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In his epilogue, Wilson characterizes Black and Tan as “a collection of disparate elements organized around a set of common themes” which may feel “ad-hoc, ragtaggy” at places because the writing and rewriting occurred at various occasions (p. 119). In offering a response to Black and Tan, then, the first thing one must decide is what to respond to. The issues tend to be interlocked both conceptually and in the writing itself. Second, we need to consider in what order to reply. Again, as I excerpt and interact with various portions of the text, I hope with God’s help to be charitable and accurate. Having stated Wilson’s case in a manner Wilson himself judged accurate and fair, I want to offer some critique with those summations in mind.

As I see it, three basic aspects of the book need addressing: (1) the underlying logic guiding the entire book, (2) the exegetical case for slavery as a permissible institution, and (3) the historical claim that the South as a nation and the slavery it practiced was comparable to the Roman practice the apostle Paul addressed. As I see it, the book stands or falls with Wilson’s positions in these three areas. This is not to say that other areas of the book are unimportant, just that these issues “get to the heart of the matter” from my perspective. With God’s help, I would like to take up each issue in separate posts.

The Logic of Black and Tan

At a couple points in Black and Tan, Wilson outlines the driving logic of the book. On page 4 he writes:

If we want to understand the culture wars of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, we must come to grips with the culture wars of the nineteenth century. In order to do this, it is necessary to get clear on the nature of American slavery, which was not what its abolitionist opponents claimed for it. If it had been, it is hard to see how the biblical instructions could have been applicable–for example, I would not cite 1 Timothy 6:1-4 to a person trying to escape from a Nazi death camp. “Obey the authorities!” But if antebellum slavery was the normal kind of sinful situation that Christians have had to deal with regularly down through history (e.g., one comparable to what Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus had to address), then the instructions in 1 Timothy 6 make perfect sense. We need to learn that the antebellum situation was one of Normal Sin, not one of Apocalyptic Evil.

That our nation did not remove slavery in the way it ought to have been removed helps explain many of our nation’s problems in dealing with contemporary social evils. Those evils include abortion-on-demand, radical feminism, and rampant sodomy.

A few pages later, making reference to the underlying argument of Southern Slavery as It Was, an argument being restated in Black and Tan, Wilson contends:

It was the contention of this booklet that the way in which slavery ended has had ongoing deleterious consequences for modern Christians in our current culture wars, and that slavery was far more benign in practice than it was made to appear in the literature of the abolitionists. We were not trying to maintain that slavery in itself was a positive good, like food, air, or sunlight. Our central interest was in defending the integrity and applicability of the Scriptures to our current cultural controversies, and we affirmed that Christians who apologize for what the Bible teaches on slavery will soon be apologizing for what it teaches on marriage. We wrote as Christian apologists, but not the kind who apologize for being Christian (p. 14).

Obviously the approach Wilson takes, his driving argument, is bound up with the nature of Southern slavery. But for the moment, let me leave aside slavery’s nature for a future post so that we can give undivided attention to the logic itself.

Essentially, Wilson walks backwards from:

1. Our current cultural divisions over homosexuality, abortion, and feminism, to…

2. The Christians’ fidelity to and application of the Bible in such controversies (or lack thereof), to…

3. What he regards as a similar cultural conflict (slavery and the Civil War) that (a) featured the same crucial issue of the authority of Scripture and (b) in his opinion gave rise to an expanded federal government that arrests or opposes biblical resolutions for such problems.

Slavery gets a lot of air play, but it’s really a similarity heuristic for contemporary cultural engagement. Which brings us to my question….

Is This an Appropriate Strategy for Either Discussing Slavery or Informing Our Contemporary Battles?

Does this chain of reasoning really hold? Personally, I don’t think so. It fails on at least two grounds.

First, the authority of the Bible was not widely in question during the country’s long dispute over slavery and its end. There certainly were radical abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison who believed that “To discard a portion of scripture is not necessarily to reject the truth, but may be the highest evidence that one can give of his love of truth” (quoted in Noll, Civil War as a Theological Crisis, p. 32). Wilson is correct to note the historical instances and contemporary possibility of Christians losing their grip on the authority, sufficiency and reliability of the Bible. Indeed, Wilson’s concern for the rejection of the Bible was a concern among pro-slavery advocates in the Old South. But, in the Old South, according to historian Mark Noll, the rejection of the Bible by radical abolitionists like Garrison actually strengthened biblical adherence among mainstream observers in the North and South. Noll explains: “Heightened abolitionist attacks on slavery, slaveholders, and slave society angered those who were under assault. Especially when such attacks were expressed with the antibiblical rhetoric that William Lloyd Garrison employed, they deeply troubled religious believers of almost all sorts. By defining slaveholding as a basic evil, whatever the Bible might say about it, radical abolitionists frightened away from antislavery many moderates who had also grown troubled about America’s system of chattel bondage, but who were not willing to give up loyalty to Scripture” (Noll, Civil War, p. 36; emphasis added). The radicals who rejected the Bible hurt their own cause and strengthened the grip of those whose hands once loosely held the Bible.

