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Friday, March 23, 2007

Does God sign off on slavery?

- St. Peter Claver SJ

A couple of days ago on another blog, a Christian commentor stated that slavery was not inherently immoral, citing Leviticus 25:39-43.

The topic is hot now, with the movie out about abolitionait William Wilberforce, and there is an article in this week's Tablet on the subject as well - Dangers, toils and snares ... Two hundred years ago, William Wilberforce introduced the parliamentary bill that eventually led to the abolition of the slave trade. But the fight is not over. If the scourge of people-trafficking is to be eradicated across the globe, anti-slavery campaigners will need patience, tenacity and faith ...

Another sign of the importance of the subject is the video made recently by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York on the slave trade (see the YouTube video below). Here's a little bit from the story in the Times Online - Archbishop of Canterbury makes YouTube debut ....

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has made his debut on YouTube. In what will be the first of many broadcasts, Dr Williams is filmed with the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, at the former slave market in Zanzibar, now the Anglican Cathedral.

The two archbishops did a joint reflection on slavery during the recent Primates' Meeting in Tanzania to mark the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade in the UK, being celebrated this year. The pair were shown two small preserved slave pits, where up to 175 men, women and children were held in appalling conditions, chained and in darkness, often without food and water. Dr Sentamu spent some time at a memorial to the slaves which features some of the original chains used when the market was operating. In the film, Dr Williams says that the experience brought home the reality of the trade ....

Given the disturbing history of Christianity and slavery, I think it's important that Christians affirm that slavery is indeed immoral. To end, below is an excerpt from a letters from Jesuit Peter Claver, one of the early opponents of slavery working in the new world. Wikipedia says of him ...

The apostle was accused of indiscreet zeal, and of having profaned the Sacraments by giving them to "creatures" deemed to scarcely possessed a soul. Indeed, many found the sense of dignity Claver was giving the slaves was a dangerous thing to do. Despite the contempt for him among the merchant and landed classes, his work which he continued until his death in 1654 was supported by the Jesuit Order. His work and writings along with others such as Bartolome de las Casas, while broadly rejected in his time laid the foundation for the eventual rejection of the institution of slavery by the Catholic Church and the European powers by the early 19th Century.

The excerpt ...

"Yesterday, May 30, 1627, on the feast of the Most Holy Trinity, numerous blacks, brought from the rivers of Africa, disembarked from a large ship. Carrying two baskets of oranges, lemons, sweet biscuits, and I know not what else, we hurried toward them. When we approached their quarters, we thought we were entering another Guinea. We had to force our way through the crowd until we reached the sick. Large numbers of the sick were lying on wet ground or rather in puddles of mud. To prevent excessive dampness, someone had thought of building up a mound with a mixture of tiles and broken pieces of bricks. This, then, was their couch, a very uncomfortable one not only for that reason, but especially because they were naked, without any clothing to protect them.

We lad aside our cloaks, therefore, and brought from a warehouse whatever was handy to build a platform. In that way we covered a space to which we at last transferred the sick, by forcing a passage through bands of slaves. Then we divided the sick into two groups: one group my companion approached with an interpreter, while I addressed the other group. There were two blacks, nearer death than life, already cold, whose pulse could scarcely be detected. With the help of a tile we pulled some live coals together and placed them in the middle near the dying men. Into this fire we tossed aromatics. Of these we had two wallets full, and we used them all up on this occasion. Then, using our own cloaks, for they had nothing of this sort, and to ask the owners for others would have been a waste of words, we provided for them a smoke treatment, by which they seemed to recover their warmth and the breath of life. The joy in their eyes as they looked at us was something to see.

This was how we spoke to them, not with words but with our hands and our actions. And in fact, convinced as they were that they had been brought here to be eaten, any other language would have proved utterly useless. Then we sat, or rather knelt, beside them and bathed their faces and bodies with wine. We made every effort to encourage them with friendly gestures and displayed in their presence the emotions which somehow naturally tend to hearten the sick."


Blogger Cura Animarum said...

I can't believe that someone would contend that God was indifferent to any human suffering or indignity especially that of slavery.

It goes to show how vital it is for Christians to really understand the scriptures they're reading and to understand that the full revelation of God's will and God's own self isn't complete until we see God, in Christ, himself bound on the cross.

The hardest thing in the world right now, unfortunately, is to engage the largely affluent West in any real and intimate connect with a global plight such as this. For your average middle to upper class family it's just too far detached from their reality.Though the flesh trade runs rampant and the very same internet lines they use to access their emailed jokes and recipes of the day, they largely remain blind. They seem willing to shake their heads and bemoan the inhumanity but to ask comfortable people to make any kind of real sacrifice that will result in change...they'll look at you like you're insane.

Wow...THAT was a rant and a half! Sorry about that crystal but thanks for the forum to vent.

2:46 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

It goes to show how vital it is for Christians to really understand the scriptures they're reading and to understand that the full revelation of God's will and God's own self isn't complete until we see God, in Christ, himself bound on the cross.

.... that's one reason I really appreciate your scripture study blog!

Be my guest and vent ... I already flipped my wig with the guy who made the statement about slavery, and now I'm too ashamed to ever go back to that blog :-)

I'm embarrassed to say I hardley ever think about the plight of others, so preoccupied with selfish misery as an old song goes. So much I have to work on ...

3:20 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

John Noonan's book A Church That Can And Cannot Change: The Development of Catholic Moral Teaching is a long treatise on how Christian thinking on slavery became more enlightened over time. It's mind-boggling to me that you read someone claiming God's neutrality on it, but I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Human trafficking is coming back with a vengeance.

See the Not For Sale Campaign

11:04 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1:52 AM  

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