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Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Slavery, the West, and Some Inconvenient Truths

Jun 29, 2020

Slavery is back in the news, and we need some clear thinking about it:

The issues of racism and even slavery are certainly making the headlines of late. With Western cities burning, statues and monuments being destroyed, attempts being made to rewrite our history, and calls emerging for reparations for slavery, there is a need to look at these issues with some moral and mental clarity.

Having facts instead of feelings guide us in all this is paramount. In this article I seek to do two things: I will offer three big-picture remarks about the matter, and then I will look very briefly at some Christian considerations. Let me begin with a recent piece by political analyst Judith Bergman called “Modern Slavery and Woke Hypocrisy”. The piece begins:

-There are an estimated 136,000 people living in modern slavery just in Britain. Slavery in the UK takes the form of forced labor, and domestic and sexual exploitation. Albanians and Vietnamese are among the groups that constitute the majority of slaves. — Global Slavery Index, 2018.

-There are currently an estimated 9.2 million black slaves in Africa. Slavery, according to the index, includes forced labor, forced sexual exploitation and forced marriage. — Global Slavery Index, 2018.

-“According to the U.N.’s International Labor Organization (ILO), there are more than three times as many people in forced servitude today as were captured and sold during the 350-year span of the transatlantic slave trade”, Time Magazine March 14, 2019.

-Modern slavery earns criminal networks an estimated $150 billion a year, just slightly less than drug smuggling and weapons trafficking.

-“G-20 countries import some $354 billion worth of products at risk of being produced by modern slavery every year”. — Global Slavery Index, 2018.

She concludes:

BLM and its sycophants endlessly debate changing the names of streets and universities, and removing statues, all of which do not amount to anything more than infantile virtue signaling. They waste time debating whether people who were never themselves slaves, should receive reparations from people who never owned a slave.

To engage in all this posturing, while ignoring the staggering 40 million current victims of actual slavery, not only represents the immeasurable depths of woke hypocrisy, but constitutes an extreme insult to those who are suffering their slavery in silence, while slowly dying from the physical, sexual and emotional abuse that they are being forced to endure. If anything is “offensive,” it is that. www.gatestoneinstitute.org/16152/modern-slavery

African-American economist and political commentator Thomas Sowell has often written about these issues. Just three quotes of his – of many – can be featured here. In an older article he writes:

Slavery certainly has its place among the horrors of humanity. But our “educators” today, along with the media, present a highly edited segment of the history of slavery. Those who have been through our schools and colleges, or who have seen our movies or television miniseries, may well come away thinking that slavery means white people enslaving black people. But slavery was a worldwide curse for thousands of years, as far back as recorded history goes.

Over all that expanse of time and space, it is very unlikely that most slaves, or most slave owners, were either black or white. Slavery was common among the vast populations in Asia. Slavery was also common among the Polynesians, and the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere enslaved other indigenous peoples before anyone on this side of the Atlantic had ever seen a European.

More whites were brought as slaves to North Africa than blacks brought as slaves to the United States or to the 13 colonies from which it was formed. White slaves were still being bought and sold in the Ottoman Empire, decades after blacks were freed in the United States. www.creators.com/read/thomas-sowell/10/14/irresponsible-education

This is taken from his 2005 volume, Black Rednecks and White Liberals:

It takes no more research than a trip to almost any public library or college to show the incredibly lopsided coverage of slavery in the United States or in the Western Hemisphere, as compared to the meager writings on even larger number of Africans enslaved in the Islamic countries of the Middle East and North Africa, not to mention the vast numbers of Europeans also enslaved in centuries past in the Islamic world and within Europe itself. At least a million Europeans were enslaved by North African pirates alone from 1500 to 1800, and some European slaves were still being sold on the auction blocks in Egypt, years after the Emancipation Proclamation freed blacks in the United States. 