We call people like Garrison “radicals” for a reason—they lie outside the mainstream opinion. In fact, the mainstream of both sides claimed to have the Bible’s authority on its side. Where Wilson sees a shrinking away from biblical authority in antebellum arguments over slavery, I see in the main a theological debate about precisely how to apply the Scripture—not whether. At least that seems to be the case among professing Christians on either side of the conflict. Pro-slavery advocates certainly marshaled whatever texts they could in support of the institution (see Fox-Genovese and Genovese, Mind of the Master Class: History and Faith in the Southern Slaveholders’ Worldview, especially part IV). But, not to be outdone, anti-slavery advocates garnered a full range of texts to make its case for abolition (see, for example, Noll, The Civil War as a Theological Crisis, chapter3, and Dillon, Slavery Attacked: Southern Slaves and Their Allies, 16:19-1865). That was especially the case among African Americans as early as the mid-1700s, when African Americans first began to publish. I’m thinking here of men like Lemuel Haynes and his “Liberty Further Extended,” for example, and even the recently discovered poem of Jupiter Hammon.

The purpose of this post isn’t to restate those arguments here. The purpose is simply to illustrate and substantiate the fact that the Bible’s authority was only being challenged in the small radical corners of the debate. At best what we might say is that the mainstream of each side privileged different biblical texts in their arsenal of arguments—pro-slavery advocates the plain sense statements in Pauline epistles and anti-slavery advocates the anti-racist texts of Scripture. But both sides made their appeal to the authority of the Bible. That being the case, it seems to me that Black and Tan fails to accurately portray the scope and effect of any anti-Bible sentiments of the time. If preserving the authority of scripture motivates Black and Tan, it seems to have chosen the wrong historical moment as an analogy for helping us in our day. At the very least, the book fails to give us a robust and nuanced treatment of various views of biblical authority.

Second, the Federal action to end slavery in 1865 can’t be causally connected to Federal actions today. Wilson argues that the North’s actions to end slavery, in contravention of State’s rights, laid the foundation for Federal over-reach in things like homosexual “marriage” and the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. He writes, “The point here was that the revolution that made it possible for the federal government to impose an atrocity like Roe v. Wade on the several states was a revolution that began in earnest in 1861″ (p. 64).

While people continue to argue about State’s rights and its place in the Civil War, what cannot be denied is that every party wishes to use Federal power to its benefit, even if the “use” is to limit that power. The simple fact that the national government took action seems a poor basis for drawing a dark line connecting slavery’s end and our current culture wars. After all, at various points along the country’s history Federal action achieved positive goods for society. I fully recognize Wilson disagrees, writing, “Because of the way slavery was ended, we are dealing with atrocious consequences down to the present” (p. 96) and “I am forced to say that, in many ways, the remedy which has been applied has resulted in problems that are every bit as bad as the original disease ever was” (p. 60). But if we’re honest, most evangelical Christians would be quite happy to see a decisive federal action to overturn Roe or to prohibit same-sex “marriage.” If I am correct in saying this, then what we’re really lamenting is seeing the power of the federal government wielded by the “wrong” hands, i.e., not our hands.

Rather than lamenting the use of Federal power, it seems to me we must evaluate the merit and outcome of the Federal action taken. For instance, Federal action against slavery and Federal action in Roe v. Wade differ in at least one critical way: Federal action to end slavery was justified, while Federal action to legalize abortion was not. One saved lives; the other destroys lives. One pursued justice; the other denies justice. One achieved freedom; the other perverts freedom. I’m suggesting we include the ends in our evaluation of the means, at least in part (there are other things that need to be considered in order to avoid being rabid Machiavellians).

In a South that had opportunity after secession to voluntarily reform or end the institution but didn’t, in a nation that had come to think it impossible to end slavery (see Miller, Arguing About Slavery: The Great Debate in the United States Senate), disenfranchised human beings had no recourse but Federal action. Insofar as government saved and improved millions of lives, it seems to me the action was warranted. That some nowadays want similar Federal action on issues contrary to a biblical position does not in itself impeach the actions taken in the Civil War. I think Wilson commits a genetic fallacy.


For at least these two reasons I think the inner logic driving Black and Tan does not work. I certainly share Wilson’s concern that Christians of every age learn to stand under the authority of the Bible and learn not to shrink back from difficult and unpopular parts when critics attack. But that’s only the first thing to learn. The second thing to learn is how to rightly interpret those difficult parts. If we argue about what the Bible teaches, we’re then having the right kind of argument. That there are two sides to the argument does not necessarily mean one side or the other has abandoned biblical authority. With that, we hope to turn to Black and Tan’s exegesis of biblical texts on the matter of slavery.

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109 thoughts on “Does the Driving Logic of “Black and Tan” Hold Up?”

  1. Aaron says:

    Here here!

    Thabiti, you may know this, but I’m not convinced that Rev. Wilson and some others WANT the federal gov’t. to make broad sweeping proclamations on things like Roe V. Wade, as you asserted in the 2nd paragraph of your 2nd major point. Just for clarification. . many of us would like the Federal Gov’t. to enact such a broad, sweeping law. .but others would like to see that be a state’s decision as well. I won’t speak for Wilson here. . . (apologies if I somewhat did). . but I’ve read some of his thoughts on these and other issues, and am not sure a broad, national, federal action (save for returning the decision to the states) is what he and many Christians would want.

