How you might be a slave-owner without knowing it (or…does the Bible condone slavery?)

22 Apr

How are you treating your slaves?  You don’t have any, you say?  Wrong.  You almost certainly do.  You just don’t know it.

Are you a good slave master?  How many of you benefit from slaves?  You’re thinking, “I don’t have slaves!  That was a thing of the past.”

I thought you might say that. Would you be surprised to hear that your answer is wrong?

You might not own slaves.  But it is almost certain that just about all of us benefit from slaves.

Here’s a little test you can do right now.  Read the tag on your shirt.  Where was your shirt made?

Do you know who made your shirt?  How were they treated?  How much were they paid?  What kind of working conditions were they in?  Do they get any benefits, like health insurance?

You’re wearing the shirt they made.  Wouldn’t you want to know who they are, and especially how they were treated?  Or would you prefer not to know, not to have to wonder if you are connected to slavery?

Slavery?  Yes, slavery.  Garment workers around the globe produce our clothing, doing so in conditions that amount to slavery.  Take a look at this article for example.  Or this one.  And how about this one?

My shirt was made in Cambodia.  But there is something special about my shirt.  I can guarantee you that it was not made by slaves.  Here’s why.

Yours though?

Slavery is real, and though we might not own slaves, our consumer choices enable slavery around the world.

Tomorrow at Faith Church, we continue our series through the biblical letter of 1st Timothy, this time looking at just two verses about slavery.  You can read them at 1 Timothy 6:1-2.

You might wonder if this is a passage we don’t need to study because we don’t have slavery in our culture?  Maybe we should just skip it?  I think you’ll find that even though our country got rid of slavery long ago, this is a passage that is still very important to study, especially given the prevalence of slavery around the world today and how slavery is still connected to America through the many products we can purchase that are slave made.

The problem with 1st Timothy 6:1-2 is that it seems to be okay with slavery.  But is it?

For the last two years, I have been participating in a program for pastors called the Clergy Leadership Program of Central Pennsylvania, based out of Messiah College.  We meet up 5-6 times every year for retreats and seminars to help us learn about the intersection between faith and the many spheres of life. It has been a wonderful leadership training opportunity.  One aspect that has been so helpful is that it has put us in touch with other leaders, authors, thinkers.   The program directors have given us books to read, one of which was written by a Messiah College professor, Emerson Powery, who is also one of the program directors.

Powery, and his co-author, Rodney Sadler, wrote the The Genesis of Liberation, an excellent study about how formerly enslaved peoples in the United States South read and interpreted the Bible in the 40 years or so leading up to the Civil War.  Powery and Sadler note that the problem with passages like 1 Timothy 6:1-2 is that Southern slave-owners used passages like this one to retain their stranglehold on their slaves and promote the culture of slavery.  Were the slave-owners right?  Does a passage like this justify slavery?  It seems a little like it does.  Does the Bible affirm slavery?

Join us Sunday, April 23, 9am at Faith Church to learn what the Bible says about slavery, how we might still be culpable of slavery, and what we can do about it.

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