And these insights come from the 2011 book, The Thomas Sowell Reader:

Of all the tragic facts about the history of slavery, the most astonishing to an American today is that, although slavery was a worldwide institution for thousands of years, nowhere in the world was slavery a controversial issue prior to the 18th century. People of every race and color were enslaved – and enslaved others. White people were still being bought and sold as slaves in the Ottoman Empire, decades after American blacks were freed.

Everyone hated the idea of being a slave but few had any qualms about enslaving others. Slavery was just not an issue, not even among intellectuals, much less among political leaders, until the 18th century – and then it was an issue only in Western civilization. Among those who turned against slavery in the 18th century were George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and other American leaders. You could research all of the 18th century Africa or Asia or the Middle East without finding any comparable rejection of slavery there. But who is singled out for scathing criticism today? American leaders of the 18th century.

Deciding that slavery was wrong was much easier than deciding what to do with millions of people from another continent, of another race, and without any historical preparation for living as free citizens in a society like that of the United States, where they were 20 percent of the population.

It is clear from the private correspondence of Washington, Jefferson, and many others that their moral rejection of slavery was unambiguous, but the practical question of what to do now had them baffled. That would remain so for more than half a century.

One more quote is worth sharing here. The radical left loves to blame the West and capitalism for all of our ills. They even claim that slavery is fully part of free market economics. Matthew Lesh has recently sought to set the record straight on this:

But what did the “father of modern economics,” Adam Smith, actually think about slavery? And is it responsible for our modern prosperity?

Adam Smith argued not only that slavery was morally reprehensible, but that it causes economic self-harm. He provided economic and moral ammunition for the abolitionist movement that came to fruition after his death in 1790. Smith was pessimistic about the potential for full abolition, but he was on the side of the angels.

Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, contains perhaps the best known economic critique of slavery. Smith argued that free individuals work harder and invest in the improvement of land, motivated by their interest in earning a higher income, than slaves. Smith refers to ancient Italy, where the cultivation of corn degraded under slavery. The cost of slavery is “in the end the dearest of any,” Smith writes. quillette.com/2020/06/22/the-father-of-capitalism-and-the-abolition-of-slavery/

Christianity and slavery

I recently had a comment sent in from a person who tends to prefer to argue and pick fights instead of calmly deal with facts in a rational fashion. She said she had just discovered that George Whitefield had slaves, so she was going to have nothing to do with him anymore!

The issue of slavery and the Christian response to it is a big one indeed, and I would need to do many detailed articles on this topic to do it justice, but a few very quick points can be raised here.

Image of George Whitefield: America's Spiritual Founding Father
George Whitefield: America's Spiritual Founding Father by Array Amazon logo

-As to this gal’s objection, she might as well say that she wants nothing to do with the Apostle Paul, since at best he seemed a bit ambiguous on the issue of slavery. He neither strongly favoured it nor condemned it, and there is still debate as to what exactly he meant in passages such as 1 Corinthians 7:21.

-It was overwhelmingly the Christian religion, with its belief in the dignity and value of all persons as made in the image of God, that really was the impetus to see slavery finally abolished – at least in the West.

-It was only in the late 1700s and early 1800s that serious abolitionist movements began to be formed. And they were overwhelmingly Christian in nature, with folks like William Wilberforce (1759-1833) in the UK and Charles Finney (1792-1875) in America leading the charge.

-Even until the mid-1700s slavery was well-nigh universally accepted and largely unquestioned. This included some Christians and some Founding Fathers of America. Thus Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) and George Whitefield (1714-1770) were among Christian leaders who did own slaves.

