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"Dominionism" and the Return to "Slavery"

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Critics of “Dominionism” are claiming that adherents to this vaguely defined belief system want to reinstitute slavery. Can this be true? The slavery practiced in this country prior to 1860 was “man stealing,” better defined as “kidnapping.” Black West Africans were kidnapped, often by other Black West Africans, put on ships, brought to these shores, sold at auction, and placed in forced labor.[1] In biblical terms, this was wrong. To maintain that this form of slavery would be reinstituted today in the name of “biblical law” is patently absurd.

Many of America’s earliest settlers paid for their passage as indentured servants. Indentured servitude is neither unbiblical nor unconstitutional. A thief who was unable to make restitution could be sold into servitude for his theft (Ex. 22:3b). Even after the abolition of slavery, indentured servitude was retained by the Constitution as a legitimate form of punishment: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction” (Amendment XIII, Sec. 1). This form of “slavery,” a term never used in the Bible,[2] is a better alternative than putting someone in prison, costing tax payers a great deal of money, and turning a thief into a better but degraded thief as he is locked up in a cage like an animal.

Slavery as practiced in America cannot be supported by an appeal to the Bible: “And he who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death.” There is no indication that Exodus 21:16 only has Israelites in mind. If it does, then verse 12 would also only apply to Israelites since its language is similar to that of verse 16:

  • “He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death” (21:12).
  • “And he who kidnaps a man whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death” (21:16).

James B. Jordan offers a good summary of the issues involved: “The Bible punishes all man-stealing with a mandatory death penalty. In Deuteronomy 24:7, the kidnapping of covenant members is particularly forbidden, but in Exodus 21:16, all man-stealing is prohibited. It might be maintained that if we read v. 16 in context of v. 2, it is only Hebrews who are protected and avenged by this law. The text simply says ‘man,’ however, and there is no indication in the immediate context (vv. 12, 14) that ‘man’ is restricted to covenant members.”[3]

We know that in the New Testament Paul condemns slave traders (kidnappers) in 1 Timothy 1:10. The book of Revelation considers those who traffic in “slaves and human lives” to be immoral and destined for judgment (18:13). Nowhere does the New Testament support trafficking in slaves. Paul’s letter to Philemon does not support the notion that the New Testament tolerated chattel slavery. Onesimus was probably a bondservant who owed a debt to Philemon. Paul encourages the runaway Onesimus to return to Philemon and encourages Philemon to release Onesimus upon his arrival. Paul promises to pay Philemon if Onesimus “owes you anything” (Phil. 18). Paul’s mention of a debt seems to indicate that Onesimus was an indentured servant.[4]

Charles Colson applied the principles of Old Testament law regarding restitution and property crimes to today’s judicial system:

Recently I addressed the Texas legislature. . . . I told them that the only answer to the crime problem is to take nonviolent criminals out of our prisons and make them pay back their victims with restitution. This is how we can solve the prison crowding problem.

The amazing thing was that afterwards they [the legislators] came up to me one after another and said things like, “That's a tremendous idea. Why hasn't anyone thought of that?” I had the privilege of saying to them, “Read Exodus 22. It is only what God said to Moses on Mount Sinai thousands of years ago.”[5]

“Dominionists” believe that forcing someone to pay restitution is a better way to handle property crimes than jail time.

Endnotes:

[1] Peter Hammond, Slavery, Terrorism, and Islam: The Historical Roots and Contemporary Threat (Cape Town, South Africa: Christian Liberty Books, 2005).
[2] The words “slavery” and “slave” do not appear in the King James Version. The word “slave” does appear in Jeremiah 2:14, but it is not in the Hebrew text: “Is Israel a servant? Is he a homeborn slave? Why is he spoiled?” Notice that slave is italicized. This means that the word does not appear in Hebrew and was added by the translators.
[3] James B. Jordan, The Law and the Covenant: An Exposition of Exodus 21–23 (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1984), 104.
[4] See Brian J. Dodd, The Problem with Paul (Downers Grove, IL: InterVaristy Press, 1996), 81–110.
[5] Charles Colson, “The Kingdom of God and Human Kingdoms,” James M. Boice, ed. Transforming Our World: A Call to Action (Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1988), pp. 154-55.

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