I love the way the internet helps you get around the world in minutes.  For example, my man Zach links to a news and views round-up by Trevin Wax which links to an opinion piece by Bryan Kemper over at called “Responding to: How Dare You Compare Abortion to the Holocaust or Slavery.”  That’s around the world in about 8 seconds!  Or at least around the evangelical blogger world in 8 seconds.

Information and opinions travel quickly on the internet.  And that means we’re prone to gathering and absorbing views and opinions with far too much speed to carefully consider alternatives.  I’d like to offer one to Mr. Kemper’s piece.

You see, I’m firmly pro-life and anti-abortion.  And I’m also one of those persons who responds, “How dare you compare abortion to slavery?!”  You can read an earlier post on this issue here.  But here’s what I’d like to add as friendly fire to a soldier in a war I care about, who does not appear to understand how his rhetorical gunfire affects the one in the trench next to him.  In other words, this is why I’d say “how dare you…” to my ally Mr. Kemper.

First, how dare you? In other words, the way most people make this comparison strikes me as essentially self-serving in a way that many African-Americans feel continues to under-affirm their humanity.  The comparison sometimes goes like this:

a) All fetuses are human beings (their DNA, origin, and progress prove this that they are human, not monkeys, dogs, etc.)
b) All human beings are persons
c) Therefore, all persons deserve equal respect, value and protection.

Okay, the argument is basically fine.  But read Mr. Kemper’s opinion piece and tell me how many times he seems to deeply affirm the human pain and suffering African Americans endured in slavery.  He seems quite aware of the Jewish holocaust, referring to monuments and observances dedicated to never forgetting that human tragedy.  But how many such monuments and museums exist in honor of African people treated as chattel?  How many institutions work to ensure there is a deep, abiding recollection of those centuries of torture?  Not many.  Kemper certainly doesn’t mention many.  Now, here’s why some of us say “how dare you?”  Without demonstrating any genuine empathy, any continuing affirmation of the humanity of African people, the comparison simply seems to lack authenticity, familiarity, and empathy.  It merely sounds expedient.  Those who use the argument don’t really sound like they care about black people as such, but only about exploiting the pain of black people as a political expedient.

Let me give you an illustration.  Yesterday I went to a restaurant with a brother in the Lord.  While there a Toby Mac song began playing on the restaurant speakers.  There was something oddly familiar, yet clearly distant.  The particular song seemed to be an effort at playing the blues by someone who grew up pretty affluent and problem free.  There was the basic form and melody of the blues, but won’t no blues in it.  The way, the how, of this comparison lacks blues for slaves and descendants of slaves.  It lacks familiarity with the suffering, pays passing tribute to the humanity of slaves, and moves too quickly to the rhetorical and political comparison.  It’s all too expedient and neat for an experience whose icon is a lacerated, bleeding, whipped back.

A suggestion: If you have an African American audience with whom you’re using this analogy and you have 30 minutes to win their support, spend the first 20 minutes showing your familiarity with the brutality of suffering and affirming the humanity of the sufferer before you employ the suffering and the sufferer in your cause.  Otherwise, I’m guessing most of your audience is saying, “How dare you?!”

Second, how dare you?! Now, I don’t like ad hominems.  And I don’t appreciate arguments where one person calls something “off limits” simply because another person doesn’t share their skin tone or ethnic background, etc.  I’m not intending to do that here.  The history of African Americans belongs to the world, and I want to encourage wider appropriation of that history by people who are not African Americans.

But having said that, the person who wants to compare abortion to slavery–especially the politically and theologically conservative white person–needs to be ready to hear a lot of people question them personally for doing so.  Here’s why.  You fit a type in the African American mind.  You look, think, speak, and act a lot like the very folks who held slaves.  Your views on some things are hauntingly and terrifyingly similar.  We sometimes hear you making political arguments about other issues (take states’ rights, for example) and we think, This dude is a Dixiecrat.  Now you show up and you talk about the suffering of African Americans in a way that doesn’t deeply explore that suffering or memorialize that humanity and you become very suspect.

I hesitate to use this example.  I don’t want to be guilty of what I’m cautioning others against doing.  But in using this illustration, I think I’ll highlight the point.  My heart is to illustrate, not offend.  But here goes: Your using this comparison in this drive-by way without paying attention to how African Americans view you is a lot like a rapist saying to a woman he brutalizes that she should have not worn that outfit or been in that place.  The rapist’s response not only blames the victim and minimizes her suffering and trauma, it also reveals he’s too blind to see how terrible a thing it is to be a rapist.  He is the problem and he doesn’t seem to know it.

My friend, the problem isn’t the comparison between slavery and abortion.  The problem is a person showing up to make the comparison who doesn’t know he is being identified by his audience as “the problem.”  Here’s how I tried to address this dynamic in the comments thread of the earlier post:

If a white brother uses the argument with slavery as the example with the average African American, who otherwise might be right there with them on the issue and argument, I think he’s going to be raising racial barriers, mistrust, and perceptions that actually defeat his cause. Many in that audience will likely think, “But you don’t have the moral credibility to talk to me about slavery.” And there’s the rub. You’re not actually talking about slavery; you’re talking about abortion. But injecting slavery with this audience obligates the white speaker to demonstrate a range of sensibilities and capacities on questions of race that, honestly, not many in my experience can offer at a level satisfactory to most African Americans.

If you’re going to talk about abortion in this way to Jewish and African American audiences, I suspect you might want to pay attention to how the audience views you.  I suspect you’d be wise to know what associations they make between you and “your people,” a people they have historical reason to associate with their suffering, the suffering you’re now trying to turn to your advantage.

Kemper offers his description of the problem Jewish and African American audiences have with the comparison:

The problem they have is not really the fact that a comparison is being made to one of these horrific tragedies; after all, we build museums, memorials and reminders of what happened to make sure something like the Jewish Holocaust will never happen again.  The problem really is that we have elevated what they consider to be a blob of tissue to personhood status.

Hmmm….  The first rule of public speaking is: Man, Know Thy Audience.  Honestly, I think that paragraph shows Kemper hasn’t done what he needs to do to know his African American audience.  African Americans are not against arguments that affirm personhood.  Gosh!  We’ve spent centuries fighting for personhood!  We’d simply like our own thoroughly affirmed and appreciated before appropriated.  That’s why we (at least, I) don’t like the comparison.

There’s one more element to this I’d like to highlight.  When I say, “How dare you make this comparison?” I’m also identifying someone who hasn’t shown up to support a lot of other causes I care about.  Not only have you not shown up to support, you really haven’t shown up to dialogue, understand, or persuade.  Most of your political and social positions lie across the river from my own, and though you own a boat you’ve never tried to row across.  Now you show up saying how much I ought to support your cause.  And you tell me how much this cause ought to mean to me, how I ought to care about the death of black babies.  You tell me this as if I don’t already care about the death of black babies.  But when I talk about the death of black babies due to crime, or poverty, or drugs, or slow death from a sub-par education, you tell me that’s my problem.  When you do that, you seem to care more about your political issue than you care about my black life.  You need to know that’s how we see you.  Your comparison reminds us of all of this.

So, yes, how dare you compare abortion to slavery?!  I love you.  But I’m afraid you don’t love me… at least not long enough to hear how your comparison affects me.  I’m in the trenches with you–at least I want to be–but the shrapnel from your rapid fire makes it hard for me to fire with you.

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125 thoughts on “Yes, How Dare You Compare Abortion to Slavery?!”

  1. Steve says:

    There is an inherent blindness in being part of a majority culture. Thank you for your loving poke in the eye. Exposing blind spots can in the end only be a good thing.

  2. Terry says:

    How can white people ask black people to oppose abortion with them? I think I understand your points about why I should not compare abortion to slavery. Your advice has helped me to see how I could be counterproductive and unnecessarily offensive. Could you publish a post about what I (as a white person) could and should say that may bring us together?

    1. I would love to see the same thing. What can I say to bring us together and catalyze unity on this matter and others?

    2. Dana Dill says:

      I third the request.

  3. herb zimmerman says:

    Thank you for this perspective and the stretching thoughts. Sometimes it hurts to think so much but your articulation made the pain worthwhile. My friend Paul T has always said, “Children are God’s gift to keep us humble”; I would add to that a person who can thoughtfully articulate a position is God’s gift to get us thinking correctly. Good brothers in the trenches of faith are hard to find, happy to stand with you.

  4. John says:

    Thank you, brother, for this word! However, I think at some point we got to come to grips with the fact that abortion has specifically targeted the African-American community since its inception. We don’t need a comparison to slavery, we need to recognize that the abortion-mill is designed to eradicate the black man.

  5. Trevin Wax says:


    Thanks for this article. It is tremendously helpful in understanding the differences of mentality from culture to culture, and how political points are made and perceived.

  6. Andrew says:

    Thabiti – a tangentially related question.

    1. An implication of this (helpful) post is that whites and blacks have differing cultural backgrounds, even within the body of Christ.
    2. At T4G this spring, you powerfully argued that the Church is multi-ethnic, but not multi-cultural.

    I’m sure your thinking on this issue isn’t internally contradictory, but I’d be interested to understand how you reconcile these two. Have you written on this before? Do I just need to go back and listen to the T4G talk a second time?

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Andrew,
      Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment! To be sure, ethnic groups have distinctive histories (though intertwined) that lead to differing points of view on some things. And that makes unity a sanctifying challenge. Just a couple quick thoughts about the way forward:
      1. Unity can’t be built deeply and lastingly on social, cultural, ethnic, and political distinctives. If we assume those distinctives are in some degree inaccessible, misunderstood, or rejected by other groups, they’re too thin to bear the weight of the church’s unity. This is why we must build on the gospel and on sound doctrine, which at times will affirm aspects of our differing backgrounds and at times challenge things we believe, etc. The Word of God becomes the equal opportunity sanctifier, conforming us to the likeness of Christ rather than to the likeness of this or that person’s ethnic, cultural, social or political background/view.