-Edwards and Whitefield, like much of the New Testament, were rather ambivalent about the issue of slavery. One quote about each man can be offered here:

-“Blinded as he was by the prejudices of the time, and by the quest for financial stability, the itinerant did not see slave ownership the way we do. Instead he viewed his plantation as another means of advancing the gospel among orphans, and among the slaves themselves. Soon he noted excitedly that ‘several negroes’ at Providence had come under conviction of sin and were likely to experience conversion.” Thomas Kidd, George Whitefield (Yale University Press, 2014, p. 200)

-“Although there were scattered protests among European Americans against African slavery before and during Edwards’ time, the first widespread revolution in attitudes did not take place until the decades immediately after his death. . . . Edwards explicitly denied that there was any inherent inferiority among different peoples in God’s eye. . . . Edwards regarded Africans and Indians as spiritual equals. During his ministry, the Northampton church had already admitted nine Africans into full communicant membership” George Marsden, Jonathan Edwards (Yale University Press, 2003, pp. 255-258)

-I have already penned a number of articles on this matter. See these three for starters:

billmuehlenberg.com/2007/07/25/the-bible-slavery-and-morality/

billmuehlenberg.com/2019/06/15/reparations-for-slavery-social-and-political-considerations/

billmuehlenberg.com/2019/06/15/reparations-for-slavery-biblical-and-theological-considerations/

As mentioned, much more can be said about such issues. But having a proper perspective on the matter, instead of just emoting and running with selective moralising is how we must seek to understand it. But stay tuned for further articles on this.

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12 Responses to Slavery, the West, and Some Inconvenient Truths

  • Dear Bill, Thank you very much for your valuable analysis of the slavery issue and I will look forward to reading more.

    A very famous white slave was St Patrick who was taken as a boy from his home in England to Ireland where he later converted the pagan Celts to Christianity. One of the popes it is said, also referred to white slaves brought to Europe as Angles because they reminded him of angels with their blonde hair and blue eyes. He obviously had a vision of heaven as populated with blue eyed blonde haired angels. My very imaginative C/E teachers in the forties however, had a much broader vision of heaven. They put on a Nativity play one Christmas which featured two angels guarding the stable. One was black and the other white which demolishes the leftist theory that Christianity has ALWAYS been portrayed as favouring white skin.

    The TV series Roots also showed Arabic slave traders raiding African villages for slaves for the lucrative slave trade so Islam has always been complicit in slavery as well and still is in places like Saudi Arabia but of course the MSM is deathly silent about that.

  • Thanks Bill for your excellent researched, theologically astute and socially relevant articles.

    It appears in discussions I have had (with Christians as well as non-Christians), that most people believe that slave ownership was only undertaken by white people toward other races (primarily North Americans with African slaves). Additionally, there seems to be no acknowledgment of the near universalism of slavery in the centuries gone past, and of slave ownership within and between different races and ethnicities, covering all continents. Likewise, the Christian narrative that brought change in the USA (That all people are created equal in the image of God and therefore slavery should be abolished) throughout much of the world regarding slavery has been rewritten or edited.

    What is also sad, is that ‘progressive’ christian’s and pastors have used the argument that in the years gone past christian’s used the bible incorrectly to justify slavery, and that is the same regarding homosexuality texts today (progressives arguing that the bible condemning homosexual behaviour is a wrong interpretation).

    It bothers me how we can depart from truth and the bible as the foundation of truth and our worldview so much as a society (and even in some churches and among some christians).

  • Thanks for a balanced article on slavery. Thomas Sowell so credible. Not a word have I read elsewhere online regarding Ottoman and African Moslem slavers buying and selling ‘white’ slaves. Slaves were sourced from South West of Britain for hundreds of years by the ‘Moors’. “The Moors were the Muslim inhabitants of the Maghreb, the Iberian Peninsula, Sicily, and Malta during the Middle Ages. The Moors initially were the indigenous Maghrebine Berbers. The name was later also applied to Arabs.” (source Wikipedia). Derived from the Latin word “Maurus,” the term was originally used to describe Berbers and other people from the ancient Roman province of Mauretania in what is now North Africa. (https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/reference/people/who-were-moors). Between 711 and 1492 … and, in fact, well into the 1800s—the various peoples in those Moorish kingdoms practiced slavery and white captives were used whenever they could obtain them, often from Barbary pirates ravaging the Mediterranean. It was estimated that white slaves in Moorish servitude reached 1.2 million by 1780. I suppose it’s not PC to highlight his information in 2020.

