Pastor Doug Wilson Defends American Slavery As Being Good For Black People

[From the archives]

This makes me ill:

Slavery produced in the South a genuine affection between the races that we believe we can say has never existed in any nation before the War or since.

Southern Slavery As It Was, by
Douglas Wilson and Steve Wilkins

Douglas Wilson is a pastor who founded the school he teaches at and writes for the magazine he created. He has an outsized influence over many in the Body of Christ, especially those prone to patriarchy.*

One of his most notorious writings – and one that is, as we will see, firmly grounded in his patriarchal doctrine – is Southern Slavery As It Was, a monograph intended to support Wilson’s view that slavery was beneficial and that the Confederacy has been slandered (his word) by historians through the years.**

Wilson and co-author Steve Wilkins (former board member of The League of the South) state the purpose of their monograph as:

We have all heard of the heartlessness — the brutalities, immoralities, and cruelties — that were supposedly inherent in the system of slavery. We have heard how slave families were broken up, of the forcible rape of slave women, of the brutal beatings that were a commonplace, about the horrible living conditions, and of the unrelenting work schedule and back-breaking routine — all of which go together to form our impression of the crushing oppression which was slavery in the South. The truthfulness of this description has seldom been challenged.

The point of this small booklet is to establish that this impression is largely false. (Emphasis added.)

They buttress their position through selective Scripture use, and criticize abolitionism as contrary to God’s will:

And nothing is clearer — the New Testament opposes anything like the abolitionism of our country prior to the War Between the States. The New Testament contains many instructions for Christian slave owners, and requires a respectful submissive demeanor for Christian slaves. See, for example, Ephesians 6:5-9, Colossians 3:22-4:1, and 1 Timothy 6:1-5.

Nothing is clearer than the position that abolitionism is unbiblical, they say? For that to be true slavery would have to be mandated by Scripture.  It’s not. Nowhere, never, not at all. Wilson the pastor can’t point to a single mandate. So abolitionists are not violating some clear scriptural command.

Wilson Chooses Words That Are Anything But Clear

Notice too the use of language in that last quote: “the War Between the States” (a phrase used more than once). Elsewhere in the piece they use “peculiar institution”, a euphemism for slavery. This type of word-selection serves to blunt the harsh reality that slavery is one person owning another human being made in the image of God, and people were willing to go to war to stop it.

Wilson and Wilkins deny this, though:

You have been told many times that the war was over slavery, but in reality it was over the biblical meaning of constitutional government. The inflammatory issue is slavery, however, and so the real issue is obscured in the minds of many.

Their position – repeated by slave-apologists like Wilson over and over – is flat-out wrong. The Civil War was about enslaving black people, not states’ rights or economic differences, and certainly not about “the biblical meaning of constitutional government”, a phrase so amorphous as to be devoid of substance and meaning entirely.

The writers take northern leadership to task as being a godless bunch while the southern leaders and foot-soldiers alike are lauded as not only Christian but Evangelical Christians:

By the time of the War, the intellectual leadership of the South was conservative, orthodox, and Christian. In contrast, the leadership of the North was radical and Unitarian. This is not to say there were no Christians in the North, or that no believers fought for the North. It is simply the recognition that the drums of war were being beaten by the abolitionists, who were in turn driven by a zealous hatred of the Word of God.

As an aside, it is interesting to note the revival that took place in the Confederate army during the War. It was so widespread that it has been estimated that (with the possible exception of Cromwell’s army) the Confederate Army was the largest body of evangelicals under arms in the history of the world.

John Brown, c. 1856 (Wikipedia)

When they say abolitionists “were driven by a jealous hatred of the Word of God” one wonders if Wilson and Wilkins have ever heard of John Brown, the most famous armed abolitionist in the years just before the war. Brown, who traced his ancestry to the English Puritans and once studied for the ministry, learned of organized abolition in northern churches and from those who preached God’s word. Wilson and Wilkins might not like the conclusions drawn from the Bible by Brown and others, but to say they hated God’s word is a lie.

The Folly of the Slavery Apologists

Wilson’s and Wilkins’ willful ignorance of the truth of the Civil War is manifest in this statement:

… the South was correct about the central issues of that War … .

What are “the central issues of that War”? Apparently not a notion that slavery is bad, not that American slavery was built on racist principles, nor that slavery gave wealth to whites and impoverished blacks. No, remember that the central issue, according to these authors, is upholding “the biblical meaning of constitutional government.”

