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Reformed Christians recognise that there is a link between Old Testament Israel and the Church (both being God’s chosen people). It seems as though many Christians at the time of the transatlantic slave trade took this too far. They assumed instead that Christendom was the new Israel and therefore that they could treat pagan peoples in the same way as Israel had done in the Old Testament. As God’s chosen people they believed that they had the right to enslave ‘inferior’ nations. This also meant that, like the Israelites, fellow Christians were not to sell each other as slaves to pagan nations, and this seems to have been the practice in Britain and much of Europe from the time of William the Conqueror (see the last Cross†Way article). These views can be seen especially clearly in the attitudes and practices of the founding Puritan Fathers of the New World. If these views are characteristic of the general Christian attitudes of the time then this could help to explain why there was so little moral opposition in Britain to the transatlantic slave trade, and why some Christians kept slaves.
Racial inferiority/God’s curse
Coupled with this misapplication of the Old Testament it seems as though many Christians at the time believed that the black African people were a God cursed inferior race. According to Lorenzo Johnston Greene ‘The interweaving of Christianity and white supremacy is considered a defining quality of Southern slavery. Yet this also happened in the North. Not only was slavery sanctioned by the God of the Old Testament, it was a positive duty of his chosen people in the New World, because it brought the Gospel to the pagans of Africa.
Good treatment of slaves
However, although these views certainly seem racist and incompatible with the Gospel, many Christian slave owners at the time did try to put into practice the humanitarian aspects of the Old Testament Law.They were incorporated into the family, and each puritan household being a sort of religious structure, the relative duties of master and servant were clearly defined. No doubt the severest and longest task fell to the slave, but in the household of the farmer or artisan, the master and the mistress shared it, and when it was finished, the white and the black, like the feudal chief and his household servant, sat down to the same table, and shared the same viands.
Slavery denied people of their freedom and rights to live as human beings. Some of the plaques in the castles are evidence of the denial of the human rights of the slaves.One of them points out how these slaves were kept in such a dirty and unfavourable environment. The slaves were given little food just to sustain them. We discovered small conduits on the floor of the dungeons, which, according to the tour guides, were meant to carry their faeces and urine into the sea. The statement, “may humanity never again perpetrate such injustice against humanity,” on the plaque in the Cape Coast castle, declares the consequence of the slave trade.
Many slaves died in the dungeons. Some slaves were put in condemned cells in the castles to die for acts that were seen by the slave masters to be punishable. Some female slaves were sexually abused in the castles.The slaves were treated and transported like wares of trade. They were “shackled in chains like beasts, underfed”before and during transportation through the hazards of the seas. Men, women and children were crammed in the decks to such an extent that the slave ships became “floating coffins” and half of the slaves died of disease and mistreatment. Some slaves committed suicide in the crossing of the Atlantic.On arrival at the ports of destination, the slaves were rendered commercial commodities. They had to be displayed in the slave markets to attract buyers. The slaves were conscripted to inhuman and oppressive labour on their arrival in the home of the slave masters.
The slave trade deprived people of their original religious practices, alienated them from their cultural roots and “deprived them of their sense of place in the world. The slaves were uprooted from their cultures and introduced to the alien cultures of their masters. They eventually recognised their non-belongingness to the culture of their slave masters. They suffered social and racial discrimination that haunted them for so long. The slave masters’ interest was only in the acquisition of wealth at the expense of the human rights of the slaves.
It was not only the slave masters who benefited from the slave trade, but also some indigenous leaders of the African communities where the slaves were taken. The slave trade promoted wars on the home of origin, as war became a means by which people got more slaves to sell to the slave merchants. To this, Buah bemoans: “The wars and raids for slaves generated callousness among African slave dealers, their agents and escorts, who became active instruments of barbarism against their fellow Africans.”The slave trade also affected the population of the home of origin, denying it of young and energetic human resources as well as natural resources. The nature of the journey across the Atlantic Ocean was such that only the very strong and energetic ones could survive the journey. The memories of the slave trade and the atrocities committed against the slaves from their capture to their transportation to the Americas are such that the descendants of the slaves cannot but to cry their emotions out when going through the dungeons of the castles.
As early as the seventh century, Saint Bathilde (wife of King Clovis II) became famous for her campaign to stop slave-trading and free all slaves; in 851 Saint Anskar began his efforts to halt the Viking slave trade. That the Church willingly baptized slaves was claimed as proof that they had souls, and soon both kings and bishops—including William the Conqueror (1027-1087) and Saints Wulfstan (1009-1095) and Anselm (1033-1109)—forbade the enslavement of Christians.
Since, except for small settlements of Jews, and the Vikings in the north, everyone was at least nominally a Christian, that effectively abolished slavery in medieval Europe, except at the southern and eastern interfaces with Islam where both sides enslaved one another’s prisoners. But even this was sometimes condemned: in the tenth century, bishops in Venice did public penance for past involvement in the Moorish slave trade and sought to prevent all Venetians from involvement in slavery. Then, in the thirteenth century, Saint Thomas Aquinas deduced that slavery was a sin, and a series of popes upheld his position, beginning in 1435 and culminating in three major pronouncements against slavery by Pope Paul III in 1537.