      2. I’m sure there are some inconsistencies in my view. If not, I’d be a perfect man. But I can’t claim that because my wife has too much evidence to the contrary! I’d like to hear more about what you see as internally contradictory.

      But here’s what I would say about apparent contradictions between the T4G talk and this post. In this post, all I’m really saying is that even on things we share (in this case, an anti-abortion stance) we can talk about the issue in a way that aggravates those historical, cultural, and ethnic distinctives and undermines our agreement. We can’t assume that because we have the same goal (end abortion), we can talk about it without respect to audience(s) and their perspectives. Call it “contextualization.” Call it “sensitivity.” Call it good ol’ fashion “communication” or “understanding.” In so far as pro-life groups want to carry an African-American audience with them on the issue, they must learn to speak about the issue in a way that doesn’t offend but invites.

      The suggestion I make earlier in the post isn’t even to not make the comparison. It’s to first spend the time empathizing with your audience whose memory and pain remain, then move to the comparison and the appeal.

      Does that help?

      1. Andrew says:

        Yes, thank you for taking the time to respond.

  7. Jeff says:

    “I suspect you might want to pay attention to how the audience views you. I suspect you’d be wise to know what associations they make between you and “your people,” a people they have historical reason to associate with their suffering. . .”

    Is this not reverse racism?

    1. Reader says:

      Using the phrase reverse racism makes it sound like racism only ever goes one way.

      In any case, I don’t think it was racist, reverse or otherwise.

    2. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Dear Jeff,
      I pray it’s not “reverse racism.” I’m investing my life in working against racism and the very idea of “race” itself. I believe there is one humanity commonly descended from Adam (Acts 17:26) whose diversity–like all of creation’s diversity–brings glory to God but should not be ruined with racism.

      Insisting a speaker knows his audience is just good public speaking practice. And in this situation, I want my white brothers to know that glibly borrowing the sufferings of African Americans in a cause they don’t identify as their own conjures for some these feelings and resentments. The same feelings and resentments come up when pro-gay people draw an analogy between “gay rights” and the Civil Rights struggle. I say, “How dare you?!” And I don’t think that makes me “homophobic.”

      My heart is wicked and deceitful. But as best I know my own heart, I was not attempting to be racist. In fact, I say quite clearly that whites should address this issue (and any issue) involving African Americans with complete freedom. I’m not trying to stop the discussion. I’m trying (admittedly, provocatively) to refine the discussion and create deeper empathy and understanding.

      To that end, I’d be happy to hear more about what you think was racist in the comment. As iron sharpens iron….

      Grace and peace,

  8. Jeff says:

    Reader, please explain why you do not think the statement quoted is racist.

  9. Mr. Anyabwile,
    I appreciate what you are getting at here: avoid troublesome analogies. But I do have to ask about some of the more basic ideas that underlie your assessment of race relations in the USA. I realize that your story is not my story, that I am a white-man of Northern European descent. I am, for the sake of identity, a Prussian-American (where’s my box on the Census? Oh, yeah, WHITE.)

    Here is what you said is the perspective of many African-Americans (and I am sure that there are many who disagree with you): “But you don’t have the moral credibility to talk to me about slavery.”

    Here is my question: What gives anyone the moral credibility to talk about anything? Experience? Is that your philosophical assumption? If so, how many of the African-Americans who claim moral credibility have experienced slavery personally? …

    Here is another thing: not every white-man in America owned slaves, and some of our families moved here after the war. My family moved here in 1878, having fled the conscription laws of Prussia. So, I don’t fit your profile. My country was destroyed by President Wilson when he reorganized Europe.

    In your closing paragraphs you make some very large generalizations about the African-American mind (which is, arguably, not all that “African”). What you suggest is that blacks are basically antagonistic towards whites, and that whites need to dance around a black identity that is still deeply wrapped up in past events. You say that Mr. Kemper does not love you because he does not handle the issue of slavery with aplomb. Granted. But, then you start talking to some sort of “you” that seems to mean “all you whites”. Am I wrong? If I am, great. But if not, you are actually just as out of touch with me as you suggest I am with you. I am not Mr. Kemper.

    I am not writing to defend the argument Mr. Kemper used. It is sloppy and historically mistaken. I have to say I have had dinner with Mr. Kemper on a number of occasions in the past, as he and his wife lived in the basement of a good friend’s house for a few months. I found him to be a zealot, but a pragmatist as well. He has a myopic view of things generally. So, take his words for what they are worth. He does not represent every white mind in the the USA.

    Personhood is a two-way street. I am not just a White-man, I am me.

    In Christ,

    PS- If Toby Mac somehow misses the blues, and I have no doubt he does, is it because he lacks the experience, the acumen or the skin color? If any of this is true, can an African-American play Bach or Wagner correctly? I say this with tongue-in-cheek, but c’mon! This sort of denial of aesthetic access died with jazz. Miles played with Evans.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Christopher,
      Thanks for the thoughtful comments. I’m not saying whites don’t have moral authority to talk about slavery. I’m saying that some people listening to poor comparisons will be thinking that to themselves. I’m not saying they’re correct to think that, just that some no doubt will. And the problem is that if people unknowingly are speaking to audiences thinking this way, then they’re unwittingly raising objections for their hearers that would be better left unraised. Because as I understand the argument, people aren’t trying to really address or re-evaluate slavery and race; they’re trying to enlist support for saving lives. If that’s correct, then be careful not to raise issues in a way that defeats so necessary and glorious a purpose. That’s the point of that little section.

      As for Toby Mac… it’s experience. There are white artists who play and sing the blues with the blues! Take, for example, French jazz vocalist Madeleine Peyroux. The reincarnation of Lady Day herself as far as I’m concerned! That woman has the blues, man! I’m with you. Jazz slaughters many racial misconceptions. But, c’mon man, Evans played with Miles, my friend! :-) Miles lives in a universe of his own creative making! :-)

      In Him,

      1. Bill Provenzano says:

        Hi T –

        I’m going to disagree with many people who have replied. I don’t think the article makes much sense at all and in fact could be reinforcing wrong thinking. It seems to make broad inappropriate assumptions about many people. You wrote the article from what appears to be your perspective, but then I get the impression this is not what you meant to mean. Either you have done what you are accusing others of doing, that is, unwittingly raising objections for your readers, or, you yourself have a real understanding of slavery. I’m curious to know, which is it? Most black americans understand slavery only from the standpoint of a textbook. Most black americans feel they have been wronged by slavery, when in fact, they never, nor anyone in their living family, ever experienced it. Just some thoughts…

        All the best, Bill

        1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

          Hi Bill,
          You’re certainly welcome to disagree with most of the folks leaving comments and with me. Disagreement is certainly welcome! :-)

          But can I ask you a question? Must a person live through an event or period to experience it?


          1. Bill Provenzano says:

            Yes, a person MUST live through something to experience it and identify themselves with it!

            Can an 18 year old kid who grew up in a rich suburban area with a father, mother, and many brothers and sisters, and never experienced a death in the family lean over to a recent aquaintance who is also 18 years old, grew up in a low income home with a father, mother and a sister and who just lost his father to an unexpected heart attack say to that new aquaintance “I know how you feel, bro?”

            1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

              Hi Bill,
              I think this is partly where your difficulty with some of my comments stems. Your illustration misses the point because it takes two people with different or uncommon lives and imagines inaccessible experience. But make this two 18-year olds that have both experienced death. Then, identification is no problem at all, even though the first did not experience the exact same death as the second. Or, make these two 18-year olds who grow up in segregated South in sharecropping families. They didn’t live through slavery and yet they would have a real identification with slavery. Okay… add to that the fact that they had family who were slaves on that very ground, when it was a plantation rather than a sharecropping farm, and you’ll have identification, empathy, and experience though they were never slaves.

              And for clarity sake, I think whites and all people can enter into the suffering and experience of others even if they haven’t lived it themselves. You’re asking us to do that with the unborn child and abortion. Your entire appeal relies upon the ability of the listener to empathize, to in a distant (rather than immediate sense) experience the tragic suffering and injustice. We’re all capable of that. We all identify with and experience things that we didn’t live through personally. The next time you see a sports fan experiences the highs and lows of victory and defeat, you’ll be witnessing someone entering an experience they didn’t live. And that suggests that time and space are not determinative of our ability to so identify.

              You’re denying people the ability to define themselves because you’re denying this basic premise. It might be helpful to re-examine this premise. After all, how can a Ghanaian whose never been African American deny that that experience is like his own Ghanaian experience according to your premise? He’d have to know what it’s like to be both Ghanaian and African American, wouldn’t he? But you’re telling us that he MUST live through the African American experience in order to identify with it, or, in this case, to reject as “African.” Something to ponder.


            2. Bill Provenzano says:

              I understand what you think is my difficulty, but I think you missed my point. I assert that the free black guy down the street in Detroit 2010, born and raised in Detroit by free parents born and raised in Detroit, where I am from, has nothing in common with a black slave in the south in the year 1860. He has access to that experience through stories and textbooks. But it is not his and he has no idea what’s like except what he hears from people or reads in books. What he has in common is the effect of racism, but the two, racism and slavery, are not one and the same. They sometimes go together, but as we have seen with the Chinese, Japanese, Jews, Indians, etc, the two are not synonymous.

              This is why I structured the example the way I did, to demonstrate the lack of commonality. But let’s follow your rewritten example. Even if two people are from the same social and ethnical strata, if one lost a parent the other did not, the one who did not, cannot and will not be able to “understand” what the other person went through until he or she loses a family member to death. Oh, he can be empathetic, he can “join in the suffering,” but it’s impossible for him to be sympathetic or understand, or claim it as his own experience in any real sense. If he did, then that, my friend, is called living a lie.

              The problem with your response is that you had to change the fact pattern so that there is an equal commonality between the two friends, and my point is simply that there is not, other than race. If you want to talk about racism, then that is another story, but your article was not about racism in general, it was about slavery.

