So Why Are We Writing About This?

Douglas Wilson


t was in the mid-seventies when American evangelicals began to wake up to the fact that our culture was beginning to tumble down around our ears. In 1973, the Supreme Court had ruled that it was unconstitutional for the various states to outlaw the dismemberment of the unborn. Men like Francis Schaeffer were used by God to rattle the pervasive evangelical complacency and to make us realize the ramifications of what was occurring -- and what was coming.

So a significant minority of the evangelical church began to mobilize and plunged into a cultural war for which we were woefully unprepared. All we knew was that they had begun to kill babies. How can they do that? This was America.

As the political battle began to take shape, the lack of historical perspective among evangelicals became more and more manifest. This lack of historical understanding was harmful in two ways -- and in both ways the integrity of God's Word was attacked.

The first was the result of the attempt by evangelicals to portray the pro-life movement as a modern form of abolitionism. We were taught that earlier Christian social "reformers" like Charles Finney were ardent abolitionists, and we pro-lifers were walking in their footsteps. We were taught that Roe v. Wade was comparable to the Dred Scott decision. And so we argued and talked and marched accordingly. The only problem was -- it wasn't true. For the sake of a convenient argument against the monstrosity of abortion, we abandoned the clear teaching of the Bible on another subject -- how slavery is to be understood.

Suppose a man presented himself for membership in your church. Upon inquiring as to what he did for a living, you discovered that he was an abortionist. Should he be admitted into membership? Of course not.

Now suppose this same church were moved back in time, and a man presented himself for membership along with three of his slaves. Now what do you do? If he is admitted to membership, then it is clear that abortion and slavery are not considered analogous. And if he is refused membership, then what are you going to do when he (his name was Philemon) goes back and tells the apostle Paul what you did to him?

It is obvious that in a fallen world, an institution like slavery will be accompanied by many attendant evils. Such evils existed with ancient Hebrew slavery, ancient Roman slavery, and with American slavery. The issue is not whether sinners will sin, but rather how Christians are commanded to respond to such abuses and evils. 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 slaveowners, and requires a respectful submissive demeanor for Christian slaves. See, for example, Eph. 6:5-9, Col. 3:22-4:1, and 1 Tim. 6:1-5.

But I mentioned that the harm was two-fold. The embarrassment of evangelicals over the plain teaching of the Bible can be put to an adept use by those in rebellion against God. I once saw Jerry Falwell on television in a debate with a liberal Episcopalian bishop. Sad to say, the liberal bishop mauled Jerry Falwell badly.

I do not recall whether they were debating sodomy or abortion. Jerry Falwell was maintaining the biblical position, and the bishop responded by saying yes, but the Bible allows for slavery.

Now, what was Jerry Falwell going to do -- on national television? Does he say that the bishop is correct, the Bible does allow for slavery, and that he, Jerry, has no problem with it? I can see the headlines now. Or perhaps he could say that the bishop was wrong -- but the good bishop was right. So he did the only thing he could do, which was to hem and haw.

One time a man was handing out tracts at a gay and lesbian dance. Those attending the dance did not appear to be pleased, and someone apparently called a liberal Methodist pastor to come and deal with him. He came down, and in the course of the discussion, the Christian said that Leviticus condemns homosexuality as an abomination. The liberal pastor responded by saying yes, but the Old Testament allowed for slavery. The Christian responded by saying yes, it certainly did. So?

If those who hate the Word of God can succeed in getting Christians to be embarrassed by any portion of the Word of God, then that portion will continually be employed as a battering ram against the godly principles that are currently under attack. In our day, three of the principal issues are abortion, feminism, and sodomy. If we respond to the "embarrassing parts" of Scripture by saying, "that was then, and this is now," we will quickly discover that liberals can play that game even more efficiently than embarrassed conservatives. Paul prohibited eldership to women? That was then, this is now. Moses condemned sodomy? That was then, this is now.

In a certain sense we are backing into an informed discussion of the War Between the States. You will read elsewhere in this Credenda that the war was not over slavery, but rather over the biblical meaning of constitutional government. This is very true, and it is an important truth. The inflammatory issue is slavery, while the real issue is obscured in the minds of many.

But is this not curious? The reason why many Christians will be tempted to dismiss the arguments presented here is that we have said (out loud) that a godly man could have been a slave owner. But this "inflammatory" position is the very point upon which the Bible speaks most directly, again and again. In other words, more people will struggle with what we are saying at the very point where the Bible speaks most clearly. There is no exegetical vagueness here. Not only is the Bible not politically correct, it was not politically correct one hundred and forty years ago.

