Monday, May 10, 2010

Dark Bargain

A good read on the subject of the history of the Constitution and slavery is:  Lawrence Goldstone, Dark Bargain   Slavery, Profits, and the Struggle for the Constitution, New York:  Walker & Company, 2005.

Old Walther's views on slavery, although surprising to this modern reader, were typical of his times.  Author Goldstone notes that "Southerners argued that divine revelation showed inequality to the order of the universe.  The Scriptures, they said, demonstrated that 'an inferior race must live under the domination of the superior' (Elkins, Slavery, p. 36)."

The cite for the Elkins book is as follows:  Elkins, Stanley.  Slavery:  A Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life.   Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1959.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Norman,

    I agree that to modern ears, the Lutheran response to slavery sounds rather cold and harsh. I think, in fact, that Lincoln, though there remain questions as to whether he was actually a Christian, hits much closer to the truth of the matter than Walther.

    The following is recorded in "Lincoln, Speeches and Writings,1859-1865"; Library of America, Vol. II, p. 663.

    On Thursday of last week two ladies from Tennessee came before the President asking the release of their husbands held as prisoners of war at Johnson's Island. They were put off till Friday, when they came again; and were again put off to Saturday. At each of the interviews one of the ladies urged that her husband was a religious man. On Saturday the President ordered the release of the prisoners, and then said to this lady, "You say your husband is a religious man; tell him when you meet him, that I say I am not much of a judge of religion, but that, in my opinion, the religion that sets men to rebel and fight against their government, because, as they think, that government does not sufficiently help some men to eat their bread on the sweat of other men's faces, is not the sort of religion upon which people can get to heaven."

    Luther, who in his explanation of the Seventh Commandment in the Large Catechism, makes it clear that it is stealing to refuse to pay the laborer the just wages of his service, would, I think, agree with Lincoln rather than Walther as to whether slavery was merely a political matter. It is true, I suppose, that the Bible does not specifically condemn slavery. Having said that, however, one has to recognize that there were enough things connected to Slavery as it was practiced in America that the Bible does condemn, so that one is on pretty solid ground in saying that the response the confessional Lutherans made to slavery was not only weak and cold, but wrong. It was, in fact, quite similar to the one many modern theologians make to abortion--which they also say is a political problem. They, too, are wrong. These are both are moral issues, which the church simply cannot in good conscience turn away from.

    R. Lawson

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