  • Wow! I wish my reply was equal to this writing. Excellent beyond any comment I could give except thank you Bill. Love the way you combine logic, history, truth, proof and God’s love rolled into one incredible commentary. And not forgetting Judith’s contribution to this. Why aren’t you traveling around the U.S. being paid to speak at universities, etc? Oh how desperately America needs your knowledge. Would you ever consider going on the Shaun Hannity Show or Tucker Carlson? You, single handedly could help save America. There’s a talk show here in the Pacific Northwest Lars Larson would love you so would Rush Limbaugh. You need an agent to promote all this beautiful knowledge you have. It has to be shared. You could be saving lives and the hearts of wonderful Americans that are being fed lies daily. Children in America are committing suicide because they are white & don’t know how to handle all the race bating. I better stop rambling but this is the most encouraging article that has to be shared universally — the world needs to know.

  • Many thanks Louise. Thankfully there are many good commentators and thinkers in the US fighting the good fight.

  • Thanks for information and reminders. I did know about St Patrick but forgot. We get so much flack about horrible white people that we forget all are sinners and tend to believe it.

  • Here’s one really inconvenient truth: it was a black slaveowner (and yes there were such people) named Anthony Johnson who ‘helped’ introduced black slaves-for-life to America:

    https://face2faceafrica.com/article/the-fascinating-story-of-anthony-johnson-the-black-man-who-was-the-first-to-own-a-slave-in-the-u-s

  • Yes, it is high time to explode the media propaganda that human slavery is unique to Black victims.

    There has been a loud but not surprising absence in the mainstream media of information about White slave victims, due to the frenzied focus on Black Lives Matter, an organised Marxist group that seeks to destroy the Christian family, support LGB and T people, disfund the police, open the prisons, and destroy Western civilisation. Astute readers will recognise these aims are certainly not unique to Black people! But is that position recognised by the public at large?

    No mention gets made in the mainstream media about White slaves sent by Britain to America. No mention of Islam’s enslavement of White European Christians in the Maghreb. No mention about Islam’s Black slaves. No mention of Islam’s connection with slavery in this present day and age.

    And what about the 250 White Scottish Covenanters sentenced to transportation for life in American and West Indian plantations who drowned en route off Orkney in 1679? See this link here for more information about that harrowing event:

    http://www.orkneyjar.com/history/covenant.htm

    Further reading will help on this largely unconsidered chapter of history. Three books caught my attention; concerned readers will no doubt unearth others; the first of these is “White Cargo – The Forgotten History of Britain’s White Slaves in America”, by Don Jordan and Michael Walsh.

    The second is “Christian Slaves: Muslim Masters”, by Robert C Davis, being an account of White slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast, and Italy 1500 -1800.

    For an account of Islamic slavery of Black people, there is “Islam’s Black Slaves”, by Ronald Segal.

    Slavery has a protracted inter-racial history with numerous permutations of master and slave. And don’t forget the biggest slave master of all races is the very Devil himself!

  • Question: what colour is racism?

    Good question, isn’t it?

  • Unfortunately too many in the current generation have been taught their feelings are all that matter. It is much easier to emote than actually solve problems. Much easier to memorize chants and talking points than do research and find out the facts. We’ve dumbed them down so much through “education” this is the height of there intellectual conversation.

  • ‘A Dime-a-Dozen’, a familliar saying that originated from Irishmen being sold to North America. Much, much cheaper than Black African slaves & therefore much worse treatment & an estimated 3 times more Deaths. A practice continued to the late 1800’s, but MSM, BLM & other idiots will NEVER refer to this or ANY of the Facts of Human History said in this great article Bill. Thanks again for magnifying Truth!

  • By coincidence I read Paul’s letter to Philemon just prior to reading this. The good fortune of Onesimus becoming a Christian is so relevant today; the optimism of the past slave now being a full brother. Sadly that is not what modern day activists want.

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