    (you said ‘most’ Christians, so fair enough. . )


    1. Darius T says:

      Aaron stole my comment. :) I am not certain on either issue, but Wilson’s position may be different than that of “most evangelical Christians.” And since the review is of Wilson’s viewpoint, I think that is an important caveat. Of course, in the case of Roe v Wade, IT was the sweeping Federal action, and undoing it would be merely removing the federal government from the equation.

      The other question/comment I had was regarding the comparison between federal action in the Civil War and Roe v Wade. Both killed many lives. The Civil War saved some lives, but at the cost of nearly a million other lives. An honest question: How many lives is it okay to sacrifice to violently force abolition on the country? Of course, one must recognize that probably few of the leaders on either side anticipated such a bloody affair. Nevertheless, it was always within Lincoln’s power to end it.

      Otherwise, another great post, Pastor Thabiti. Charity and clarity continue to rule the day. Much appreciated.

      1. Justin says:

        I agree with the other comments here regarding Wilson’s position regarding the use of federal power regarding abortion. I think he has made that fairly clear elsewhere.

        Just two quibbles… I think we can say more than that the Civil War saved “some” lives. There were 4 million slaves in the U.S. at the time of the Civil War, and slaveholding states were looking for ways to expand slavery, both through western expansion and through territorial acquisition. I freely confess that I am uncertain how to give a more precise reckoning of how many were lives were saved, but “some” does seem inadequate.

        And second, although most estimates of Civil War casualties are around one million, deaths are normally estimated at around 650,000. I do not mean to nitpick — that is still an awful lot of blood — but it is significantly fewer lives than the one million stated above.

        Wonderful work, Thabiti. As a “Yankee” pastor ministering in Richmond, VA, I am reading these posts with much interest.

        1. Darius T says:

          A fair comment, Justin. Based on the numbers quoted by Thabiti, “some” was definitely inadequate. I would point out, though, that most of the lives accounted for in those numbers died long before the Civil War. And, if I’m not mistaken, the Transatlantic slave trade actually came to an end as far as America was concerned BEFORE the Civil War even began. Thanks to the British, the supply had dried up; which meant that American slaveowners had to rely on their current slaves to procreate and live long lives. They weren’t replaceable.

          Which is why I question the traditional view that slave treatment was normally brutal in the South. It’s doesn’t make sound economic sense. Please excuse the analogy, but bear with me… a typical rancher/farmer/plantation owner doesn’t treat his “property” roughly if he wants to be a successful businessman for very long. No, he cares for it and tries to get as much use out of it as possible. All the more so if he knows that cheap labor/livestock is no longer available. That’s not to say there weren’t plenty of mean-spirited slave owners, just as we still see some farmers/employers treat their livestock/workers poorly. We should also remember that there were laws in portions of the South prohibiting abuse of slaves. Of course, I’m getting ahead of Thabiti here, so we should probably save this discussion until after he has addressed it.

    2. I would third Aaron’s and Darius’s caveats. Wilson would not fall among those who just wish the federal government would wield power in different ways.

      Furthermore, though that section begins by disputing the causal connection, I don’t see you actually addressing the issue of causation. What’s on the line is essentially the 14th Amendment, its context, wording, and interpretation. The federal power that Wilson is referring to here is a federal power that has been legally sanctioned by the courts via the various clauses of the 14th Amendment.

      In order for Wilson to make his case, he must argue that the 14th Amendment would have been lacking some of its bite (in either context, wording, or interpretation) had abolition been accomplished less radically. In order to defeat that case, one must argue that the 14th Amendment would have had the same effect regardless of the method of abolition.

      The other point I would raise is in regard to abortion. If the crux of the issue of justice, then you first have to define justice. But that is precisely what the abortion debate is about anyhow: the rights of the unborn versus the reproductive rights of women. The problem, as I understand Wilson to state it, is that we are in a postmodern world where justice is in the eye of the beholder, such that one can feasibly make the political argument in favor of abortion; and that the way the United States dealt with slavery in the 19th century paved the legal road with means by which that postmodern problem could have legal and political effects at the federal level.

      1. Aaron says:

        Although your logic is solid here (and Wilson’s. . . that the conquering of state’s rights had many bad consequences). . I find it hard to believe that something wouldn’t have subsequently come along to enable the same kind of federal power eventually anyway. I know that’s not a strong argument :) But, I think that we’re placing so much “blame” on the civil war and it’s attendant gov’t decisions to “pave the legal road” for postmodern governance, etc. . It’s hard for me to believe that we would’ve made it out of the 1st half of the 20th century without those same problems coming up. I’m aware that’s an argument from silence, but I think we’re placing too much at the feet of the civil war.

