Pastor Tells Descendants Of Slaves It Wasn’t As Bad As They Think

[U.S. history includes the history of enslaving black people in America, justified solely on the basis of the color of their skin. Sadly, prominent American pastor Doug Wilson has tried to rewrite that history. So in light of February being Black History Month, I offer this post from the archives to address his revisionism. And to Mr. Wilson, I suggest he take President Lincoln – whose birthday we mark today – up on his offer.

“While I have often said that all men ought to be free, yet I would allow [slavery of] those white people who argue in favor of making other people slaves. I am in favor of giving an appointment to such white men to try it on for themselves.” (Abraham Lincoln, March 17, 1865.)

And now, on to the archived post.]

***

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 the perpetuation of 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 never violated a clear scriptural command in seeking to end slavery. Not one.

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. As I pointed out in the article The Civil War Was About Enslaving Black People, states’ rights and economic differences were secondary to the root cause of the war: slavery. Even more so, it certainly was 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 while impoverishing 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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33 Responses to Pastor Tells Descendants Of Slaves It Wasn’t As Bad As They Think

  1. Bev Murrill says:

    I’m aghast, and disgusted. Being in Australia, I don’t know this guy except what I’ve read from Jory Micah about his perspective on women, but this! It’s beyond anything I would have considered the guy capable of. Give me a break. This is ugly ugly ugly. God, remove the guy’s influence …

  2. Dianne says:

    I have met and know Wilson during my Christian learning…and was involved with a group of evangelical Christians who loved his teachings. I no longer ready ANYTHING by him. Arrogant!

  3. Pastor Bob says:

    “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.”

    A shred of half-truth does not a valid position make.
    When one has made a firm decision, no matter how intellectually weak and logically flawed,
    -a little thing like truth (and accurate facts) are meaningless.
    (This is apparent in other political writings as well.)

  4. hotapplepie says:

    What is wrong with this guy? I am convinced that strict Evangelical Christians are living in an alternate universe.

    • Tim says:

      He may fall within the culture of evangelicals, but not the actual doctrine of evangelicalism. His writing puts people down all the time and that is contrary to sound doctrine.

    • It was the Evangelical Christians in England who were fighting for an end to Slavery – what the US calls evangelical is neither that, nor Christian in my opinion.

  5. I think I remember the last time you posted this Tim, sadly it’s still as infuriating now as then. What’s scary is as you said, this guy holds a decent amount of power in certain areas of the church. I truly do not understand how that is so.

    • Tim says:

      Fridays are when I pull something from the archives and I figured that with Black History Month and Lincoln’s birthday this was good one to re-post today. And it still makes me ill as I read his words once again.

  6. I wrote about this a few years back and heard from a number of professors as well as civil rights leaders who have been concerned about Wilson’s views on slavery for years.

    You might be interested in following a debate between Thabiti Anyabwile and Wilson which was on TGC’s, website. Here is a synopsis that i wrote which has links to the back and forth debate

    http://thewartburgwatch.com/2013/04/15/what-doug-wilson-should-have-learn-from-thabiti-anyabwile-about-racism/

    and here is my version of your current post written 3 years ago.

    http://thewartburgwatch.com/2012/07/16/why-doug-wilson-on-slavery-should-be-like-jimmy-the-greek/

    I am utterly shocked by the number of gospel™ BFFs that continue to plug Wilson.

    • Tim says:

      I remember his exchange with Thabiti. Wilson completely missed that Thabiti was calling him out on his abhorrent history and doctrine, and I think it’s because Thabiti is a nice guy who didn’t state his position as a rebuke so much as a dialog. It was clear in reading Thabiti’s part of that exchange, though, that he thought Wilson was not just holding a contrary but reasonable view; he thought Wilson was completely wrong.

      Thanks for the link to your Doug Wilson/Jimmy the Greek post. Wilson has never backed down from his position on slavery and its history. I can’t begin to express how sad I am that a pastor holds and broadcasts such views.

  7. Jeannie says:

    I echo Jeremy’s comment above: I remember the post well and am again shaking my head at the author’s arguments AND attitude.