This points to the need for Christians to learn the biblical way of avoiding "problem texts." This is the way of a priori submission. Christians must recognize that they are under the authority of God, and may not develop their ideas of what is "right" and "fair" apart from the Word of God. And when the Bible is our only standard of right and wrong, problem texts disappear. So this issue of slavery is a wonderful issue upon which to practice. Our humanistic and democratic culture regards slavery in itself as a monstrous evil, and acts as though this were self-evidently true. The Bible permits Christians to own slaves, provided they are treated well. You are Christian. Whom do you believe?

With that said by way of introduction, the following is meant to serve as a very brief overview of some of the issues related to the War Between the States.

In the early ninteenth century, the intellectual leadership of the North apostasized from their previous cultural commitment to the Christian faith. The watershed event in this regard was the capture of Harvard by the Unitarians in 1805. This had not happened to the same extent in the South. By the time of the war, the intellectual leadership of the South had remained conservative, orthodox, and Christian. In contrast, the leadership of the North was radical and Unitarian. This is not to say that there were no Christians in the North, or that there were no godly Christians who fought for the North. It is the simple recognition that the drums of war were being beaten by the abolitionists, who were 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.

But this raises a good question -- if the South was so "right" and as "Christian" as all that, then why did she lose the war? Didn't God know how right the South was?

It is the mentality of a third grader to engage in mindless partisanship at the expense of truth. All attempts to say things like the North represented nothing good, and that the South contained nothing sinful are examples of this sort of infantilism. R.L Dabney, a godly man who fought for the South, made the point that the South lost the war because she was under the judgment of God. He said, I believe rightly, "A righteous God, for our sins toward Him, has permitted us to be overthrown by our enemies and His."

When northern Israel led the way in rebellion against God, the conservatism of southern Judah did not avoid final apostasy, but simply traveled that path more slowly than Israel. In a similar way, the South has not been free from our general cultural apostasy, although it has been slower. This apostasy on the South's part included her refusal to acknowledge the Lordship of Christ. An attempt to do so was defeated in the Confederate Congress by just one vote, and all nations which reject Christ will be judged by Christ. So although the South stood for much that was admirable, the biblical principle remains -- to whom much is given, much is required. And although the South was "correct" about many things, southern diehards must learn the hard lesson of Habbakuk, who had to accept that God can use an ungodly nation to judge another nation which is "not as bad" (Hab. 1:13).

But some Christians balk at having a sympathetic view of the South because they know that racism is evil. This is a very important point to emphasize. Like abolitionism, all forms of race hatred, or racial vainglory, are forms of rebellion against God. Such things are to be vigorously opposed because the Word of God opposes them. In brief, God has raised up all nations from one man (Acts 17:26). We are all cousins. And not only are the races connected through God's creation of Adam, we are united (this time in harmony) in the redemption purchased by the Son of God. You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth (Rev. 5:9-10).

We should remember that the leadership of the early church at Antioch contained at least one black man (Acts 13:1). And what happened to Miriam when she opposed the marriage of Moses to a black woman (Num. 12)? As Christians, we regard the gift at Pentecost to be a great reversal of Babel, and that our missionary effort will result in the elimination of racial hatreds in Christ.

Because of a popular bigotry against the South, it is necessary to assert strongly that racism and sympathy for the South are not necessary companions. Rather, when biblically understood, they are antithetical. Because of this, the economic death of chattel slavery would have been hastened had there been more widespread obedience to the Word of God on the part of everyone - abolitionists, slaves, and slaveowners. And while it is foolish to believe the propaganda of Uncle Tom's Cabin, it is true that there was more than a little room for application of biblical principles concerning race in bith regions.

So wherever true racism appears (north, south, east or west), or whenever it appears (this century or the last), it is to be opposed by consistent Christians. But this does not require us to be ignorant of the great theological and cultural issues that were at stake in the war.

But if we really want to fight prejudice, we should start with some of our common assumptions about the regions involved in

To consider what must be done, we must consider where our nation is -- sodomites parade in our streets, claiming that if we do not appropriate more money to study why people with foul sexual habits get sick, we are somehow violating their civil rights. Feminists, in rebellion against God, invert the order of the home established by God. They do so in a way that seeks to rob women of their beauty in submission, and their security in being loved. For two decades, we have seen millions of unborn children slaughtered in abortion clinics.

And what does the modern impotent church do? We stand helplessly by, with our placards in hand, wondering why no one listens to us. When challenged to justify our opposition to these evils, many of us are so mixed up we appeal to the "victories" of Christ's enemies in the last century! The church must grow up.

The way out is straight-forward. The Christian church, North and South, has been under the discipline of our righteous Father. We must repent of our sin, return to first principles, and pray that the Lord of battles would rise up and scatter His enemies.


Credenda/Agenda Vol. 4, No. 6