              To go along with your additional example of a sports fan; I have a long time friend who graduated from Michigan State University. If ever there was a Spartan fan, he is it. He has season’s tickets to all big sports. Let’s say my friend, who never played football or any college sport or any elite sport at all, who graduated from Michigan State (and did I say he is an avid fan of MSU ), went up to the quarterback of the Spartan’s football team after a big win against the University of Michigan and said to that quarterback – “Congratulations! Doesn’t it feel great? I know the elation your feeling right now!” What do you think the quarterback, who doesn’t even know my friend would think? If the QB then said “Really? Did you play football in college?” To which my friend would respond; “Well, no, but I’m a fan.” My friend’s congratulations will ring hollow and is tantamount to a lie. I’m sure the QB would appreciate the encouragement of a fan, but that QB would walk away thinking the guy is a little off. There isn’t a sane sports fan that would actually say that to the quarterback unless they ACTUALLY experienced something similar.

              The basic premise that I’m discouraging is to claim an experience that is not yours as your own as though you were directly influenced by it. As Christians, we are to live honest lives, and frankly, what you’re suggesting is the equivalent of a lie.

              My white mother and father were born and raised during the depression. I was not. Just because they experienced it, told me about it, doesn’t mean I can sympathize with my neighbor who may be destitute and jobless. I may be able to empathize with him, but I can’t tell him I understand what he’s going through. What your suggesting is the equivalent and it doesn’t make any logical sense. All it does is foster a false sense of identity, which has led to further racism from blacks toward whites.

              You asked “After all, how can a Ghanaian whose never been African American deny that experience is like his own Ghanaian experience according to your premise? He’d have to know what it’s like to be both Ghanaian and African American, wouldn’t he? But you’re telling us that he MUST live through the African American experience in order to identify with it, or, in this case, to reject as “African.”

              I don’t understand this question. It doesn’t make any sense. My friend from Ghana lived in the states working for my firm for four years before going back to Ghana. He was thoroughly exposed to black Americans, but he will not claim to be African American. I think that puts him in a good position to be able to identify the differences between black americans and africans.

              But I don’t understand your logic. It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. If I am A and I know all the ins and outs of A and have experienced A, I don’t have be B to know that B is not the same as A, especially if I know facts about B that are distinctly different from A.

              I’m Italian, but in name only. I don’t know what it’s like to BE Italian except for what I see on TV or hear from people from Italy. If I went around claiming to be just like the Italians in Italy, people would take me for a fool. The same can be said for black people, or anyone for that matter, who claim to be something they are not or claim to have experience that is not theirs.

          2. Bill Provenzano says:

            OH…and glad disagreement is allowed! ;-)

      2. Christopher says:

        “Evans played with Miles!” Sweet. OK, OK. :). …and everyone loved Debussy and Stravinsky.

        The history of jazz is like the history of how things could be- like Bill Frisell said: “You get together and nobody gets hurt”.

        To a better future, where bad arguments for good causes are quashed before they reach the gate, and men are simply men. Maranatha!


  10. Dave says:

    Okay, the argument is basically fine. But read Mr. Kemper’s opinion piece and tell me how many times he seems to deeply affirm the human pain and suffering African Americans endured in slavery. He seems quite aware of the Jewish holocaust, referring to monuments and observances dedicated to never forgetting that human tragedy. But how many such monuments and museums exist in honor of African people treated as chattel?

    This seems a very American-centric view. (For the record, I’m not American).

    I’ve been to Yad Vashem, the state of Israel’s national holocaust museum and one or more of the former death camps in Europe has also been turned into a museum. There such museums seem to make sense.

    (I don’t think that showing up at those places was a bad thing to do nor do I think it shows a poor balance. If visiting parts of the U.S. in which slavery was common I might repeat that there with a visit to a museum oriented towards slavery. During my time in university I never took a course on the holocaust but did take a course on the global history of slavery).

    How many holocaust museums are there in the United States? How does that compare to the number of museums and monuments built regarding African-American slavery in the US? (I’m not quite sure about the answer to these).

    The history of African Americans belongs to the world, and I want to encourage wider appropriation of that history by people who are not African Americans.

    By Americans maybe, but slavery is not uniquely African nor uniquely American. A large percentage of those who would become African American slaves were purchased from African slave traders. Look in the history books: slavery existed within Africa itself before, during, and after slavery in America. The vast majority of slaves transported to America were purchased from African dealers rather than having Westerners round them up. However, even looking at things such as word origins, the English word slave derives from the Slavic peoples of Eastern Europe not Africa.

    The last country in the world to officially abolish slavery was the country of Mauritania in Africa (in 1981). (And yes I realize that while officially illegal it does still exist in parts of the world.)

    As far as my country goes, historically those of Asian origin have probably been treated worse than those of African origin.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Dave,
      Thanks for the comments and the wider perspective. I think the American-centeredness of this conversation grows from the fact that we’re really talking about American law and protesting Roe v. Wade.

      Certainly slavery has a longer and more varied history, affecting most every people and continent in some form. I’m not denying that. I’m simply addressing something written in a specific context (the U.S.) using a historical issue (American slavery) from that context. I wouldn’t dare argue what form of unjust suffering is worst. I’d simply argue for us all to work to end all injustice and suffering.


      1. Dave says:

        So, if I as a non-American were to compare abortion (which is legal in my country) to slavery you wouldn’t object to that?

        1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

          No, Dave, I wouldn’t. But you’re missing the point. The point is not simply who does the comparison, but how they do the comparison and how they stand in relation to their audience. I’m not opposed to whites or anyone else comparing slavery to abortion. I’m opposed to anyone doing that without sensitivity and empathy.

          So the issue for me is communicating respect and empathy when you’re borrowing someone else’s suffering to make your political point. Do they have a history with the audience and the issue used in the comparison? Do they express an understanding of their audience’s connection with the comparison? Do they know how their audience thinks of them and the comparison? Etc, etc.

          Compare away! Just don’t shoot your allies and make them doubt you and the integrity of your message.


          1. Dave says:

            Indeed I agree there’s a need to be aware of context and sensitive to others around you. However, that applies in all times in all places when dealing with all people – and where I live that’s typically not related to issues regarding any legacy of the transatlantic slave trade. Here you’ve said that:

            (a) “I don’t know Mr. Kemper. I’m not arguing against him. But his recent piece illustrated the problem with not knowing your audience when dealing with volatile subjects.”, and

            (b) “That’s around the world in about 8 seconds! Or at least around the evangelical blogger world in 8 seconds.” (which I would translate as the context being the world).

            Wouldn’t you need to see how he’d interact with people in his local context if making the argument that he’s not being sensitive? Or does he need to be careful to compensate for any possible offense in any part of the world to any of his statements?

            (To play devil’s advocate for a minute: suppose he was British. In the global historical perspective the British did a lot and expended a lot of money in attempting to stop the slave trade, including the transatlantic slave trade. You could argue that after a certain point in time the British were more heavily devoted to anti-slavery activities than Africans were [at least those who migrated across the Atlantic after the end of the transatlantic trade]. As I mentioned slavery in Africa took place before, during, and after the transatlantic slave trade).

            1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

              Hi Dave,
              I say very early in the post that this is not aimed at Kemper. And by the time I’m in the end of the post, the “you” and “me” are the generalized “you” and “me” of white and black folks in conversation about sensitive political issues. I don’t know Mr. Kemper or his position on any other political issue. That’s not the point. Once again, the point is “know your audience.” And I’m trying to help folks who are sometimes unawares and sometimes uncaring see how others are sometimes thinking. That’s meant to be a service, not a shackle on opinions or conversation. Again, compare away! Know there are good ways to communicate comparisons and poor ways depending on your audience.

          2. Robert Huff says:


            In his book Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright compares those who support Western capitalism with those who supported slavery or Nazism (p. 217).

            In his book, Follow me to Freedom, Shane Claiborne refers to European-Americans as coming from “an ancestry and history built upon genocide, displacement, bloodshed, and slavery” (p. 77). Thus, he goes a step further than Kemper. Instead of saying “supporting abortion is like supporting slavery,” he is saying, in effect, “having white skin is like owning slaves.”

            Do these comparisons to slavery bother you as much as Kemper’s comparison, or are they allowable because Wright and Claiborne sufficiently empathize with blacks? In other words, is it permissible for Wright and Claiborne to compare their opponents to slavery-supporters and Nazis as long as they properly identify with the oppressed, even if their comparisons are highly debatable (in the case of Wright) or obviously wrong (in the case of Claiborne)? On the other hand, if Kemper’s argument is correct, does it have to be attacked just because you think Kemper doesn’t properly feel the pain of African-Americans?

            As the recent firing of Juan Williams by NPR illustrates, those who deny people with whom they disagree the right to make certain valid arguments may also seek to control the words and attitudes of those with whom they do agree. In other words, since you want to deny Kemper the right to compare abortion and slavery, I wonder what you would think of an African-American who embraced his argument without taking offense.

            1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

              Hi Robert,
              Thanks for the question. Yes, they do bother me as much–more actually–than the Kemper comments. The Wright comparison is fallacious. And if you quote Claiborne correctly (you gave us a phrase, not a sentence), then, “yes,” I’m offended at the racism you note there.

              Friend, please read the post again. A couple times I say plainly, I don’t find the logic of the comparison of abortion and slavery problematic. I don’t. Compare away. I find insensitive, non-empathetic appropriation problematic. That’s a huge distinction. I’m not attacking the logic of the comparison. I’m pushing back with one perspective so that we’ll find ways to make the logic of the comparison more persuasive to an audience we say we’re defending and care about.

              No one is denying Kemper or anyone the right to use the comparison. The Juan Williams bit is simply not on point.


