Is Advocating Slavery an Acceptable Way to Treat Our Neighbor?

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“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,” Jesus says. “He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and to set the oppressed free.”

And yet, can we name one person Jesus set free from prison?

When his cousin John the Baptist was arrested, you might think Jesus would have appealed to Rome for his cousin’s release. Jesus did not. If Jesus refused to liberate a member of his own extended family, then what are we to make of his claim to set free prisoners and those captured and enslaved? Could it be that Jesus spoke of a different form of captivity?

“Very truly I tell you,” Jesus says, “everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” The Apostle Paul writes, “We should no longer be slaves to sin. Our old self was crucified with Jesus so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin. Anyone who has died has been set free from sin. Therefore, you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. Now just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness.”

The disciple Peter offers a final word on the matter of slavery and sin: “People are slaves to whatever has mastered them.”

There is a deeper division in this country: one not seen since before the Civil War. Then the issue of slavery also divided the Church, congregations — and eventually the nation. Then, as now, some in the Church refused to teach, preach, or accept certain parts of God’s word.

I suspect many in the South believed then — as many do in churches across the world today — that their position on slavery was in accordance with God’s will: something to be celebrated. I suspect both North and South believed then — as many do now — that they were on the “right side of history.”

But by God’s providence only one side was proven right with regards to the issue of slavery.

Only when Special Order 191 fell into the hands of The Army of the Potomac, did General George McClellan learn,, that General Lee had crossed the Potomac and invaded Maryland. If not for this bit of luck, The Army of Northern Virginia might have outflanked McClellan’s men and marched on Washington. Had that happened, President Abraham Lincoln might have been forced to settle the issue of slavery in favor of the South in order to bring an end to hostilities. Instead, at the Battle of Sharpsburg, the bloodiest single day in American history, the North prevailed and Lee retreated back across the Potomac. Only once more would The Army of Northern Virginia invade the North. Then too they would be driven back.

Because of the North’s victory at Sharpsburg, on January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln found the will and opportunity to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring, “that all persons held as slaves within the rebellious states are, and henceforward shall be free.”

If President Lincoln’s words sound familiar, they should, for by this time he had begun to think of the Civil War as God’s judgement upon the nation. As such, he could not accept the Southern churches’ position on slavery. For President Lincoln, there could be but one destiny for all men: freedom.

accepted the Jesus of history, but he could not accept the church’s concept of the Christ of faith, nor could he justify the division of the churches over the issue of slavery.

Today as in the 1860’s — as in the days of Rome, as in the days of Pharaoh, as it is everyday — the issue of slavery is before us. Will we celebrate the captivity that comes when we are mastered — not by the harsh hands of another human — but by the tyranny of sin? Or will we seek to liberate others with the good news of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and destruction of sin’s power over our flesh?

With our Father’s help may we teach, preach, and love with the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help us God.


John 14:15-17, John 8:34, Romans 6:6, Romans 6:6-7, Romans 6:19, 2 Peter 2:19