They then go on to assert that abolitionists were interfering with godly people doing godly things in their slave ownership:

The abolitionists maintained that slave-owning was inherently immoral under any circumstance. But in this matter, the Christians who owned slaves in the South were on firm scriptural ground.

Here’s where this type of sick thinking leads Wilson and Wilkins:

The Old South was a caste society, but not a compartmentalized society. There were specific roles for blacks and whites, and each “knew their place” as it were, but what is often overlooked is the high level of interaction between the races which was a common and everyday experience.

Slavery as it existed in the South was not an adversarial relationship with pervasive racial animosity. Because of its dominantly patriarchal character, it was a relationship based upon mutual affection and confidence. There has never been a multi-racial society which has existed with such mutual intimacy and harmony in the history of the world.

So slaves knew their place and it was a good place to be in, according to Wilson and Wilkins. Notice how they bring patriarchy into it in that quote, too: slavery was beneficial because it was patriarchal. Wilson can’t help but see everything as better when it’s patriarchal because that’s his doctrine for modern families and the church at large as well. And according to him, the patriarchal American slave owners practically had a duty to buy slaves stolen from Africa because they’d be treated so poorly if they went to Caribbean plantations.

Wilson and Wilkins even argue that life got worse, not better, for freed slaves after the Civil War:

Gordon, whipped in 1863. I bet he didn’t think he was better off before the Civil War ended. (Wikimedia.)

After the death of the Old American Republic, the nation created by the new revolutionaries became a nightmare for the newly-freed black men and women. The laws which were ostensibly passed to help them were used more and more to exclude them from the privileges they once enjoyed under the restricted freedom of slavery.

I wonder if those two men would willingly trade places with a 19th century slave in that “Old American Republic”. I wonder if they’d put their families in that slavery and allow the slave owner to sell their children to far off plantations, perhaps even separating Wilson or Wilkins from their wives.

Let’s see how much mutual affection they’d have with their slave owners then.

***

*I usually wouldn’t bother debunking Wilson’s nonsense. After all, you can find more scholarly refutations of his position with a mere Google search. The reason I write pertains to the church: Wilson has an inexplicably large influence in conservative reformed circles, and leaders in that movement are just as inexplicably giving him credence as a fellow leader. The more people are aware of his horrendous teachings, the less likely they will see him as a leader.

**Wilson reissued his book with some revisions in his collection of essays entitled Black and Tan, and continues to defend his position.

***

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30 Responses to Pastor Doug Wilson Defends American Slavery As Being Good For Black People

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I assume Penetrate/Colonize/Conquer/Plant Wilson sees himself as Massa in the Big Plantation House, Holding the Whip instead of Feeling the Whip.

      Whenever you hear someone praising a system where you either Hold the Whip or Feel the Whip, notice they always see themselves as the one Holding the Whip.

  1. HOW? How does such a twisted person gain the confidence of people in the church? How does someone like this guy, or like the Pearls, gain traction? How is it that this is someone who has an influence on minds and is actually taken seriously?

    May God have mercy on his children.

    • Tim says:

      I don’t know,but he appears intransigent. Others in some position of leadership have tried to correct his teaching on slavery from a spiritual point of view but he saw it as an opportunity for healthy debate, not an opportunity to examine his own beliefs on it.

  2. thanks for this TIm, a wise and insightful summary of what I can only categorise as abhorrent views. It’s important that these kind of things are held up to the light and exposed so that we understand the kind of lies that are being sold to people in God’s family in the name of God and scripture by influential “madmen”. As the above says, May God have Mercy…

    • Tim says:

      When I read his take on slavery all I could think was “He talks a good game, but would he put his family where his mouth is?” I keep thinking he wouldn’t.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        He’d put his family in the Plantation House as Planters.
        Again, “I HOLD THE WHIP”.

  3. Good God. This man sounds like a member of the Taliban.

  4. Jeremy M. says:

    I… I don’t even really know what to say to this. It’s a pretty disgusting view to have in my opinion. That Lincoln quote is about the best thing I can think of to retort with. If slavery was so good, how about you give it a try? Of course I’m sure in there view it was only good for people of color, not whites… not that you could find that distinction in the very verses they’re using to support their position.