  11. Bill Provenzano says:

    This article leaves me wondering; How many black americans “understand” a slavery culture or can truly sympathize with one? Yes, that is a serious question. I would guess that it is very small percentage and those that do are probably very aged. I could be wrong here, but I’m simply repeating what a friend of mine, a true African from Ghana, has asked me. Just wondering…seems like people hide behind certain persona’s that don’t belong to them in order to lay claim to something, have an identity, and be thought about in a certain way.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Dear Bill,
      One writer describes African Americans as “a people with no return address.” She was capturing the rather homeless, ambiguous identity problem African Americans have. It’s even revealed in your word choice, referring to your Ghanaian friend as “a true African,” implying that Africans of the diaspora aren’t truly African.

      It’s not really a matter of hiding behind personas or laying claim to something to be thought of in a certain way. It’s a fundamental task every human being has in the world–answering the question, “Who am I?” There’s no one who doesn’t have to answer that question both on an individual personal level and a group level. In that sense, we all work to “lay claim” to ourselves. But some have histories where people and forces make that much more difficult than some other people. I read with interest some of the comments about the Dalit people of India and the cast system there. There’s a people fighting to define themselves. Many women read their history as an attempt to define and redefine what it means to be a woman. We’re all engaged in that definition project–some of us in healthy ways and some of us in unhealthy ways, some of us responding in part to definitions foisted on us and some of us having to construct identities while dealing with cultural and historical amnesia.

      My guess is that there are many more black Americans who understand slavery and its affects than you might think. And many more who understand slavery and Jim Crow’s aftermath than you might think. And many, many more who would think your raising that as a “serious question” an indication of just how difficult the task of understanding and being understood is.

      For Christ who sets the captives free,

      1. Bill Provenzano says:

        Hi T,

        Please help me understand how there can be more black american who understand slavery than I might think, other than through a textbook. Like I said, for sure, there are some older folks who may have experienced back when they were a child, or were told stories by thier grandparents, but I have a hard time believing it can be anything more than that.

        I referred to my Ghanian friend as a true african simply because that is how he referred to himself. He actually laughs at the notion of African American. He is the one who told me that black americans have no idea what they are talking about when it comes to Africa or slavery, generally. That thought was not original with me. I for one, think he makes sense.

        My grandparents came from Italy. If I went to Italy and told everyone there I am an Italian American, they would laugh, and indeed they have laughed because I didn’t even know what capicola (sp?) was. I am no more Italian to them than the guy down the street from me is African. Both of us have been born and raised here in America by parents born and raised in America embedded in American culture. I’m not saying roots shouldn’t be appreciated, but dwelling on the persona and claiming it as one’s one, when indeed it is not your experience, is folly and shouldn’t be encouraged.

        I love Italian food. What Italian culture I’ve experienced, I have loved. But I’m not an Italian American, nor am I Italian. That is a claim my father and grandparents could make, but not me.

        I understand the whole identity thing and “who am I?” I still ask that question sometimes. People always will. But encouraging a false identity doesn’t do anyone any good.

      2. Robert Huff says:

        “And many, many more who would think your raising that as a “serious question” an indication of just how difficult the task of understanding and being understood is.”

        To make progress on this difficult task, does Bill need to better understand the pain of black Americans, or do the “many, many more” need to understand that many, many ‘white’ people had absolutely nothing to do with slavery or Jim Crow? Or some of both?

        1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

          Well Robert it seems you’re in a “huff” :-).

          The answer is “both” friend. Don’t the people of the world have a lot of work to do to understand each other? Hasn’t that been true at least since Babel? Isn’t the real problem that few people want to do the hard work to heal and understand?


          1. Robert Huff says:

            Brother Thabiti,

            Thanks for your replies. You are a busy man today :)

            Comparing people to Hitler, issues to which we are opposed to slavery or Nazism, and issues which we support to the Civil Rights Movement sometimes make for very emotional arguments. It appears, however, that if one tries hard enough, one can make these comparisons with just about anything. Thus, it would seem they are suffering from overuse.

        2. Bill Provenzano says:

          Hi Huff,

          I think this is a very valuable discussion.

          I can empathize with the pain of the black american. My contention is NOT that black americans don’t experience pain or racism. The article is NOT about racism in general. My contention is that relatively very few black americans actually understand what it’s like to be a slave, or can claim to have been directly influenced by it, experienced it’s torment and humiliation, or dealt with the emotional trauma that comes with it. That is all I’m saying.

          Unless Brother Thabiti was actually a slave, which he may have or may not have been, I don’t know, he can not claim to have had a “slave experience” for himself and at the same time be honest with himself. He can empathize, but he can not sympathize. It’s logically impossible.

          If he says I need to understand the plight of black slave to understand him, he’s being dishonest with himself and those around him, unless of course, he was a slave. If he was, then he has every right to expect that or expect people to try to empathize with that.

          I’m not a fan of people assuming realities that are not theirs (i.e. self deception). It appears Mr. Thabiti is encouraging such behavior.

        3. Bill Provenzano says:

          If I may say further, the average black person can not honestly say when an white American compares abortion to slavery that that white american is borrowing that black person’s suffering. That is because the average black american has know idea what it was like to suffer under slavery. Racism, yes. Slavery, no.

          1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

            I think there’s a significant blind spot in your comments; perhaps two.

            First, if “the average black person” cannot identify with slaves because they were not slaves, I fail to see how we can identify with Jesus Christ for we were certainly not Christ! The vicarious nature of the cross breaks completely down. The scripture’s command to share in another’s suffering has, by your reasoning, no basis or possibility of fulfillment. Applying your logic consistently, we’d have to say that you have no idea what it’s like to have an abortion or to be aborted so you can’t talk credibly about such things. Carry your position to its conclusion we undo any empathy or sympathy with suffering, including Christ’s with ours. Brother, I think your principle denies more than you really want to in the end.

            Second, I’m not sure you know how you sound to others. To me, you sound as if you think you have the warrant to define other people–even to the point of asserting that others are dishonest if they identify with slavery or slaves. There are many who can indeed trace their lineage to particular slaves and particular plantations. My own father’s family lived for generations on Coolomee plantation in NC. I was not a slave, but the very sight of my family’s bondage was within a 20 minute drive of my home. My father’s father was a little boy on that plantation. Though the Lord spared me the lash, it cannot be said that I know nothing of slavery or that I’m being dishonest with you if I say you need to know something about slavery to know how I’m responding to your comments.

            I would offer a gentle caution against pronouncing over others what they can or cannot be, how they may define or not define themselves. For at the very heart of the issue, African Americans understand their sojourn in this land precisely as a long hard struggle to define themselves–first as human and then as equal. The distinction between slavery and racism, in this conversation about identity and suffering, is a distinction without a difference. It’s seriously doubtful that your argument would win much support from those you’re “defining”. To be frank, to me you sound like slave owners who themselves sought to define black people. I trust that your heart and your sound are two different things. I hope you can at least see something of what I’m saying to you.

            Grace and peace,

            1. Dave says:

              First, if “the average black person” cannot identify with slaves because they were not slaves, I fail to see how we can identify with Jesus Christ for we were certainly not Christ!

              But does “the average black person” identify more Christ than “the average non-black person”? I think that was more Bill’s intended point. As he said, it seems more reasonable to claim experience with racism than slavery, although as you also note there may be some history carried through the generations in the form of stories (although not personal experience as a slave).

              The following statement of yours effectively seems to contradict your original argument:

              Applying your logic consistently, we’d have to say that you have no idea what it’s like to have an abortion or to be aborted so you can’t talk credibly about such things

              Basically, be sensitive and if you’re doing so than making such comparisons is acceptable. To simply say this – which I think that you later clarified in some of your comments – would really seem to have cut down on the number of words in your original post as well as on the ensuing confusion.

            2. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

              Hi Dave,
              I don’t understand your first paragraph. The point isn’t about whether blacks or whites identify with Christ more than the other. I’m not tracking you there. Help???

              As for the second quote/paragraph, I’m referring to his logic, not mine. In other words, if he were to be entirely consistent about the limits of empathy and identification with the sufferings of others, then he would be unable to empathize and identify with the suffering of the unborn. The contradiction you see isn’t mine but his own.

              You’re correct. My main point is be sensitive. Perhaps that could be said in fewer words, but the ensuing conversation reveals how fewer words isn’t inherently more helpful. I suspect everyone would say, “Yes, of course, be ‘sensitive’.” But if you don’t know your audience, you may fail that test without knowing it. Hence the post.


            3. Dave says:

              To try to rephrase your comment to see if it brings out the point I’m trying to make: if “the average white person” cannot identify with slaves because they were not personally slaves, I fail to see how we can identify with Jesus Christ for we were certainly not Christ!

              Other than the main point which you’ve clarified was intended to be ‘be sensitive’ your original post comes across as having some similar implications as the modified statement in the previous paragraphs.

              Is that any clearer?

            4. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

              Hi Dave,
              Just a little bit. But only a little bit. Keep in mind, I’m not saying whites can’t identify with the suffering of black slaves. I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying they need to on some level if they’re going to communicate well on such a volatile topic. Bill is making the argument that such identification can’t happen. Here’s what I wrote in the original post:

              “Now, I don’t like ad hominems. And I don’t appreciate arguments where one person calls something “off limits” simply because another person doesn’t share their skin tone or ethnic background, etc. I’m not intending to do that here. The history of African Americans belongs to the world, and I want to encourage wider appropriation of that history by people who are not African Americans.”

              Somewhere that got lost.

            5. Bill Provenzano says:

              Hi T –

              That is not the argument I am making. You are bluring words and mixing definitions, which continues to hinder any understanding. What I am saying is the average black american can not claim the slavery experience as thier own or the sufferings that go along with it. He or she can identify with it loosely, but can not claim to know the experience.


          2. Bill Provenzano says:


            I really think you are comparing apples to oranges and that is why it doesn’t make sense to you. It shouldn’t. You are also mixing and blending definitions of different words, which is also adding to the confusion. I think those are your two blind spots.