The New Testament teaching on Justice
‐ Reconciliation Matthew 5: 23 – 24
‐ Love for neighbour stressed outward
is condemned Luke 18: 9 – 14
Miracles of Jesus (e.g. Mark:
2: 1 – 1
‐ Condemned adultery Mark. 5:27 – 28
‐ Condemned divorce Mark 10: 1ff
brotherhood Luke 1
‐ Christian freedom Galatians 5: 22 – 23
Good relationship between servants
and slaves Ephesians 6:5 – 6
‐ Working for peace in the world.
Revelations 22: 5
‐ The coming of the Kingdom of God
brings harmony with God and all
Creatures Revelation 21: 7ff
Matthew 19:9 “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.“ Wouldn’t this cause the man to be put to death?
Mark 10:11 “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her.“ Again, wouldn’t he then be put to death since he would have committed adultery?
Mark 10:12 “And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.“ Same question I ask about the women who are considered have committed adultery. Wouldn’t they be put to death also?
Luke 16:18 “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
Does God permit a divorced person to remarry while their former spouse is still alive? If a divorced person has already remarried, should they get divorced? How does God feel when 2 people who were divorced get back together with each other in marriage again?
God hates divorce (Mal. 2:16) and only allows for it in the case of unfaithfulness by one or the other spouse (Matt. 19:9). Even in the case of unfaithfulness, God does not require or desire divorce but merely permits it (Matt 19:7-8). When there has been unfaithfulness or other sins that have torn apart the relationship, it is God’s desire that both partners would repent. They have to forgive one another, and reconcile (Luke 17:3-4, 1 Corinthians 7:10-11).
Forgiveness is always required, and the failure to forgive is sin (Matt.6:15). It may be difficult to forgive, and it may take a long time. But God always wants us to forgive others. In some marriages, it may be the case that ongoing unfaithfulness or abuse prevents reconciliation in the marriage. It is not possible, at least not for the foreseeable future. It is neither wise nor safe for the couple to try to get back together.
In the case of a stubborn, unrepentant attitude on the part of at least one spouse, the other spouse who desires to reconcile is not bound to force their unrepentant partner to stay married to them (1 Corinthians 7:15). God desires forgiveness and reconciliation. Such that He would will that two people who have gotten divorced would eventually reconcile. And re-unite with their former partner in marriage once again. This would be the ideal outcome for a couple who has divorced. But what if it looks like reconciliation will never happen and one (or both) of the partners wants to get remarried to somebody else? Jesus says:
“Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery. And he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.” (Luke 16:18)
That means that God does not approve of a divorced person getting remarried. As long as there remains the possibility of reconciliation and re-unification in marriage, a new marriage to a different person is not permissible. It is sin. The Bible says:
“To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord). The wife should not separate from her husband. But if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And the husband should not divorce his wife.” (1 Corinthians 7:10-11)
If the former spouse dies, then the remaining spouse is free to marry:
“A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 7:39)
In the case where a former spouse is still alive, and sinfully marries a different person instead of seeking reconciliation, God would not want that second marriage to end in divorce. Even if that spouse who remarried realized that he or she had sinned by marrying instead of seeking reconciliation. The Bible teaches that if a person divorces, remarries with a different person, then that second marriage ends (for whatever reason), then the original spouses can not get back together.
“When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, and if she goes and becomes another man’s wife, and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled. For that is an abomination before the LORD. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance.” (Deuteronomy 24:1-4)
Therefore, if the former spouse remarries somebody else, thus cutting off any possibility of being reunited in marriage, then the spouse who held out for remarrying their former spouse is now free to marry someone else.
Your iniquities have turned these away, and your sins have kept good from you. For wicked men are found among my people; they lurk like fowlers lying in wait. They set a trap; they catch men. Like a cage full of birds, their houses are full of deceit; therefore they have become great and rich; they have grown fat and sleek. They know no bounds in deeds of evil; they judge not with justice the cause of the fatherless, to make it prosper, and they do not defend the rights of the needy. Shall I not punish them for these things? declares the Lord, and shall I not avenge myself on a nation such as this?”
God hates oppression. The Bible tells us that God’s people, Israel, always experienced oppression from various oppressors; and He always showed Himself mighty to save and delivered them from time to time.
Hope for the oppressed
God remains the same today – He still hates oppression. He hates how some people enslave others, how some wicked people unjustly treat others, how some people place too much burden on another’s shoulders. He really hates oppression. Psalm 146:5-9 tells us,
“Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God, Who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; Who keeps truth forever, Who executes justice for the oppressed, Who gives food to the hungry. The Lord gives freedom to the prisoners. The Lord opens the eyes of the blind; The Lord raises those who are bowed down; The Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the strangers; He relieves the fatherless and widow; But the way of the wicked He turns upside down.”
The Deliverer of all who are oppressed
Sin oppressed mankind. Sin corrupted man and caused man to commit all sorts of oppressive behaviors, including those mentioned above. God wants all of mankind freed from sin’s oppression, and in order to make that happen He sent His one and only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus, to destroy sin. Jesus Himself said in Luke 4:18-19,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
Forgiven, freed, and found in Christ
If we believe in Christ, the Bible tells us that we are freed from sin’s oppression. We are freed from the guilt that we used to carry, the condemnation that awaited the unforgiven. Because of Christ’s atoning sacrifice we are given the opportunity to be totally forgiven of our sin and freed from it.
People may still try to oppress us with their words and actions, but the truth is that no matter what people do, we are already free in Christ. Colossians 1:13-14 tells us,
“He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.”
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