        1. And I think I would generally agree, Aaron. On this point, I think Wilson is weakest. I think he’s right that the Civil War may have quickened the pace towards federalization, but I don’t think it can be blamed as the only cause which would have had the effect it did. In the modern world, the trend has almost always been towards centralization — given the principles of modernism, it’s all but a necessary plank of modern political theory — and I think it’s a rather hard case to make that the United States would have avoided that trend, were it not for the Civil War.

        2. Daniel Kleven says:

          @Aaron – maybe this is addressed further on in the comments, but here’s what I think you’re missing. “that something wouldn’t have subsequently come along to enable the same kind of federal power eventually anyway.” The southern states had seceded from that federal union. The “federal power” in that case would be only those states that voluntarily stayed in that union. By definition the “same federal power” wouldn’t be in existence, it would have a much, much smaller scope.

          @Stephen – in order for the trend of centralization to march in it’s inevitable course to where we are today, we would have to have the Confederate states decide to rejoin with the United States. I can’t see that happening if the Civil War doesn’t go down the way it did.

          iow I respectfully disagree, and think that in this particular point Wilson may have a stronger argument. But I will keep reading the comments, and this blog series. Fascinating stuff!

      2. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

        Hi Aaron, Darius, and Steven,

        Thanks for joining the conversation and moving it along with charity and grace.

        First, I don’t mean to imply Wilson wants greater federal intervention or power. And I, like you, suspect he’d be happy for our current cultural battles to be returned to the States. No problem there; I’m not trying to misrepresent him in this by including him with the “some evangelical Christians” who would want such federal action.

        Second, everyone I’ve ever read–including Wilson–laments the loss of life in the Civil War. What I think sometimes goes unsaid or unrecognized is that millions of lives had already been taken in the slave trade and slavery itself. We’re in the terrible position of saying, in effect, “Would it be better to lose 600,000 lives in Civil War or millions more lives in waiting for slavery’s ‘natural’ end?” Keep in mind that most conservative historians put the loss of African lives on board slave ships alone at 1.2-2.4 million lives. All total, most estimate at least 10 million souls were enslaved and died in that state. Some 4 million were enslaved at the War’s commencement. So, to answer this issue fairly, we have to put African lives on the balance sheet, too. I trust we see the difficulty. How many Black lives are fair game for enslavement and death for every White life? It’s a savagely demonic dilemma.

        Third, I think we’d also have to say that it was in the power of both the North and the South to end the War. Either side could have surrendered or withdrawn. Neither did. Both are guilty, even severely judged by God, as Wilson would put it.

        Fourth, Steven, I think you make good comments re: the 14th Amendment. Your third paragraph in particular shows how incredibly difficult it is to make a genetic connection between either our actual 14th Amendment or an imagined Amendment that would have followed a different ending to slavery (assuming such an ending would have come!). But we can’t connect the 14th Amendment to our current cultural battles in any way that I can see. The issues Wilson lists (abortion, sodomy, feminism) don’t, it seems to me, appeal to the 14th Amendment the way, say, Brown v. Board ’54 does. With Brown we see a connection and in precisely the way the Amendment was to work–in securing fair treatment. I’m not aware of any of the other cultural battlefronts doing that as clearly, if at all.

        Finally, I agree that abortion is unjust–violently so. But that’s precisely why, personally, I’m okay with federal powers to eliminate, to repeal the injustice it sanctioned in Roe. Now, it could act by sending things back to the States, or it could act by making abortion illegal in the entire country. My point in this post is that both are actions, both are just, and whether we prefer one action over the other is immaterial. In this case, we’d be happy to see the feds use that power for justice. And we’d be right to be happy about that.

        Again, I’m grateful for the spirit and the substance of your comments. May it continue to the glory of God!

        1. Thabiti, thank you for the response. I concur with much of your perspective, but did want to clear up one thing with regards to the 14th Amendment. From a legal standpoint, many of the issues which Wilson refers to do indeed hinge on the 14th Amendment, namely the Due Process Clause.(Brown, on the other hand, comes out of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.) Roe v. Wade was such a case, as was Lawrence v. Texas (which struck down Texas’s anti-sodomy laws), as will be Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Proposition 8 case before the Supreme Court this session.

          With feminism, I’m not so sure, but perhaps he is suggesting that the 14th Amendment gave political precedent to movements like the Equal Rights Amendment in the ’70s? And I do think that Wilson sees this ‘precedent-setting’ as being instrumental, not just in terms of the effects the 14th Amendment has had, strictly unto itself.

          Now, of course, none of this stems directly from the 14th Amendment, in isolation. After all, it took nearly 100 years before the legal basis on which those cases were based was established. This is why I think the onus is on Wilson to address how the Civil War had a causal effect also on how the 14th Amendment was interpreted. Here I think one would have to refer back to the ‘precedent-setting’ I mention in the paragraph immediately above.

          1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

            Very well said, brother. Thanks for the examples of other cases hinging on clauses in the 14th Amendment. Point happily taken and I agree with your conclusion about where the burden of proof lies.

          2. Tim says:

            To clarify something: Prior to the 14th Amendment, the Bill of Rights only limited the federal government–it didn’t limit the powers of state governments. (As long as it didn’t violate a state’s constitution, that state could infringe on free speech & establish state religion & ban all guns, etc.)