            My main contention, which I will reiterate again, is that a black person who was not a slave can not claim the slave experience as his own suffering. If you want to try to compare this with identifying with Christ, that is fine, but it’s logically irrelevant. Why, because our identification with Christ is purely spiritual. Our identification with Christ is also possible because Christ is eternal and omnipresent, etc. Last I checked, we’re temporal and mortal. But even then, my identification in Christ does not allow me to say I know what it’s like to be the crucified Son of God or to be crucified! What Christian can actually say that???? Our identification, our crucifixion with Christ and in Christ is spiritual, not physical nor experiential with regard to the actual Crucifixion. The logic does not break down because of what I said, it breaks down because you’re trying to apply it to a completely different paradigm (blindspot number 1). We know His sufferings when we ourselves are persecuted. But even then, we don’t, nor can we ever identify with, experientially, what it was like to be the Son of God and take on the sins of all men of all ages.

            To Dave’s point, if I understand it, if what you said is true, then I should be able to claim the slave experience, being a white American, but that doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.

            I have a warrant to think logically and rationally about the world around me, being honest about what I see and hear and differentiating that from what I think I’d like to see and hear. I never claimed you “know nothing” of slavery. It’s clear you do. But I suspect due to your presuppositions you missed exactly what it is I said because it’s clear to me you think I’m racist (comparing me to a slave owner) simply because I’m challenging you on this point and you don’t like the “sound” of what I’m saying. By the way, I fully expected a comment such as that. I was hoping I was wrong, but It’s unfortunate you confirmed that expectation. And no, I’m not a racist. Race is meaningless to me other than it offers nuances of life I would not otherwise be able to experience. Last I checked, unless your from Mars, your blood is the same color as mine.

            Knowing something about slavery is completely different from experiencing slavery! I never said that someone who didn’t experience slavery knows nothing of slavery. Please reread what I wrote and stick to some consistent definitions and assertions and you might interpret what I wrote a little differently. In your last post you said you don’t separate slavery and racism and therein is the major flaw of your original post. Had you made that distinction in the original article, things would be different. But again, my black neighbor down the street has never experienced slavery, which is not always connected to racism and in fact is often completely unrelated to racism. My black neighbor has experienced racism yes, but slavery, no. If you continue to blend racism and slavery, you will continue to have people misunderstand you and you will cause more confusion. Words have meaning and those meanings, in order to be meaningful and understood, must be consistent used (blind spot number two)

            Sorry…you might offer a gentle caution against pronouncing over others what they can or can not be, but I will humbly dismiss that caution and err on the side of honesty with oneself and those around me. If I see a duck, I will call it a duck, and not something else. Based on your logic, it seems, can I therefore claim to have experienced the sufferings of the depression? Can I therefore claim to have experienced what it was like to be a persecuted Italian in the early 1900’s? Can I therefore claim to be a real Italian? The answer to all three questions is an emphatic “no.” If I made such a claim I sure would hope someone would come along side of me and show me the error in my thinking.

            Could it be how I sound is driven by your misperception of a challenge to statement regarding slavery? Presuppositions matter. Definitions matter.


  12. Scott says:

    Great article Mr. Anyabwile! I must say as a caucasian, I’ve often thought “look, we fought a civil war over this and much white man’s blood has been spilled to free the slaves…isn’t that atonement enough?” But lately I’ve gotten the sense that it doesn’t settle the issue just because us whites are “over it”, because clearly much of the African-American community isn’t.

    Probably an inadequate example, but if I’ve wronged my wife and she is deeply hurt, its not usually enough for me to simply offer a sincere apology and expect her to get over it. There is real hurt and pain that I need to work to releive. There is a sense in which I need to work at restoring the relationship. Even if some of her hurt and anger is not legitimatley based, it is still there, and I need to reconcile.

    So, what if African-Americans still have pain, mistrust, and suspicions of whites, do I just say “well, you shouldn’t” or “we said we’re sorry, now get over it”? Or should I recognize that as real and palpable and seek by the love of Christ to reconcile and alleviate the remaining pain, etc.

    On that note, Mr. Anyabwile mentions “crime, poverty, or drugs, or slow death from a sub-par education” as other pressing concerns to African-Americans. I would appreciate more written on what the average Christian can do to regarding these(other than the typical leftist call for more money and more government involvement).

    1. Robert Huff says:

      But what if, fifty years after you hurt your wife, some people from Poland move into your country? Now, consider the descendants of these Polish immigrants born 100 years after they came to your country. Certainly, it is good for fellow countrymen to share in each others’ burdens. But do these Poles, who were born about 150 years after you hurt your wife, owe an apology to your wife’s descendants for the fact that you hurt her?

      1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

        Hi Robert,
        Let’s make the analogy more in keeping with the actual history. Let’s say I live, work, and worship in a neighborhood with Quirks and Quarks. I’m a Quark. Quarks are mistreated by Quirks, and nobody denies it. In fact, the society says that’s the way it’s supposed to be, because after all Quirks are Quirks and Quarks are Quarks. Strolling home one day, I’m snatched by a bunch of Quirks and beaten severely. I live but sustain debilitating injuries. This sort of thing happens all the time. Quirks do it to every male Quark when they turn 20. There are no Quarks in the community over 20 who do not have severe deformities because of these beatings. I can’t work. I can’t help parent my children. Many Quarks can’t have children because their reproductive parts are routinely destroyed. Then, from time to time, just for sport, even young Quarks are beaten this way. Some are killed. To be a Quark means to be subject to the capricious whims of Quirks. It’s been that way for longer than anyone could remember. In my own family home, if you can call it that, really more of a cave with a cardboard “gate,” I have pictures of my Quark relatives for the last 5 generations. All the men are deformed. I suspect my child will hand a similar picture of me on the wall; that is, of course, if my child isn’t randomly beaten and killed or allowed to grow up and have children. No one can remember a time where Quirks didn’t treat Quarks this way.

        Did every Quirk treat a Quark that way? Certainly not. Many Quirks opposed the cultural norms. But when the entire society was structured this way, are beneficiaries of that structuring responsible? Yes. They’re responsible even if they aren’t guilty of my individual, particular pain. The more they benefit, the more they’re responsible. It’s always the responsibility of the strong to protect the weak.

        Fast forward…. Society radically changes. In two significant events, Emancipation and Civil Rights Reform, Quarks are freed and Quirks are restrained. Now Quarks are trying to find their way in freedoms no one imagined for two centuries. It’s exhilirating and bewildering. Quirk resentment continues apace for a while, but eventually attitudes begin to change. But the entire society owes a debt to centuries of Quark oppression.

        Are Quirks still responsible for justice and compassion even if they’re not guilty? You bet. Are Quarks responsible for forgiveness even though they weren’t directly mistreated? You bet. It’s always right to work for justice and to remember the hurting, and it’s always time to forgive and grant freedom.


        1. Robert Huff says:

          Interesting example.

          I guess you’re writing about ‘Quirk-privilege.’ In general, I disagree with the idea of holding people of a certain skin color responsible for sins neither they nor their ancestors (in most cases) committed, although I like your explanation better than others I have heard. It seems that many want to pay back the societal debt you speak of by replacing Quirk-privilege with Quark-privilege, something I think harms both Quirks and Quarks. Rather than working for reparations or affirmative-action policies, I would prefer to see efforts, imperfect as they will always be, to increase equality of opportunity for both Quirks and Quarks.

  13. Sara says:

    I appreciate this article, and see your helpful point about not carelessly using such a weighty and emotionally charged thing to prove a point. But part of me also feels stuck – like what can I do? I’m just a white girl! Why am I lumped in with all the slaveowners? I didn’t own slaves, I don’t disrespect or hate black people, I’m as “in touch” with the history of slavery as I am with any other historical period that I’ve read about and learned about but did not live through. Yes, it sounds awful and wicked, as do many many events in past and recent history – but what can I do? Do I need to make restitution for things so long ago and so unrelated to me? Is this even possible?

    So I get what you’re saying, but other than loving those of all nationalities that I know and come in contact with, is there something in particular that I can do that would help us all move forward with some sort of clean slates? I did not actually own slaves myself, my black friends were not actually slaves themselves. There is nothing I can do to change history, there is nothing my black friends can do to change history. Can we move forward with that in mind?

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Sara. Sure, move forward with the freedom that Christ gives. Live in the reconciled reality that Christ achieves on the cross (Eph. 2:14ff). Join a gospel-preaching local church and live out the “one anothers” with all the people there, including the people you have least in common with. Stop thinking of yourself primarily as “just a white girl!” You’re far more than that, and you’re not even primarily that if you’re a Christian. There’s much that can be done in the gospel to move forward. And we should do so.

      The point of this post is not to have whites wearing the yoke of slavery’s guilt. You expressed the point well in your first sentence. Go away with that and you will be moving forward.

      Enjoy God’s grace,

      1. Sara says:

        OK, that’s helpful to hear you say… well, type. Thanks for helping me think this through.

  14. Brad says:

    Hi Pastor Anyabwile,

    I was challenged by your post. You are probably very busy, but if you have time I would like to hear your reaction to John Piper’s sermon. I was wondering if you think he used the correct tone and wasn’t unnecessarily offensive.


    1. Thabiti says:

      Hi Brad,
      Thanks for the link to John’s sermon. It’s an excellent sermon. Here’s why I think that:
      1. Notice that he begins with an honest statement of his goal (so he weakens suspicion by being very upfront about his aim)
      2. Notice he follows that with a number of caveats and qualifications that demonstrate humility and a desire to be on the same side;
      3. Notice also that he doesn’t actually make an equation with slavery, but with something at once more current and a bit more nebulous (therefore, imo, slightly less volatile): racism.
      4. Notice how he makes the comparison to slavery a little bit later: He quotes African Americans. It’s an intelligent strategy because he avoids being mistaken as “the great white savior.” He identifies with an African American audience by associating himself with African American commentators likely to be “heard,” or, if you like, commentators with street cred.
      5. Notice also John’s powerful use of conspiracy theory as he moves to Planned Parenthood and eugenics. That’s a very powerful theme to African American audiences. And after the building the case the way he did, John now sounds pretty much like a black man delivering the speech.

