By Fr. Mark Perkins
A couple of weeks ago we published a piece titled "Al Mohler, Slavery, and the Bible," which we noted was "excerpted from a longer, as-yet unpublished essay." I'm pleased to say that the fuller piece has now been published at Conciliar Post.
The longer piece adds more context to Mohler's current situation in the Southern Baptist world, but the main addition is a deeper engagement with biblical texts about slavery. In it, I write:
the biblical theology we explored as a class militates against overly rigid distinctions between the spiritual and the physical. Undergirding the Old and New Testament teachings on slavery is the claim that God is the rightful Master of all. We obey governing authorities because their authority flows from his. But it is also the case that, precisely because we are the servants of God, all other forms of enslavement are improper — whether to sin or slave owner. When God demands that Pharaoh free his people, he asserts that they cannot be Pharaoh’s slaves since they already are God’s. This enslavement to God is paradoxically true freedom — a servitude that turns out to be adoption, heirship, and inheritance. The spiritual freedom of which the Bible speaks is holistic, and, because we are not souls trapped in bodies but rather body-soul unities, it surely includes release from the chains of literal slavery.
While you're there, you might take a look at Fr. Wesley Walker's recent engagement with Critical Race Theory (CRT) in light of recent events:
The Christus Victor model allows us to see humanity both as a victim of and participant in Sin. We are ravaged by Sin so that we have deficiencies, but we are not passive because our nature is “inclined to evil” (Article IX). Racism, we can say, is a demonic tendril of Sin that functions on both social and individual levels. The work of analysis that relies on “critical race theory” is an exercise in hamartiology, an excavation of one aspect of the rather insidious human heart which is “wicked above all else” (Jer 17:9). Does this necessarily entail a wholesale agreement with everything to be found in the pages of works deemed “critical race theory” or Black Liberation Theology? Definitely not. However, it also does not mean stopping up one’s ears. It is important to listen, especially to Christians, who are contributing to the discussion.
Fr. Wesley certainly does not offer a full-throated defense of CRT — nor should he — but he is right to point out that some Anglican critics seem to be operating from an overly individualistic approach to sin, neglecting its corporate and generational dimensions throughout Scripture. The irony is that these critics tend to accuse their opponents of operating from an unbiblical system of thought, all the while evincing an individualism that is not biblical but rather a modern, Western, and particularly American construct.
Whether Fr. Wesley has achieved the right balance of critique and reflection with respect to CRT and its critics is certainly beyond my competency to judge, but his piece is worth reading. Its shortcoming is that of many pieces on the subject, including my own recent foray, which is that it fails to offer any concrete or pragmatic solutions. I am wondering, though, whether this is necessarily a bad thing or whether it might be a feature of good theological reflection.
Theology is the queen of the sciences, but monarchs delegate. In the ultimate sense, good politics and good economics flow from and are in concert with good theology. But that certainly does not mean that good theologians automatically make good economists, politicians, or historians. Perhaps theologians should be content to lay a groundwork of theological reasoning without presuming to offer concrete solutions to every social ill.
Or perhaps that's a craven cop-out.
Fr. Mark Perkins is Curate at St. Alban's Anglican Cathedral in Oviedo, Florida and Assistant Editor of Earth & Altar.