Materialism and Slavery

“you may fool people for a time; you can fool a part of the people all the time; but you can’t fool all the people all the time.” –Abraham Lincoln

I’m still contemplating Angelina Grimke’s 1836 “Appeal to Christian Women of the South.” Her Appeal, a combination of cogent inductive and deductive reasoning from the Mosaic Law and teachings of Christ, clearly showed that modern slavery, particularly slavery in the Americas, was neither permitted nor sanctioned, but explicitly condemned by the Scriptures.

   It is remarkable that most Americans have never seen her argument–secular society and church goers alike.  Many continue, in ignorance, to slander the Creator of Heaven and Earth by repeating the lie that He somehow overlooked the evil that was American Slavery, an institution that defied not only the Biblical laws protecting slaves, but promoted dehumanizing crime such as rape, broke up a third of slave marriages at the auction block, and severed 50% of slave children from their mothers at the auction block.

     Eric Williams inductive study, “Capitalism and Slavery,” demonstrated that Modern Materialism, via industrialization, used slavery as a source of “cheap labor” for cultivation of raw materials similar to using and abusing “cheap labor” in the form of children in manufacturing facilities. Scientific Racism was then introduced to rationalize extant slavery.  His argument is intuitive. William Harper’s pro-slavery argument confirms Williams’ thesis. Harper explicitly asserted that slavery was the basis for civilization and property, an argument steeped in the thinking of Cain, who built cities as a monument to himself rather than humbly embracing the role of a sojourner. Both Harper’s and Cain’s distorted view of God recollects the words of Psalm 52: “you thought I was exactly like you.” Despite this, many Americans subscribed to Harper’s strong delusion.

     The history of American Slavery proves that the love of money really is the root of all evil, and America’s inability to break its idolatrous worship of mammon’s golden calf continues to exacerbate its sin, rather than abandon it for the sake of promoting a community of just-loving kindness.  The visible church is filled with men and women convinced that Capitalism is the shepherd which leads them in paths of success and “blessing.” CRT, the latest spinoff of the inexorably advancing Marxist dialectic, isn’t new, either.  It’s roots are in the same  “progress of human civilization” as Harper’s optimistic scheme.  Both are saturated with favoritism and punctuated with invidious abuse of “the least of these.”  Both fail to understand Paul’s assertion that “godliness with contentedness is great gain,” and that a  truly bright future involves a picture of Edenic work:  sowing, reaping, gathering, and each man and woman taking rest under his/her own fig tree (Mic 6).

   What is really interesting is that Angelina’s prophetic warning also recollects Psalm 52: ““Consider this, you who forget God, or I will tear you to pieces, with no one to rescue you.” Angelina’s warnings, calm and clear, were met by stiff-necked defiance: the people of the South publicly burned her Appeal. Ironically, the answer of a Sovereign God, who laughs nations to scorn and fools to destruction, was to send Harriet Tubman, whom the South considered as “mere chattel,” to burn the most prestigious plantations of the South at Combahee Ferry, with no Union casualties.  He also sent Sherman to punctuate his message (peculiarly sparing an abolitionist Madison, GA): “fire for fire.” This message parallels typical prophetic irony, such as Isaiah’s “woe to the betrayer who is not yet betrayed” and Moses’ shattering of the tablets as a sign of the people’s breaking the covenant.   If this is not convincing, consider Revelation 18, which fundamentally defines Babylon in terms of buying and selling everything, including “the bodies and souls of men.”  If the shoe fits… 

Importantly, the South was not alone in its experience of fiery wrath:  Chicago, which was a major textile center dependent on Southern Cotton, also did not escape fire.  On October 8th, 1871, the railroad depots, central business district, and homes of both wealthy and poor were consumed in flames.  The North’s complicity in injustice did not go unpunished.

    How the visible church in America has been blind enough to believe the lie that God sanctioned American Slavery is perplexing.  It is particularly embarrassing, given that Las Casas’ testimony in the 16th century not only lead to improved Spanish colonial ethics, but to a Catholic Spain and its sphere of influence abolishing slavery in 1811.  Given the advancement of Biblical scholarship in our age (particularly archaeology, language, historical theology, and systematic theology), and the proliferation of good translations, there is no reasonable excuse for this blind failure to obey the Deuteronomical command, “inquire thoroughly.”  

   Biblical illiteracy being at an all time high, the deception has continued as “the teachings of men” substitute for the “teachings of God.” Harper published his pro slavery argument in 1808. This means the visible church has been grossly negligent for over 200 years, forsaking the fundamental call to live by “every word that proceeds from God’s mouth” and refusing the call to constantly train itself “to distinguish good from evil” (Heb 5:14).

     How can one “hunger and thirst for justice” (Matt 5) when one has no taste for the Law and Prophets?  How can “believers” be so obtuse as to ignore the truth that justice and righteousness is not only the foundation of the throne of grace, but is the very wedding clothing of the saints, whose consummate exclamation to God is “just and true are your judgements!” (Rev 19).  How has the visible church redefined salvation in purely therapeutic terms wherein men can remain sinners with impunity, refusing to exercise the power of godliness in repentance and just action?

Grace is not a magic wand that ushers men into a city with streets of gold. Faith requires working out in fear and trembling. The elect are to be living sacrifices, pleasing to God. Salvation’s end is clearly denoted by a God who saves men and women “to do good works, which He has prepared in advance for them.” Without this, how will they be clothed “in the just acts of the saints?”

   Angelina’s appeal still addresses America today, with the same woeful warning it gave in 1836.  America  has yet to repent of the root of slavery: Materialism, the “love of money.”  It’s caste system (and both left and right have caste systems) is clearly abhorrent.  The Materialist caste system’s penetration of the visible church is, moreover, a smoke in God’s nostrils, a mockery of His holiness expressed as justice (Is 5:16), and in the attempt to serve two masters, the visible church has become as palatable as Laodicean water: worthy of spitting out!

   When God looks for justice, only to find outcry, He acts as the God of the Exodus, Exile, and 1st Century destruction of Jerusalem.  Habakkuk tells us that “plague goes before Him.”  How urgent the need, then, to abandon the sentimental lie that God, like a great therapist, is interested in our self-confidence and self-fulfillment rather than in the hard work of “crucifying the deeds of the sinful flesh.”  We would do well to consider that the God who intends to present to Himself “a pure and spotless bride,” and who intimately governs all things, not only is at work in His saints both to will and to do His commands, but doing this by fear and trembling,  trials and suffering.  If such is the case with the righteous, what will be the case with the impenitent?  For “If the righteous receive their due on earth, how much more the ungodly and sinner!”  

     The message of Angelina is one with the message of the Gospel:  repent, and bear fruit in keeping with repentance.  Hunger and thirst for justice as if your very life depended on it. 

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