      Now, the other thing that’s remarkable for me is that John is delivering this talk to, as he points out, a nearly all-white audience. I think that if I were delivering that talk, or (not to be too closely associated with this fella) if Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson were delivering this talk to an all-white audiences, at several points we would lose the audience. If we repeatedly, as John does, point out that the abortion doctors are white, or handled that conspiracy theory theme poorly, we’d be done. The auditorium would be empty because to many white ears that all sounds like the same ol’ whining about whitey that overly-sensitive and locked-in past pains African Americans make.

      Please tell me if you think I’m wrong on this because if I’m correct John’s talk effectively illustrates my point: understanding the intersection between your audience’s thinking and how they perceive you can make all the difference in determining how many people actually hear you. I think that’s undeniable. And I think considering that will greatly improve the communications effectiveness as we talk about life issues across cultures.

      Thanks again for the very edifying link.

  15. Daryl says:

    Just a quick comment to those who bring up the “modern day blacks haven’t experienced slavery”.

    You could add to that (most) modern day Jews didn’t experience the holocaust.

    But here’s the thing, slavery is not in the distant past, 200 years isn’t a long time. And know that something bad happened to someone is just not the same as knowing that something bad happened to your ancestors, your family if you will.

    Remember this. How often are you moved to tears in reading about a fellow believer’s struggle to survive under persecution. And have you ever been moved to tears when reading about martyrs during the Inquisition or even earlier?

    I would imagine that Thabiti is talking about a similar kind of thing. It affects us because it happened to family. So it’s always tough to take when a non-believer talks about the reformation or martyrdom with no reference to the real issue, the commitment to Christ by those who were killed and beaten.

    I suspect we’re talking about a similar thing, its just that we can’t imagine our black co-worker feeling that way. He might.

  16. Thank you.

    I would be interested in hearing your response to John MacArthur’s rendering of δοῦλος and the push for using the translation “slave” to understand something about our relationship to God.

    I remember being in a church in South Los Angeles where MacArthur preached the instillation service for a pastor. The church was almost completely made up of African Americans. He spoke about this issue in great detail.

    Are we communicating something theologically “not so true” when we use the rendering “bond-servant” or “servant?” Or, should we communicate this concept of ownership in our messages? Does the culture supercede the responsibility of communicating this facet of our relationship with Christ? Or, is it simply a matter of tact and love?

  17. Larry says:

    Perhaps if an African-American is offended at the comparison of aborted babies with slavery, it is they who need to have more empathy for the slaughter of these babies.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Certainly many, many do.

  18. Artaban says:

    I have to say I find Pastor Anyabwile’s piece and manner of thinking to be more harmful than helpful. Firstly, it seems rife with knee-jerk assumptions about others. Who is to say Mr. Kemper hasn’t gotten out to support the “black babies dying of poverty & lack of education”? Is Anyabwile everywhere that he can so see and judge others? How can he hear through a snippet of song that a person grew up “pretty affluent and problem free”? Truly, one must be possessed of Biblical prophecy beyond anything I’ve ever experienced to so quickly divine the past of a complete stranger.

    Secondly, your post seems to ignore the very essence of Christ’s message. I cannot help but think about the indignation shown by the disciples when they found a stranger expelling demons in the name of Jesus. They wanted that stranger to stop, since he was not one of their number–their group. Christ told them they were wrong to do so, “for no person can do mighty deeds in my name and then speak ill of me…whoever is not against you is for you.”

    Why put forth such effort to create divisions where there need not be? Fully knowing that God alone is aware of the true motives to be found in the heart of another, I must ask…when we raise objections that themselves cause divisions in the Body of Christ (where there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, woman or man) are we not moving from pride, wrath, or envy, when instead we should be building up our brothers and sisters through faith, hope, and love?

    1. AllenD says:


      I don’t really see how Anyabwile is creating division in the Body of Christ through this article. I see it simply as a reminder that we need to be thoughtful of how others would feel in response to things we say. I’d say that actually helps build the Body of Christ.

      Oh, and I think with well known people, like a Toby Mac, there is information out there for us to know at least a little about their background right? You don’t need prophetic gifts, just the internet! =)

  19. MatthewS says:


    I really appreciate this piece. It’s not pleasant being reminded of how blind I can be, not to mention various other reminders in here, but I find it very thought-provoking and beneficial.

    Have you ever interacted with Robert Kellemen’s “Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction”? I would sure be curious to read your feedback to it.

    I am part of a small rural church and I can see that many folks are blind to some important issues here. I just wish I never had to be reminded of my own blindness! But as you say, iron sharpens iron and I’m very grateful to you for putting yourself out there like this. Thank you.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hey brother,
      Kellemen and I have interacted via email a bit. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know him and find him to be a wonderfully gracious, inquisitive, thoughtful, spirited brother in the Lord. He very kindly sent me a copy of “Beyond Suffering,” and I’d have to say it’s a beautiful example of what I mean by someone “outside and experience” entering that experience and appropriating it as his own. It’s worth everyone’s read.

      For Christ,

  20. Thabiti,

    I wonder if you are being fair to Kemper. It seems to me that he is referring to the fact that many people who presuppose that chattel slavery was a moral outrage are offended that it is compared to abortion because they do not consider abortion to be a moral outrage. If anything, the analogy sells abortion short. As bad as chattel slavery was, murder is an injustice that goes one step further. And none of us can empathize with a murdered human being who was never given the opportunity to live, but we do not for that reason stop using it in analogies.

    In other words, Kemper is saying that the analogy is meant to draw people’s minds to the atrocity of abortion by comparing it to something they already presuppose to be an atrocity. I don’t think he is saying this primarily to black audiences. He is saying it to anyone and everyone who doubts that abortion is a horrible crime against humanity.

    Perhaps everything you say would be applicable if he were aiming this article primarily at a black audience. But I don’t think that he is.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      You may be correct. He may not be aiming at a black audience. But if that’s the case, it’s difficult for me to imagine that there are a lot of people out there taking offense to the comparison who are not themselves black or Jewish. That could be the case; I simply don’t imagine it is.

      And, honestly, I don’t know many African Americans who do not think abortion a moral outrage. I know tons of African Americans suspicious, however, of “conservative agendas” and the social stance of “conservative political types.” The challenge with this audience is you have to overcome their suspicions in order to enlist them in the cause of righteousness. That is, if a person really is interested in winning them to the cause. That, too, many African Americans doubt.

      I don’t know Mr. Kemper. I’m not arguing against him. But his recent piece illustrated the problem with not knowing your audience when dealing with volatile subjects.


      1. I think the quote from Kemper’s article that you cite in your own (the one that Kemper leads off with) suggests that he is aiming this argument at those who do not regard the unborn as persons. This would refer to those who tend to be liberal, at least on social issues (a group that would include plenty of white people). Because they already accept that chattel slavery was a crime against humanity, the analogy works for them because it helps communicate the gravity of the sin of abortion.

        The offense of the analogy involves the juxtaposition of real human suffering with what they consider to be nothing more than the removal of tissue from a woman’s body.

  21. Jonathan Chan says:


    Thanks for this, and your frank discussion of these issues. From some of these comments, it seems that many believers aren’t willing or ready to truly advance a conversation on race/ethnicity where we move past platitudes and into the messy, frustrating, and painful process of truly becoming one in Christ. Truly, it is impossible without his moment by moment grace. I want you to know that I wholeheartedly agree with your comments, while praying that believers of all races and ethnicities can forsake “carnal” reactions and assumptions and replace them with “spiritual” ones.

    As a 1st generation Chinese-American believer, may I speak to this broad issue from a slightly different perspective? Racial and ethnic division is real, no matter how we try to cover over it, because we are fallen, depraved, and sinful. So often the idea of cultural/ethnic memory is not recognized in Western culture, with its emphasis on the individual (yes, this is a generalization). But it is so very real to many other cultures. The memory of the Chinese Exclusion Act, the mistreatment of Chinese workers on the Trans-Atlantic railroad, and numerous race-related crimes against the Chinese in America do weigh heavily on us and color our interactions with the majority culture. I am still overwhelmed when I read or hear about the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, despite the fact that we come from two different countries. I think of how many times people have mistaken me for a Japanese person, and know that we share at least that much in common. These days, I’m thankful that I don’t come from the Middle East or South Asia.

    And so to my European-American brothers and sisters, I tell you that if I feel this way, then how much more so must our African-American brothers and sisters, who were taken from their homes by the millions and treated as no better than animals for 250 years in this country! And then to be treated as 2nd class citizens for another hundred plus years, when the law of the land stated otherwise? I say this not to condemn or to accuse anyone, but to plead for grace and understanding that racial brokenness is real. Yes, we have made great progress in this country, and I’m thankful for that. But the race isn’t over yet.

    The truth? I’m just as sinful and broken as anyone else, and in my heart, I’m guilty of prejudice, discrimination, and yes, racism. All people are, no matter who their ancestors were, or what their skin color is. But here in this country, I pray that those of the majority culture would have grace and understanding for those of us in the minority who react with fear and suspicion rather than love and hope when racial issues come up. And I pray that all of us would be willing to let light shine, instead of letting the painful history of race relations in our world sit in the darkness.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:


  22. Doc B says:

    I’ve tried to understand this issue for years. All I have, having read and listened across the spectrum, is more questions. No answers. No encouragement.

    There are times when I start to feel pretty good about the defeat of racism in my culture. Then I read another article like this one, by someone I respect like Thabiti, and I’m back to square one. No hope.

  23. Randall says:

    Just a few brief comments.

    First, I think that the last commenter on your prior post ( hits the nail on the head. I can’t say it better.