            Then the U.S. Supreme Court interpreted the Due Process Clause to extend the protections in the Bill of Rights, applying them against the state governments. (Using the 14th Amendment to extend protections is called “incorporation”, e.g. the provisions of the 1st Amendment have been “incorporated” against the states.)

            So, Thabiti, it seems to me that the 14th Amendment is very much connected to current cultural battles. (Without incorporation, Roe v Wade could only have prevented the federal government from banning abortion. It would not have invalidated state laws.)

            Also, you said:
            Now, it could act by sending things back to the States, or it could act by making abortion illegal in the entire country.

            While it’s true that ceasing to act can itself be described as an action, I’m not sure about the point you’re trying to make from that. It depends on how the injustice is repealed.

            If the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on the basis that a fetus is a child whose rights are being violated, then I agree with your point–that would be an example of federal powers being used to correct an injustice.

            But if the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on the logic that the Roe court’s legal theory (about “substantive due process” and the right to privacy) was invalid, then the Court would be saying, “Whoops, we actually didn’t have to power to invalidate those state laws.” And it strikes me as very sketchy to describe that as “federal powers being used to correct an injustice”.

            It’s like saying that repealing a regulation is regulation. There may be some sense in which that’s true, but it wouldn’t make sense to tell an anti-regulation advocate “You want to regulate, too!”

            1. J.F. says:

              SCOTUS would only overturn Roe v. Wade on Federalist grounds and then the states would decide for themselves. We’d have abortion in most states, save a few in the South.

        2. rcjr says:

          More high praise brother on your grace, wisdom and insight. That said, I think I would want to significantly reword one phrase. You write— Either side could have surrendered or withdrawn— I think what you mean to say is that either side could have ended the war, one side by surrendering, the other by withdrawing. The North could not have surrendered because they weren’t being attacked. The South couldn’t “withdraw” as that is what started the whole thing. Had the North withdrawn, the war would have ended. It did end when the South surrendered.

  2. Well stated. It seems that the two overarching presuppositions of B&T are (1) postmillenial eschatology and (2) “confederate” political ideology. You clearly bring to light in this post that Wilson seems to let his political ideology become a functionally controlling factor in his view on the subject.

    1. (Maybe I should have said “paleo-confederate” political ideology)

      1. Given that the Confederacy was self-consciously dedicated to race-based slavery (as shown in the Vice President of the Confederacy Stephen’s “Cornerstone” speech and several secession statements by the Southern states) to call oneself a “paleo-Confederate” is to profess commitment to racism and slavery — or to show profound ignorance. Wilson needs to be clearly shown that racism and slavery are part-and-parcel of being “Confederate” and asked whether he’s a racists or just ignorant.

        1. Nigel Hunter says:

          Lincoln also believed in the superiority of the white race when the rights of blacks and whites conflicted. That type of racism was part and parcel of being an American during that time. Be aware how broad the brush is you use to paint.

          From 4th Lincoln/Douglas Debate, 1858
          I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races – that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I, as much as any other man, am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied everything.

          The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume III, “Fourth Debate with Stephen A. Douglas at Charleston, Illinois” (September 18, 1858), pp. 145-146.

          1. That kind of diversion is not helpful and ultimately deceitful. Lincoln did not start a war in order to enslave people. The South did. You trying to divert attention from that FACT is morally dubious.

            1. Nigel Hunter says:

              Depends on which lens you use to view the war. That is part of the point. Douglas Wilson is not a racist. He may be racially insensitive but that is something significantly different.

  3. Dan Phillips says:

    Thank you, once again.

    I see a fundamental difference between ending slavery and Roe.

    The former is the working out of a syllogism:

    All men have certain unalienable rights, including liberty
    Blacks are men
    Blacks’ right to liberty is unalienable

    …and attendant application to righting a wrong.

    Roe by contrast is sheer, fiat invention of a “right” — a right, in fact, that contravenes the unalienable right to life that unborn children have.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Well said, brother.

    2. Phil says:

      All men have certain unalienable rights, including liberty

      Where does the Bible say that?

      1. Daniel Kleven says:

        Locke 3:16

        1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:


  4. Nate says:

    Thanks for this Thabiti.

    One question, would you see it as appropriate to end abortion in this country with a war?

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Now that is a powerful question! One I’ve never been asked. I know my immediate reaction, but do me the favor of letting me respond after some thinking rather than with the speed of a blog comment. I appreciate your question, see the implication and sharp point, and will try to respond with thoughtfulness.


      1. Justin Bailey says:

        Recently John Piper made some interesting comments about this particular question in his Q&A with Eric Metaxas ( I know I will never get to hear this conversation, but I would love to be a fly on the wall if you and Piper discussed this frankly. Not trying to stir the pot, but something I have been thinking about for years.

    2. Quite possibly the most difficult question to ask in a discussion like this, but it does have to be asked. I don’t envy you, Thabiti, for taking it upon yourself to answer!