    • Tim says:

      I am glad to bring it out in the open again, and especially glad that Abraham Lincoln had the right response to people like Wilson: if slavery’s not so bad, let’s see you try it on yourself.

  8. I’ve read a lot about the slavery of the US. I’ve also read a bit about the time between the end of slavery and the end of segregation. I do not presume to have a first-class understanding of the issues having never experienced racism myself, but I think I would like to give this individual a slap round the face. All in the love of Christ, of course.

    • Tim says:

      He makes me want to give him something, that’s for sure. What I really hope he gets is a right understanding of how his teaching needs to change.

  9. Persis says:

    Enslavement of a human being made in God’s image is abhorrent in all cultures and in all times. I am at a loss as to why DW gets a pass on this let alone other issues.

    • Tim says:

      You got me Persis. Wilson apparently doesn’t agree with the quote Dee used in her linked post above:

      “Slavery is theft — theft of a life, theft of work, theft of any property or produce, theft even of the children a slave might have borne.” Kevin Bales

  10. Laura Droege says:

    I remember this post, Tim, and I echo what everyone else is saying: it’s shocking that a pastor would hold this view. I simply cannot understand Wilson’s influence on those in reformed circles.

  11. Pingback: What Is the Problem With Doug Wilson? | The Wartburg Watch 2016

  12. ezerkenegedo says:

    As we began to look into the patriarchal movement and its mistreatment of women, we soon became aware that there was a racist element to their beliefs as well. As with their views about women they attempt to back them up with scripture. Here are some Scriptures I have found that seem to show more clearly what God thinks about kidnapping and slavery – kidnapping because as far as I am aware no African left their homeland, got on a boat to America and asked a landowner if they could please be their slave.

    Anyone who kidnaps someone is to be put to death, whether the victim has been sold or is still in the kidnappers possession. Exodus 21:16

    If someone is caught kidnapping a fellow Israelite and treating or selling them as a slave, the kidnapper must die. Deuteronomy 24:7

    … we also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels……murderers…..for slave traders….. and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God,… 1Timothy 1:8

    and this one talking about those who mourn over the God’s destruction of Babylon:

    The merchants of the world will mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes anymore – cargoes of …. human beings.”

    How do they explain away these verses?

    I better put a note here and say that I do not think we should be killing kidnappers based on Old Testament Scriptures. But I think we see God’s heart coming through here in that He finds the whole practise and process of dealing and trading in humans absolutely abhorrent. That is not even to mention the atrocities of the mistreatment of fellow human beings once they were in the possession of the “owners”.

    – Leanne

  13. Bill M says:

    I’m frankly surprised that anyone can peddle such nonsense, this ranks right up there with Holocaust deniers.

  14. Baptist wife (Nancy2) says:

    I live 13 miles as the crow flies, from the Jefferson Davis birthplace. My ancestors did not own slaves and they fought for the Union, although they had friends who owned slaves. (The property my house sits on was owned by one of those ancestors.) One of my g-grandmothers had a rogue “preacher” uncle who raped his friend’s slave woman, repeatedly. His friend didn’t care. That’s one story. I have more.

    Doug Wilson heretically uses the Bible to justify racism and misogyny!

    • Tim says:

      Nancy, I don’t get why he does what he does, but I do want people to see that Wilson has no Biblical, historical or even logical basis for what he says.basis

      • Muff Potter says:

        Stupid is one thing Mr. Wilson is not. I think he knows full well that in this day and age of the internet he will not be able to keep his followers cowed forever. I wonder if he’s having a similar epiphany to the one the Fuhrer had when the Wehrmacht could no longer keep the Eastern Front shored up and it collapsed. Tyrants only reign for a short time. And then they’re brought low.

        • Bill M says:

          Muff, if Wilson were to have an epiphany similar to der Fuhrer then he will go down saying the people let him down while he simultaneously orders around non-existent armies.

  15. Vashra Araeshkigal says:

    Um..Even General Lee himself wrote that the institution of slavery was, at its core, Godless and immoral.

    These men are bonkers.

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