    Second, for the most part, I see Kemper’s article as balanced between the two prior horrors he is comparing to today’s. His purpose isn’t to elaborate on them – he accepts them as horrific – rather, his point is to say that today’s horror is just as bad. It’s not his purpose to elaborate on those prior issues but to use them to set the groundwork for his argument. So please keep his overall presentation in context and don’t make it something it wasn’t written to be. It is neither an exposition of the atrocities committed against slaves or jews.

    Third, in terms of knowing your audience, my view is that his audience is the typical “abortion supporter” – because it cuts the legs out from under exactly those who DO find slavery and the holocaust repuslive but DON’T have the same view on abortion. That is NOT believing, pro-life African Americans. I don’t think an argument such as this would be directed logically to those who OPPOSE abortion but rather to those of typically more liberal political persuasion who would find both slavery and the holocaust terrible yet accept abortion. Even if that group has a typical U.S. demographic, African Americans are not the primary target of the argument. So that may be the reason why he doesn’t speak to the things you find so important – because he DOES know his audience.

    Fourth, while admitting that I am a white, middle-aged male, my best friend in life and dear brother in Christ is black, and so I have heard and know that I can’t possibly appreciate the full impact of what it is like to live his life. However, it seems that you are engaging in “friendly fire” yourself by “assuming the worst” to read into another brother’s fight against murder of children some underlying lack of appreciation of racism. Talk about knowing your audience…why would we assume that he’s “being expedient,” “exploiting,” and worst of all, to compare him to a rapist??? You say you love him, but effectively “responding in kind” (if you believe what he did is really so bad) hardly appears loving.

    Finally, in the last two paragraphs of your post, you judge him for not coming to your cause and “appearing” to be many things. I don’t know the man personally, but unless you have specific instances of him being asked and not showing up to help, unless you know that he’s all those things you’ve created him to be in your mind, I think we should recognize that it may simply be that not everyone can fight every cause. Paul notes that if everyone were an eye, how would we hear, etc. You equate what appears to be his laser focus on an issue of prime importance to active neglect and political expediency. You say it sounds that way to you. What about a more Christ-like response – man looks at appearances, but God looks at the heart? How you’ve characterized him, to me, has indeed devolved into an inappropriate ad hominem.

    Instead of turning our sights on our brothers for perceived grievances, why can’t you extend to him the same understanding you expect of him, and why can’t you join with an imperfect brother to battle against what you yourself oppose? The possibility of him coming to your side seems to be dramatically lower after this post, and it also causes me great consternation to see an argument addressed to the world turned updside down and used to critique one with whom we should be working.

  24. Greg says:

    I want to address the notion that has been expressed several times here. Must one have experienced slavery to suffer the effects of slavery. One year before I was born Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote the following excerpt in his now-famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail in April of 1963,

    “We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we stiff creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging dark of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you go forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness” then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.”

    I think it is safe to say that even in our enlightened age today in America there are still many instances in our culture of prejudice of the wounding variety.

  25. EMBG says:

    Interesting perspective, Pastor T. Like some others, I appreciate the insight you give us who don’t share every African-American experience into how an black person in the U.S. might hear this comparison. As a long time pregnancy care center worker, I’ve always heard this comparison as being about the legal denial of essential humanity, not a trite dismissal of the horrors of slavery, but I can see how it might sound differently to you.

    I wonder, since you are a black man making this correction if you would see any hypocrisy in complementarian men (many pastors) ignoring and dismissing any attempted correction, however friendly, a woman makes with regard to the church’s treatment of women? It seems that without any real empathy or self-examination, pastors with whom you closely associate are happy to tell women to shut up and sit down in the back of the bus.

    I’m not talking about the elder-ship either – I’ll agree with complementarians about what the bible says clearly. Where I can’t agree is the condescending and diminutive view that many proclaim and propagate about women – not even beginning to realize the depth of damage it does to a woman’s soul when they use certain phrases that seem to deny women full humanity, even while paying lip-service to our being “co-heirs.”

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi EMBG,
      I see LOTS of inconsistency and hypocrisy, neglect and insensitivity in how pastors and elders (myself included at times) talk or fail to talk about issues affecting women. We could do with a lot more love, compassion, and understanding for the sisters who make up over half our churches in most cases. Thanks for pointing this out, especially since I’m working on Titus 2 for the sermon on Sunday, addressing the centrality and indispensible role of women in the disciple-making mission of the church.

      I’d welcome you to take a listen when it’s up on the church’s website ( in a couple days and let me know how I could do better.

      Your brother in the Lord,

  26. Steve says:

    I have a sincere question. Since there is “the brutality of suffering” in the background of every single cultural, ethnic, and “racial” group on earth, when does the statue of limitations, as it were, expire? True, African-Americans are “descendants of slaves,” but we are all “descendants” of some suffering generation(s), so are we to endeavor to erect “monuments and museums” to every group? Or do only select groups, Jews and African-Americans, for example, get the privilege of being “select sufferers”?

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Dear Steve,
      Again, that’s not the point of the post at all. No one is trying to elevate African American suffering above anyone else’s suffering. I don’t think you’ll find a single sentence to that effect in the entire post.

      The point is consider your audience, and when you appropriate the suffering of other people (which I think is legitimate because all human history belongs to all human people), then be sure to do so with sensitivity. There is no statute of limitation on being horrified by suffering and sensitive to sufferers. Just as there is no statute of limitation on the call to justice and compassion. Two sides of the same coin.


  27. Cortez says:

    I have to agree with Chan concerning cultural memory. For those who say that Blacks have not experience slavery underestimate present day Blacks (not all) attachment to their ancestors who were enslaved, an attachment which occurs when Blacks are confronted with the implications of slavery, e.g., 3/5 compromise, segregation, race riots, destruction of what was known as the Black Wall Street in Tulsa Oklahoma, the Wilmington Insurrection, redlining, civil rights, stereotypes which agitate the past, white flight, large economic inequalities due to white privilege and good relationships, access to education, to name a few. There is a principle in scripture which reminds us to remember the past. God tells this is Israel. One of many reasons to remember the past is to keep in mind the oppression done, and how God liberated one from the oppression. So, “yes” Blacks have not experience slavery. However, by virtue of being Black, Blacks will have a closer association with slavery than Whites. For me, when I hear “blacks have not experience slavery” sometimes I hear, since you did not experience it, “get over it.” This may not be the intention, but that seems to be the spirit behind such a statement. For Christians, God has called us to a better standard.

    1. Dave says:

      However, by virtue of being Black, Blacks will have a closer association with slavery than Whites.

      According to the International Labor Organization’s research report on contemporary slavery, slavery is most common in the Asia/Pacific region of the world, followed by Latin America and the Caribbean (see page 13).

      Should African-Americans refrain from talking about issues of slavery to Latin-Americans or Asian-Americans as these groups may have closer associations with slavery?

  28. Lane Keister says:

    Thabiti, a very thought-provoking post. I have longed to understand African-Americans, especially the way they see white folks. My question for you is this: how would you recommend a white person go about seeking to understand African-Americans? Sometimes, when I read African-Americans, I get the distinct impression that it is *impossible* for whites to understand blacks. I’m another one of those whose ancestors never oppressed blacks, and I get REALLY annoyed with blacks who have a chip on their shoulder against all whites, lumping them all together as those who are responsible for slavery. I also get annoyed when rich blacks (I knew quite a few in Philadelphia) act as though all whites owe to them all the benefits of which they have been deprived all their lives, and all throughout history. Because then I feel like it is impossible for blacks to understand me. Do I have sympathy for what blacks experienced? Yes, although I can’t claim to know that by experience, seeing as how I have hardly ever suffered. But I am sick and tired of being made to feel guilty that I am white (not saying that you are doing this: I’m just pointing out yet more barriers to mutual understanding that exist, quite often without any knowledge of this on the part of blacks). I refuse to acknowledge this kind of retroactive guilt. I refuse to acknowledge that blacks need “special treatment” in order to make it in the world today. That is just as racist as saying that they are not human.

    1. Jo3 says:

      The problem with the whole argument is the idea that comparing slavery to abortion means comparing to slavery to “something less worse” (abortion) AND that white people shouldn’t compare slavery to “something less worse” because they don’t have empathy for black people who suffered under slavery. Is abortion really “something less worse” than slavery? I don’t see think black people are offended when people compare slavery to the Holocaust (“something more worse”). If fetuses are really humans then abortion is worse than slavery, but I wonder if many Christians really believe that.

  29. Thank you Thabiti for a well reasoned and loving admonition. My hope is that this article would have widespread dissemination.

  30. Ron says:

    Thank you very much for this post. Not only was it well articulated, but your comments throughout the thread has only added to the impact and clarity! I have passed it on to others (black and white) who were impacted by it and found it quite helpful in a way that other articles addressing the same issue did not enlighten them. However, I must say that many of the responses have also been enlightening, but in an all too familiar and troubling way. Though you’ve made an affective appeal for empathy, many of the responses, critiques, and dissecting of particular points, and all of the hypothetical “buts” and “what ifs”, though certainly a part of open disagreements, as one who has personally experienced such responses from friends of mine when trying to share my own painful experiences, I found these quite disapointing. I couldn’t help but think of Jesus’ words in Luke 16:15: “It is you who justify yourselves”.

  31. dave says:

    I’m with you Thabiti in the general principle that comparing abortion to slavery isn’t a good idea….but for a different reasons. Let me quote Doug Wilson “For the sake of a convenient argument against the monstrosity of abortion, we abandoned the clear teaching of the Bible on another subject–how slavery was to be understood and treated.”

    Surprisingly absent in this whole conversation is any discussion on the Biblical view of slavery vs abortion. It seems everyone is comfortable with the assumption that they are on same ethical plain, when Biblically, they are clearly not.

  32. John says:

    I am a bit confused about some of the comments I have read. The first is the idea that slavery ended with the Civil War. It didn’t. I am from the South, and I have coworkers whose parents were sharecroppers. If you don’t know what that is, it is legal slavery. And of course, there were the Jim Crow laws, which made it legal fact that blacks were inferior. It didn’t matter what anyone thought about the issue, it was still illegal for an African-American to use the same restroom, or drinking fountain, or whatever. This was not that long ago. Today, I live in a very affluent neighborhood. I have never seen a single African-American in my neighborhood. Not one. My church is 3.5 miles away, according to google. It is a ghetto. And the populous is mostly black. We are still very segregated in many places.