    3. Justin says:

      Just a thought following up on this question, so take it for what it is worth…

      In the contemporary abortion debate, I do not typically hear sectional threats of secession should one side fail to get its way — I doubt that New England would threaten to secede if a pro-life president were elected. The sectional crisis that led to the Civil War was fueled by slavery, which is why the states of the Deep South seceded when a Republican was elected president. But the first shots were fired by Confederates seeking to seize Federal military installations.

      Which leads me to two follow-up questions: Does the presence/absence of secession and its accompanying violence play a role in our moral evaluation of the Civil War? And is this difference morally salient for answering Steven’s question?

      1. Wesley says:

        Well, South Carolina was taking control of its own territory. Wtih SC as a sovereign state, the US had no right to a fortification on the lands of a foreign country. Of course, if SC had no legal right to secede, then the US had no legal reason to surrender a fort in US territory, but if SC had legally seceded, then enforcing the removal of foreign troops from its shores is no problem.

      2. David Burkhardt says:

        Many states even in the North signed onto the Constitution assuming the right to secede! It is well documented, such as in parts of the Federalist papers.

      3. Justin Keller says:

        Forts Sumter and McRee were federal holdings and were occupied by federal troops. The munitions and supplies in those forts belonged to the U.S. Army. The forts were constructed and manned before SC or FL seceded.

        Federalist Paper #39 is not as clear cut as you might think, especially in light of the corpus of Madison’s writing and speaking.

        My question remains: Does the absence/presence of secession and its accompanying violence affect our moral evaluation of the Civil War, and therefore our evaluation of Steven’s question?

        1. David Burkhardt says:

          Funny, how in 1863, Lincoln & Co. had West Virginia (my home state) secede from Virginia supported by soldiers from Ohio and Pennsylvania? Ever been to Jackson Mills, home of Stonewall south of Clarksburg off I-79?

          Been to Fort Sumter and Fort Pulaski (built by Robert E. Lee)
          They were constructed to in the aftermath of the War of 1812, made moot with the advances of Naval gunnery. Yes, they were Federal property as all military installations in the USA are today, which I have served at and been to over 30 years of duty. However, once you step outside the property you are subject to local and state laws. They were pawns used to goad and incite the passions of the stupid Southern politicians! The League of Nations occupied some Russian locations briefly after WWI using Allied troops including Americans. Didn’t go over well with Lenin and they left peacefully. We have bases in other sovereign countries; e.g. Japan, Germany by Status of Forces Agreements. DeGaule kicked us out of France and left NATO, in the late 1960s, and we left peacefully! Problem was that Lincoln & Co. had no intention of ever recognizing the CSA!

  5. Andrew Isker says:


    Doug’s book was in response to Christians taking “John Brown-like” violent action against abortion clinics. He was concerned that in the same way that the violence of the War Between the States (600,000-700,000 dead) and the resultant political revolution (a Federal Government no longer restrained by nullification and secession) that was justified by ending slavery would take place again with abortion substituting slavery. This book was an attempt to provide some clarity on what happened in the Civil War as it relates to our opposition to abortion. I look forward to your post on “Would a war that kills 6 million Americans be justified by ending abortion?”

    1. Wilson’s original booklet, “Southern Slavery As It Was”, is simply historically ignorant, repeating the half-truths of Confederate propaganda. See my further comments below.

      He should have consulted Nobel laureate Robert W. Fogel’s work. Wilson didn’t provide “clarity” but confusion and showed his own ignorance and insensitivity.

    2. hans Maja says:

      Are you sure brother? Go to TA’s first post on this issue and Wilson’s response.

  6. John S says:

    It may be assumed, but the ultimate issue is sin nature. The causation is in the hearts of men. There will always be harsh slavery, murder, sexual impurity, gender role errors, et al in the world somewhere regardless of politics or even Biblical interpretation (the American slave owners, as was stated, consulted their Bibles but chose selective application).

    No new revelation. However shifting focus to the moral and political (ie cart before horse) is always crouching at the door of the church, if not at the pulpit. Cultural influence is not unimportant but the real war is in seeing hearts changed to flesh.


    1. David Negley says:

      I want to commend all you brothers for the gracious, thoughtful, tough discourse! God bless you!

  7. Jim McAlister says:

    Doug in fact argued BOTH sides of the slavery question, biblically. He correctly stated that the Bible
    (1) countenanced slavery (of a type) among the chosen people of Israel, (2) tolerated the ownership of slaves, while constraining harsh treatment under pagan Roman standards and (3) through the removal of ethnic, slave and gender status differences in the Christian community, due to the doctrines outlined in the Epistles, ultimately, as it did, put slavery “in the course of ultimate extinction”. His contention, which I believe to be correct, is that the Civil War was a grievous preemption of the original doctrines of the Constitution, brought about by a revolutionary, ungodly impatience which, since history is written by the victors, created a seductive narrative about the “benefits” of applied central government power that, skillfully employed by successive generations of “Progressives”, is at the root of virtually every travesty of justice we see today that are, in the same vein as in the “conventional wisdom” on the virtue of the Civil War, put forth as doing God’s work – at the point of the sword, an UTTERLY un-biblical proposition.

