was plenty of sand to bury their heads.
These churches’ failure regarding racism and slavery in America appears in the contrast between the vast mainstream and the precious few who opposed, particularly in action. Church historian Lester B. Scherer points out that the Quakers “were the only Christian body that applied the instruments of church discipline to rid itself of what it saw as the guilt of slavery.” This is not quite true, for there was one other small group: the Reformed Presbytery of the United States of North America. This 1798 plant of Irish “Covenanters” were radically faithful to the demands of biblical law. As a result, they demanded “immediate and unrestricted abolition” of slavery. When the subject of compensating slave owners to effect emancipation arose, this devoutly orthodox sect proclaimed that the slaves, not the oppressors, deserved recompense. Indeed, they did not hold back on the sins of American slave masters. To delay freeing their slaves was to “implicate yourself more and more deeply in robbery and murder.”
These faithful Presbyterians, though, were few in number and easily marginalized by the proslavery hegemony of the evangelical mainstream, including their Reformed and Presbyterian cousins. By 1840, the few that had populated South Carolina, for example, had suffered the same fate as most radical abolitionists: they were effectively run out of town, or left before they would have been.
When the parent body of this group in Ireland and Scotland wrote to the southern Presbyterians to oppose the abuses of the institution in 1847, James Henley Thornwell, as moderator of the General Assembly, recorded that he hesitated even to read the documents to the Assembly, and condemned them as the work of either “ignorance, vulgarity, or fanaticism.” He then led the Assembly in telling the Covenanter correspondents in so many words to shut up and mind their own business. “We desire no instruction from foreign lands; we know and understand our duty.” Threatening a nineteenth-century equivalent of ghosting or blocking someone on social media, he said correspondence with the churches of Ireland and Scotland would “cease” unless they “drop the subject of Slavery.” He admitted that abuses existed in the system, but absolved the church of any responsibility in confronting them:
To infer that the Presbyterian Church in this country, because it tolerates Slavery as an existing institution, licenses the cruelty of tyrants, or approves the oppression which inhumanity may inflict, is foul injustice and reproach. We stand upon the platform of the Bible. God’s word recognizes the relation of master and servant, as a relation that may lawfully subsist, and defines the duties incumbent upon the parties. The Church, as a spiritual body, should attempt no more, and can do no less.
The entire failure of the church, outlined in this chapter, may be summarized by the churches’ covering up of her refusal to discipline her members when it counted—to speak specifically of the abuses of the system, to hold her members and broader society accountable through its relevant means of discipline and prophetic preaching, and to cover those failures by an appeal to the church’s “spiritual” nature. Men like Thornwell relied upon a doctrinal subterfuge: “As men and Christian Ministers, we are bound to seek not the freedom but the salvation of our race.” The whole failure of these churches can be seen in the contrast between the position of these Quakers and Covenanters on the one hand, and the vast array of establishment-influenced forces on the other. The marrow of that contrast lies in the willingness to follow the example of our Savior, to suffer shame and reproach for radical faith and obedience.
(The Problem of Slavery in Christian America, 274–277.)
Jordan Wilson pursues the Great Commission with his wife and children, with a long-term, postmillennial outlook. Visit his blog at www.thefloatingaxehead.wordpress.com and check out his contributions at NewCityTimes.com.