Civil War Issues and the Battle for Biblical Authority - Part 3 of a series

St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Charleston, built 1751-1761. Became St. Michael’s Anglican Church in 2017 related to issues  of Biblical authority.
St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Charleston, built 1751-1761. Became St. Michael’s Anglican Church in 2017 related to issues of Biblical authority.

The role of slavery as a cause of the U.S. Civil War has been disingenuously exaggerated.  The Civil War was fought to prevent Southern secession and independence and the loss of more than 80 percent of total Federal tax revenues. The Morrill Tariff, part of a 37-year history of protective tariffs profiting the North and exploiting the South, was passed, signed, and endorsed by Lincoln in March 1861. This tariff was so outrageously unfair and burdensome to the South’s agricultural export economy that it practically forced the cotton-producing states to secede to pursue their own economic interest by free trade.  States Rights were closely related to Southern economic welfare.  Southerners also felt that the Northern political majority was moving away from the Constitutional principles of 1776, 1789, and 1791 toward a consolidated national government pursuing purely sectionalist Northern interests.  The principal Northern objective regarding slavery was simply to prevent it from spreading into the territories and new states. The Civil War was not a moral crusade to free slaves.

The tension over slavery, however, can be considered to be a major cause of Southern distrust of Northern culture and political dominance. The idea that the slaves should eventually be emancipated was widespread in both North and South. Most favored the British model of gradual emancipation and remuneration to slave owners, taking care that the slaves could be made ready for economic and political freedom and the Southern economy would not be suddenly devastated. A small but growing minority, however, believed the slaves should be emancipated immediately and slave-owners harshly reproved and ostracized. This minority identified themselves as “abolitionists,” but “radical abolitionists” or “ultra- abolitionists” would be more accurate.

The issue in the churches was the Authority of Scripture, with most Southern churches retaining a strong belief in the authority of Scripture and many Northern Protestant churches leaning to a more liberal view of Scripture that placed humanist values above the authority of Scripture. The frontal attack from prominent Northern pulpits on slavery ran directly against clear teachings in the Epistles of Paul and Peter in the New Testament and the Mosaic books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. Many Northern churches and boards began to rule that slave-ownership itself was a sin and that slave-owners should not be made missionaries, church officers, receive communion, or even be allowed church membership. These Northern churches were thus calling sin what God had not called sin in Holy Scripture.  Southern pastors could not surrender the Authority of Scripture for the sake of what would be a heretical unity or endure the outrage against innocent members. The Presbyterian Church had already had a major split over liberal versus traditional conservative Scripture interpretation and theology in 1837. In 1861, the more conservative Southern churches abandoned the growing liberalism of the national church completely. The Methodist split along North-South lines came in 1844, and the Baptists followed, establishing the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845. This was not about Southern economic dependence on slavery. It was about the Authority of Scripture and Northern Protestant degrading of that authority and their slippage into humanistic liberalism.

The struggle over the Authority of Scripture versus widespread infidelity to Scripture is still with us and stoking the fires of ignorance, distortion, injustice, hatred, and social, cultural, and political chaos today more so than even in those perilous days from 1830 to 1877. 

That is why it is important to know what the Bible actually says and teaches on slavery.  It is the kind Providence of God that slavery is behind us, but we must know Scripture to know the full truth of history and its implications on current and future controversies.  That is why this series relies principally on Scripture quotations. The verses of Leviticus are especially important to full   understanding of the issues. 

Leviticus 25: 44-46. (ESV) The Jews may buy and hold slaves from nations around them.

 “As for your male and female slaves whom you may have: you may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are around you. You may also buy from among the strangers who sojourn with you and their clans that are with you, who have been born in your land, and they may be your property.  You may bequeath them to your sons after you to inherit as a possession forever. You may make slaves of them, but over your brothers, the people of Israel you shall not rule, one over another ruthlessly.”

Other Important Verses from Leviticus and Exodus

Leviticus 25:10 The Jubilee.

 “And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan.” [However, the Jubilee did not apply to gentile slaves.]

It must be noted here that the Jews generally did not impose the conditions of slavery on their own people and limited any involuntary service obligation to six years for Jews and did not apply Jubilee rules to gentile slaves. See Exodus 21: 2-6 below.

Exodus 21: 2-6

  “When you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free, for nothing.  If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master's, and he shall go out alone. But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall be his slave forever.”

Leviticus 25:39-43 If your brother becomes poor and sells himself to you.

If your brother becomes poor beside you and sells himself to you, you shall not make him serve as a slave:  he shall be with you as a hired worker and as a sojourner. He shall serve with you until the year of the jubilee.  Then he shall go out from you, he and his children with him, and go back to his own clan and return to the possession of his fathers.  For they are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves.  You shall not rule over him ruthlessly but shall fear your God.”

Leviticus 25: 47-55 Redeeming a Poor Man.

“If a stranger or sojourner with you becomes rich, and your brother beside him becomes poor and sells himself to the stranger or sojourner with you or to a member of the stranger's clan, then after he is sold he may be redeemed. One of his brothers may redeem him, or his uncle or his cousin may redeem him, or a close relative from his clan may redeem him. Or if he grows rich he may redeem himself.  He shall calculate with his buyer from the year when he sold himself to him until the year of jubilee, and the price of his sale shall vary with the number of years. The time he was with his owner shall be rated as the time of a hired worker.  If there are still many years left, he shall pay proportionately for his redemption some of his sale price.  If there remain but a few years until the year of jubilee, he shall calculate and pay for his redemption in proportion to his years of service. He shall treat him as a worker hired year by year. He shall not rule ruthlessly over him in your sight.  And if he is not redeemed by these means, then he and his children with him shall be released in the year of jubilee. For it is to me that the people of Israel are servants.[a] They are my servants whom I brought out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

While the Bible rebukes mistreatment or abuse of slaves, both Old and New Testament passages regarding slavery clearly do not hold the slave owner or master as being in sin, but regulates his relationship to his slaves and exhorts him to treat them with dignity, respect, and fairness. Radical abolitionist rejection of the clear teaching of Scripture on slavery wreaked havoc in the churches and the nation. Unfortunately, the ignorant virtue-signaling modern versions of the   radical abolitionists are creating the same kinds of social destruction and chaos today.   

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Mike Scruggs