  33. Ron says:


    I would also add that I know people, friends of mine still alive, who lost close relatives who were lynched; one who as a child watched a loved one get lynched by those who espouse some of the conservative policies (states rights) that Pastor Thabiti spoke of. His post offers wise and sensitive, even if provocative, counsel.

    1. John says:

      Yes, brother! Pastor Thabiti has done us a great service.

  34. Paul says:

    Thought provoking & edifying! Appreciate the time spent on replying to the comments. This statement from one of your replies summarized it well for me…

    “So the issue for me is communicating respect and empathy when you’re borrowing someone else’s suffering to make your political point.”

    Grace & Peace

  35. michael says:

    Pastor Anyabwile,

    I believe I understand what you are saying. I am white and I live in a predominately African American county (Prince Georges in MD). I am the minority. This has forced me to the best of my ability seek to understand my neighbors and christian brothers. I recently read Clarence Thomas’s book “My Grandfather’s Son” where he details the terrible conditions and mindset of living and growing up in the time of segregation. Page after page he explains what it was like for him and his family. It was, for me, gut wrenching at times. I realize what an easy, easy life I have. All I could feel was a sense of sorrow and shame for how people treated other people during those days. I do not know the man who wrote the article. But it would be a good thing for him to take your advice. My guess is he is doing this out of ignorance. While no african american alive today lived through slavery, most have still felt the devastating effects of it, either themselves, on their parents or grandparents. I can understand better now their point of view. I used to wonder, why is it so important to them; why do they hang on so much to the past? I then think, if my family had gone through what Justice Thomas’ s family went through (or most African Americans for that matter) would not I care too! Like you said, it is called being sensitive and knowing your audience. God bless and thanks for the article.

  36. robertson says:

    Well this article seemed to set race relations back about 50 years. CONGRATULATIONS

  37. Steven Tyra says:

    I am currently a ministry candidate in the EPC and a seminarian at Fuller Seminary in CA. I found this article incredibly stimulating and helpful. My college roommate and closest friend is African American, and we have had some interesting and candid conversations about how the “white church” often utilizes rhetoric that appears condescending to the black Christian community. I’ve had to engage in some painful self examination at times, particularly in regard to how easily conservative Evangelicals (such as myself) too easily associate certain political stances with “faith.” We echo Glen Beck in condemning “social justice” as somehow irrelevant to the Gospel, and then expect a historically (and presently) socially disadvantaged community to take us seriously when we rhetorically appeal to the horrific origins of that very social disadvantage! Carl Trueman’s recent work Republocrat serves as a different (but in my mind, related) rebuke of American Evangelicalism’s too smug relationship with a particular package of political positions. If our “pro-life” rhetoric appears to grow out of political conservatism rather than genuine, passionate, and empathetic zeal for the protection of creatures in God’s Image, why are we surprised when we meet resistance from those for whom political conservatism is in other respects unpalatable?

    1. Ron says:

      Steven, well said, brother. Your room mate is very fortunate to have you as a friend, and I pray that such relationship would multiply!

  38. Alice says:

    Obviously this is a tough subject, so thank you to Pastor Anyabwile for this article. This is something that I need to hear and be told, since, as a white American (a political conservative even, so I’m scoring all the wrong points here), I may not always recognize these things, even when I try to do so.

    Thanks. :)

  39. Miriam says:

    Pastor Anyabwile,

    I am a twenty-five year old teacher at an inner city alternative school. Every student in my class is African-American. I’m teaching about slavery and the Civil War right now. My students repeatedly answer questions like, “What factors led to the Civil War?” by saying, “White people!”

    The reason they give me for why they don’t want to be Christians is because they would have to “be white” or “stop being black.” I keep trying to explain that Christianity is about loyalty to Jesus and love for His family, not about being white or listening to certain music or dressing a certain way, etc. I know we need God to raise up African American Christian leaders in this city and I’m praying for that. But in the meantime, I don’t know how to talk to my students.

    My heart breaks over slavery, breaks over racism. My husband and I are in the process of adopting two infants from Rwanda who will be first generation African-Americans so I care very personally about these things.

    I don’t want to communicate insensitivity or minimize the pain that is part of their history, but I don’t know how to respond to their attitude that white people are the primarily evil in the world and their jokes that the best way to have stopped slavery would have been for all black people to have killed all white people.

    I’d appreciate any thought you have on how to challenge their wrong thinking about slavery and race as someone who is essentially outside of that legacy, and as you pointed out, more closely associated with the villain than the victim.

    Thank you,


  40. As a african-american I used the comparsion of abortion and slavery by showing the ignorance of the time we live in and the time back then. Because abortion is accepted nowadays like slavery was back then. Until society realize how truly evil abortion is like slavery in the past it will continue.

  41. Kirby Vardeman says:

    For all the truth behind your points, shouldn’t there come a moment where we stop looking at race and just acknowledge that we are heirs and joint heirs with Christ? The redeemed, no matter race, color, or ethnic heritage, are children of God.

    Maybe it’s time we put the rest aside?

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Kirby,
      If you search this site for “race,” essentially you’ll find a string of posts arguing against the very concept of “race.” I hope some of those comments help put “race” to rest in some measure in a responsible way.

      Having said that, however, not everyone is a heir with Christ. And as your comment points out, not everyone who is an heir has their mind renewed on issues of “race” or ethnicity. We’re having this conversation with many who are not yet Christians, and many Christians who are not thinking like Christians when it comes to “race,” and so we have to contend with these issues.

  42. john barker says:

    Whoa. What an incredible post. I will not say too much, because I am sure to show my ignorance. As I said in the other post on the sequel to this article, I want to make a difference in the African American community in the arena of abortion. And though I have been around, have friends, and lived with many black people: I confess- I am patronizing.

    Your writting has made that really clear. I am asking my self, where am I on the other issues that effect your community? Do I really have a heart for the struggles you face as a people, and do I really know your history in slavery? These things I am now searching as I look into how I can begin to make a difference here.

    I also appreciate the challenge you made to consider how I am precieved by my potential audience. You have given me much meat in good season, and for that, I thank you.

  43. Ed Groover says:

    This article disappoints me and discourages me. If even blacks who are my brothers in Christ, love the same Savior I do, and believe the same Bible I do look at me and see “slaveowner” after these many decades of real progress, I despair of experiencing any real unity this side of heaven.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Dear Ed,
      Don’t despair, brother. Given the Christ in whom you believe, there is no reason to despair. If we give in to despair, we deny the power and grace of our Lord. Part of why I write this is so that others may know, consider and respond, not turn away. There’s a lot of turning away in exasperation on all sides. So, we need to give God praise for the gains He has provided (which you rightly acknowledge) and trust Him for future grace to continue growing. Don’t despair, brother. We put our hope in the living God! And His Son has already reconciled us in His body on the tree! (Eph. 2)
      Your brother in Christ,

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Dear brother,
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. After reading your post, it honestly feels like you’re “straining at gnats only to swallow a camel.” If we stipulated all your facts and corrections of slavery’s myths, we’d still be left with the colossal REALITY of chattel slavery itself–immoral and indefensible and contrary to the glorious gospel of the blessed God (1 Tim. 1:9-11). There’s no denying the complicity of the North and the South in the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Dispelling a few myths (while always a worthwhile thing to do) does little to correct the sin itself.

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  45. Big Picture says:

    Using this analogy is not insensitive. The plight of African American slaves is implied in the comparison to the plight of unborn children and their guilty mothers and fathers. Caucasions now realize the insanity of slavery and now we are trying to learn from our mistakes and prevent future mistakes. As it stands, we’re still making the same mistakes. Let’s stop internalizing and realize the enlightenment this analogy can bring.

  46. me says:

    I think I want a divorce. This is just way too much emotional work and I don’t think any effort is made from the other side. Seems that no matter how much effort is made it is just never good enough. It’s exhausting and hurts my head to think about anymore. The fact that that a man born of a white woman and an African father, raised by white grandparents can be seen as understanding any of this history better than those of us freckled people no matter how hard we try shows that it is an hopeless case.

  47. Thabiti says:

    Hi “Me,” (calling you that makes me feel like I’m talking to myself ;-))

    thanks for the comment. But let’s not give up so easily and rush to divorce court. After all, we’re both in this human-race-marriage together. We have a lot to work on, yes, but we also have a lot vested in one another. Our ability to understand one another is not a matter of pigmentation, though we ought not belittle the shared experiences of others who share certain characteristics. As a man, I can empathize with my wife, a woman. And even if my wife were a tomboy who grew up with a house full of rough-and-tumble brothers, played sports here entire life, and is just as skillful with a torque wrench as a skillet, she still understands what it is to be a woman far better than I do–I who grew up with a single mother and three older sisters. I empathize and I’ve experienced a lot with the women of my family, but I don’t understand their perspective as well as other women.

    In Obama’s case, I agree on one hand and disagree on another. I think it’s irrational to look at a man like Obama and conclude “He’s black.” He’s just as “white” or “African” as he is “Black.” “Race” is an unbiblical and irrational category. But, on the other hand, Obama grew up in a society that has historically defined “Black” by a “one drop rule.” So, socially and historically, most everyone has regarded him as “Black,” and he’s experienced the world from that vantage point. We can’t dismiss that and we should probably stop short of assuming we can understand it if we’re not walking in those shoes.

    But in any case, we don’t have to get a divorce. Let’s work it out.


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Thabiti Anyabwile photo

Thabiti Anyabwile

Thabiti Anyabwile is a pastor for Anacostia River Church in southeast Washington, DC and a council member of The Gospel Coalition.

Thabiti Anyabwile's Books