    To argue that those seeking to oppose or repeal these injustices are somehow morally equivalent to the “savior government advocates because they attempt to operate within the law seems snidely disingenuous.

    1. AStev says:

      “…seems snidely disingenuous.”

      Let’s try and be a bit more gracious with people we disagree with, rather than assuming ill motives and/or incompetence on their part.

    2. Wilson showed, by echoing Confederate propaganda, that he didn’t understand Southern slavery and suffers from a lamentable lack of wisdom and sensitivity on the subject. Calling himself a “paleo-Confederate” is akin to someone calling themselves a “paleo-Nazi” and then wonder why Jewish (and simply moral) people object. The Confederacy was overtly committed to racism and slavery. Either Wilson knows that and is a racists himself or he doesn’t and is so deeply ignorant he has no basis to be writing a book on the subject.

      The leading source about Southern slavery is Robert W. Fogel who won a Nobel Prize for his work on the subject. He found that Southern slavery was not on the decline; that it was fantastically profitable; that the Southern economy was growing at twice the rate of the North’s in the decade prior to the Civil War and if the war had been delayed much longer the South would likely have won and then expanded slavery, both geographically and into other areas of the economy, etc. That is, without the Civil War, we would likely still have slavery.

      1. David Burkhardt says:

        The 13 states were under the Articles of Confederation before the Constitution, so were the Founders Nazis, silly. I would agree that many in the South were committed to slavery for economic means, and racist for sinful ethnic superiority (majority in the North where as well), which was evil. I have found that racism is often worse in the North, than in many parts of the South presently, having lived in both areas due to 20+ years of military service.

        As to Fogel’s work, I’m not familiar. Paul Krugmann is a Nobel Prize winner but is in major error, unlike Sowell and Walt Williams. Others have shown that the opposite was the case, slavery was in some decline, profitable if agricultural goods were higher than operating costs, etc. How can it be said that the South’s economy was stronger??? The North had a bigger population and was way more industrialized! The South was mainly agricultural with cotton and tobacco, hardly an economic power? The South might have prevailed to a stalemate if the war was fought 10-12 years earlier before the mega influx of German, Italian, and Irish immigrants that swelled the population of the North. The South was goaded and stupid to go to war in 1860! Look at the Sherman “Scorched Earth” policy that was enacted, which was copied by the Nazis!

        1. The founders of the US did not fight a war to preserve slavery. The Confederacy (with which Wilson identifies) did. The Vice-President of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, in a speech given in Savannah, Georgia, on March 21, 1861, in what is called the “Cornerstone speech,” stated that the secession of the Southern states and formation of the Confederate States of America will “put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution — African slavery as it exists amongst us — the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution.” He went on to say that Thomas Jefferson, in the Declaration of Independence was fundamentally wrong, that all men are not created equal; that the races are not equal. He said, “Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea [from Jefferson]; its foundations are laid, its corner–stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition.”

          Fogel established through empirical economic data that the South’s economy was growing at twice the rate of the North’s in the 1850s. It was beginning to use slavery in factories. Slavery was not in decline and there is no reason to believe that it would have been abolished by any other means than war.

          1. David Burkhardt says:

            First, I am not arguing against that slavery was a major evil and that it was supported by the South as a right! But there were many other major factors as well! Read “The Real Lincoln”!!

            If you mean by agricultural economy then I would agree! One of the factors inciting secession was tariffs of exports and imports affecting mainly the South, but also parts of the North. There were some calls for NYC to secede earlier!

            The slave trade was in major decline after Wilberforce got Parliament to ban it, Great Britain being the world’s Naval superpower then, so most of the increase would have been internal, via procreation. Again, the North was more populous and industrialized! Reasons why Lincoln & Co. wanted the use of force, they thought it would be easy to compel by superiority and embargo. Why the South called it the “War of Northern Aggression”! Though passionate parties on both sides desired armed conflict no doubt! The War happened (can’t reverse it) at mega costs of lives, property AND liberty!, then, and still!! took 100+ years to address Civil Rights via MLK, Rosa Parks, et al.

            So my argument is against those saying that going to War by both sides, though mainly by Lincoln & Co. not recognizing the right of secession was just and right. Using an evil (Or as Sherman would say War is H!) to rectify an evil. Whereas Great Britain, and in the past century South Africa did without a full blown Civil War! To put it in perspective the 600,000 to 1M killed would be like 25-40 million dead Americans today, and the property damage of Sherman’s Scorched earth policy, a major “War Crime” under Geneva today! would made Katrina aftermath look like a cub scout party. Look at Syria today and magnify it by 20x! Then after the War for the next 35 years the military was used to decimate the American natives, not just the warriors but women and children, tens of thousands, making the Serbia “war crimes” pale in comparison! The vaulted Federal Government violated every treaty made. Oh, the reservations are their own entities like Fort Sumter; country within a country. Talk about a neglected mission field!!

