Abolition of Slavery – late adopters?

I’ve written about how a careful reading of Scripture demanded the abolition of slavery. The existence of the slave trade and the continued ownership of African slaves went against God’s word, specifically Paul’s teaching in his letters (including in Ephesians 6). 

Those who were subjected to the brutality of slavery will have got it. Eventually white evangelicals began to get it too, Wilberforce, Clarkson, Wesley, Newton. Finally Parliament got it and eventually America.  However for a long time, many, including some incredible Christians did not get the point that owning slaves was disobedient to Scripture and an offence to the Gospel. This includes giants of the Great Awakening including George Whitfield and Jonathan Edwards.

It is easy to sit back and condemn then now isn’t it. However, I wonder how quickly we would have got the point? Would we have been early adopters of the cause or later adopters? Having spent time in recent years pouring over the texts and the arguments, it seems clear and obvious to me. But would I have seen the sin and injustice so clearly and so quickly as the abolitionists did or would I have been among those suspicious of them, seeing them as dangerous revolutionaries and perhap unorthodox in their theology?

I suspect I would not have been in the vanguard. I hope I would have got it eventually but I think I probably would have been slow to see the issue. If we are honest, many of us would have to admit the same. It would have taken time. WE may well have even been uncertain of the arguments even after the Abolition Act had gone through.

So, how do we best ensure that we are not going to make that mistake with contemporary issues of justice?  I want to suggest that there is only one way to do it. We need to set aside the ideological baggage we carry. We need to recognise where a particular interpretation of scripture suits our comforts and we need to stop to hear the heart cry for justice of others. Then we need to go back to the text of Scripture again, reading it slowly and carefully to see what it actually says and not just what we think it says.

This means, as a wiser person than me once said, that we need to be ready to let God’s Word disagree with us.

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