Friday, May 7, 2010

Lutherans and slavery - #7 concluding remarks

Well, that was an interesting exercise on a Friday evening.   I didn't expect old Walther to have read much of Thomas Jefferson but he almost sounded Jeffersonian when he started in on the rights of the people.   I knew that he would expound on Scripture but the rights of citizens?  I didn't expect that.  I wasn't surprised that Walther's anti-abolitionism came through.   

What are some of the conclusions for me?   I believe, as a Lutheran and a modern American, that the Gospel does not abrogate the civil law.  I believe, as a modern American and a Lutheran, that the law of love and justice demands that all people enjoy equal civil liberties and rights.   I believe that Christ was not the kind of messiah who would free his people from earthly oppression.  I believe that the Gospel does not have the purpose of doing away with earthly law.


  1. This received from a regular reader of Lutheran Colportage: "I found your recent blog-entries on Walther and slavery extraordinarily interesting. Astonishing, actually--but I need to reread them and the link to the Walther papers to be sure I understand them."

    Walther is rightly honored for his great contributions to Lutheran theology. There is, of course, such a thing as hagiography. I think that Walther's influence should continue to be profound, but it is terribly important to read and study his works. What did he actually say? Apart from the cultural influences of his day, did he have something which could stand up over time?

  2. I received this via e=mail:

    I posted a comment about Walther and Slavery to your blog. You may not agree
    with me, but actually think that you will. To dismiss the evils of slavery
    as a mere political matter is simply not acceptable. Even though the Bible
    does not specifically condemn slavery, that hardly gets Christians who
    attempt to justify it off the hook for all of the evils that were are
    attached to the institution of slavery. In a perfect world one might be able
    to have people enslaved rather than pay them wages as freemen, but, as we
    know, this is not a perfect world. The institution of slavery was used,
    rather, as a way around paying the laborer the just reward of his service.
    When you throw in the beatings and killings, the division of families, the
    rape of slave women by their masters, the neglect of many of the basic
    bodily needs of the slaves, it's almost too horrible even to think about.

    No, I think Walther should have thought this through a little better than he

    Anyway, that's my two cents.

  3. I think that Walther was a product of his era. No one is free of influence from the times in which he lives. I can overlook Walther's obvious bias towards Southern political and social ideals.

    I was particularly interested in what Walther had to say about Lutheran principles when I started this. I wonder if we conservatives have been as thorough in our study of these principles as we should be.

    I always become wary when some one tries to explain a social or a political problem about which honest people may disagree in terms of the principles of the faith. It is too easy to buttress one's argument with the contention that whatever is being asserted is a matter of the faith.

    This is one of the lessons that I have learned from reading Walther in this context.

  4. An ELS pastor sent this comment: " I looked at your blog last week. Walther had to steer a course between understanding slavery as contrary to Christian love, but still understand that the Bible did not condemn it or insist that all slaves be freed. You are aware that the Norwegian Synod men who trained in St. Louis during those years were considered southern sympathizers by those who did not know better. It was not a easy stance to take amid the anti-slavery sentiments in the nation at that time."

    I didn't know that.

  5. This received on May 22nd from a regular reader of the blog:

    I think it depends on your definition of racism and the culture you lived in when racism was defined for you. Certainly in our day, by the culture you and I live in, Walther, Madison, Washington etc would be defined as racists. Roosevelt (both of them) were certainly racists by today's definition, however you would never hear anyone today define them as racists.

    We know that Norwegians were strongly against slavery and the suppression of the blacks, but we don't talk about the racist attitude they held against the Native Americans up here in Northern Minnesota.

    I think this all points to "render unto Ceasar the things that are Ceasers and unto God the things that are God's" We should not be "binding the conscience" of people. As I have learned over the years, when someone wearing a cleric collar, starts expounding about what is sin and morally correct, those that hear him say he is speaking for the Church. As a private citizen this cleric certainly must have the right to his opinion on a moral issue, but he must be very careful that no one, I mean no one, can perceive that he is speaking for the Church.

    I do believe (put the best construction on every thing) that Walther intended his comments on slavery to be interpreted as his opinion, and he did not intend to

  6. Whoops! I didn't get the whole thing here ....I think that the rest of the comment s that Walther did not want his opinion on slavery to be binding on the consciences of the individual members of the church.