    • Tim says:

      I suspect race is at the bottom of it. Would he write such a spirited defense if his ancestors had been oppressed by people of color, and not the other way around?

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Guy obviously hasn’t read Stephen Barnes’ Lion’s Blood or Zulu Heart or Harry Turtledove’s War Between the Provinces or Southern Victoryseries.

  5. Pastor Bob says:

    I was hoping that was some attempt to use satire to make a point. (hook et al.) *sigh – wrong.

    Freedom in Christ gives one the option to believe such tripe, but freedoms have been abused, misused and misapplied. Said best earlier, “May God have mercy on his children.”, and all who are exposed to this balderdash.

    • Tim says:

      Balderdash is apt, PB. Wilson’s position relies on tortured reading of Scripture, a twisted gospel, and a complete lack of feeling for what slaves endure.

      • Pastor Bob says:

        One can hope that he is working long and hard on satire. But when one has ridiculous presuppositions, there will always be receptive ears. let us hope that they are few.

  6. Jeannie says:

    I remember you posting this before, Tim, but I didn’t remember this part of Wilson’s argument: that the slavery system was based on mutual affection because it was patriarchal in character. Yikes!

    • Tim says:

      Patriarchy trumps all rights of others, apparently, no matter how much the patriarchists are hurting those other people.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Notice that those who advocate Patriarchy see themselves as The Patriarchs.
        Like the neo-Nazi I ran into in my college years who saw himself as One of The Master Race lording it over the Subhumans.
        Or the radicals of that period who “Come the Rewolution” saw themselves as Party Commissars giving all the orders.
        “There’s nothing wrong with The System — IT WORKS JUST FINE FOR MEEEEEEE!”

        • Tim says:

          Exactly, HUG. He sees himself among those in the upper ranks of the hierarchy and can’t imagine why anyone disputes his defense of the system.

  7. Laura Droege says:

    I don’t have a lot of time to comment, but I remember this post. My question is, how do people determine who they follow? Wilson’s view is clearly unbiblical, yet as you point out, he has a strangely large following and influence in certain circles. I’ve noticed that there are quite a few extreme, bizarre leaders in this world–not just in Christianity, but in politics, etc.–who use inflammatory language, treat others disrespectfully, and ignore facts and reasoning. Yet they receive attention, and some people listen to them. They listen to them more than they listen to more level-headed, reasonable leaders. Why? Is it ignorance or spiritual blindness or the seductive nature of inflammatory rhetoric? What causes normal people to follow one and not the other? Bizarre.

    • Tim says:

      Even more strange is that his influence is celebrated by leaders who are considered mainstream .

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        “These five Kings said one to another:
        ‘King unto King o’er the world is Brother’…”
        — G.K.Chesterton, “Ballad of the Battle of Gibeon”

  8. Gary W says:

    Because it is difficult to relate to something remote in time, with which we have no actual experience, a defense of slavery can be made without triggering visceral, instinctive revulsion. This makes it easier to persuade the unsuspecting of arguments favoring the arbitrary elevation of one group of people over another. Once the logic justifying slavery is thus more easily sold (and received by the unwary), it is a relatively small step to successfully apply those same arguments to justify the subordination of wives, daughters, and other women–whether under the rubric of patriarchy, submission to male headship or whatever. The defense of slavery is the pursuit of an agenda by proxy, the ultimate end of which, whether consciously or unconsciously, is to justify the subjugation of all women to all men.

    • Tim says:

      The argument does hide behind that remoteness, Gary. Can you imagine if he said to a black neighbor, “Let me tell you how much you would benefit if I were to enslave you right now”? And you’re right too that this is a proxy fight to justify oppressing women today. Well said.

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  12. Wilson’s theology is from hell itself.

  13. Jean S says:

    I grew up under this teaching. At one time, my family were semi-regular visitors to Steve Wilkins’ church (and we were invited to several of Ms. Wendy’s excellent Sunday dinners)… I was too young to know any different -except that they were Christians who took hospitality seriously and who were proud of their heritage. I am so glad that my subsequent experiences have expanded my ideas expanded and allowed me to realize how harmful and degrading these teachings are.

    I haven’t read all the comments on this thread, but I would urge everyone who is condemning people who still hold to these views -please pray that their view of the gospel would be increased and they would be freed from bondage to prejudice and fear. We are all to be one in Christ – and only the spirit of Christ will bring this about.

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