            Let’s hypothesize, and say the Supreme Court partially overturns Roe, and lets the states decide as before concerning evil, wicked, abortion (in 40 years 50-60 million innocent lives destroyed!) as they do now concerning gay marriage and capital punishment. And the majority of the conservative, stronger South prohibits abortion and the more liberal North allows abortion. Should the South invade, conquer, and occupy the North to eliminate such a great evil?? Most of the military is in the South, their industrial base is stronger, and population larger as they gain more in the House of Representatives each census! Or if Texas were to secede for political and economic reasons, should MN and IL invade?

            It was a Great Shame that Christendom either supported or neglected slavery as was practiced by the secular state here, in Great Britain, South Africa and other former colonies! The same with abortion; until Francis Schaeffer and Everett Koop blew the trumpets big time in the early 1980s!!

            1. Slavery was not in decline at the onset of the Civil War. You are fundamentally mistaken. See the Nobel Prize winning work on the economics of slavery by Robert W. Fogel. If the South had won — which apparently Wilson supports since he calls himself a “paleo-Confederate” — it would have propagated slavery far and wide geographically and indefinitely chronologically.

            2. Ray Nearhood says:

              It is not Pastor Wilson’s position that he wishes the South had won. He has said that he self-identifies as “paleo-Confederate” in order to differentiate his position from the “neo-Confederate” precisely because he does not wish there was a “do-over at Gettysburg” as the neo-Confederate does.

              His position is that 1) the war should never have been fought and 2) it was God’s wrathful judgment on the country, especially the South.

  8. CG says:

    I’m looking forward to your future post on the nature of slavery itself. You said in your earlier post: “Wilson understands that “The Bible permits Christians in slave-owning cultures to own slaves, provided they are treated well” (p. 47). “Nothing can be plainer than the fact that a Christian could simultaneously be a slave owner and a member in good standing in a Christian church” (p. 53).”

    It does seem that the Bible treats slavery (in and of itself) as something somewhere between *permissible* and actually *established* (in the same way that God instructs people to obey even an unjust emperor, on the ground that God establishes worldly authorities as in some way representative of his ultimate authority).

    But I am no scholar, and such a notion is obviously pretty shocking to modern ears. Am I uncomfortable because I’m misunderstanding the text, or am I uncomfortable because I’m still submitting to worldly thinking and bringing in all sorts of external, possibly unbiblical assumptions and values?

    Anyway, I hope your future post will address that topic in particular… i.e. whether slavery in and of itself is a God-established “authority” situation comparable to kings/subjects, husbands/wives, etc. or if there’s something about it that makes it not really comparable to those institutions.

    When I hear a lot of Christians denounce slavery, they seem to do so from the perspective of Enlightenment humanism, which is where they lose me. So I’m very interested in a sound exegetical treatment of the slavery, not in its American antebellum form (or any other specific instance), but of slavery as a concept, a relationship between human individuals.

  9. Jim McAlister says:

    I should also add that Wilson (echoing Lincoln’s second Inaugural address) made it plain that the Civil War was God’s judgement on the Nation AS A WHOLE, and that Southern failure to embrace the scripture’s teaching on the treatment of slaves generally, and believing slaves particularly was punished by God. And like Israel’s prophets, it seems to me that he is correct in injecting politically-incorrect challenges to the fact that the nation has not rightly understood the judgement, either of the South OR the whole nation. He is utterly correct in his assertion that racism was rampant in both North and South, and that the result of the War Between the States was to empower government in a way that has served to create a “virtual” plantation for far too many descendants of the emancipated and continues to lead to millions of deaths due to social pathologies that have their origin in State-worship rather than God-worship.

    1. David Burkhardt says:

      Well said! Has anyone read “The Real Lincoln” or “The South Was Right” ??? Jason Lewis, libertarian talk show host claims Lincoln was caught in a Hobbesian dilemma, either preserve the Union via force or uphold the Constitution by allowing states to peacefully secede? Partly true, however Lincoln had several agendas, and not necessarily abolishing slavery was at the forefront! Economic and centralized control were higher priorities. It was only after couple years of war, that the EP was processed, and it only was applied to states that seceded! Not the border states or even the North! Almost, 100 years passed before the 1964 Civil Rights Act passed Congress, promoted by Republicans again, opposed by many Dems such as Al Gore Sr. So only in the last 50+ years have things been righted outwardly. However, inwardly the somewhat successful Black families of the 1940s and 1950s have been morally and economically destroyed by the Big Socialist Welfare State, as documented by Drs. Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams, et al.

      Slavery and the slave trade were horrific evils and Biblically indefensible. What,it took Wilberforce 20-30 years in Great Britain to end it politically, and somewhat peacefully. It ended in South Africa, less peacefully though not a horrific civil war in the past century. Sadly & Sinfully, many Christians, true and so-called defended slavery in the South and in SA via the Dutch Reformed church. Professor DiLorenzo (sp?)at George Mason Univ. author of the “Real Lincoln” argues with increasing mechanization and technology the need for agricultural slave labor would have in a decade or 2, ended the majority of the need for human, slave labor? And the trade had diminished considerably with Wilberforce, and the British Navy and merchant fleet being the largest power on the sea lanes. How about the sordid history of Africans selling Africans to each other and the European powers. It still continues in Africa, especially in Islamic realms there and in the Middle East! Little outcry in the past, and same today!!!

  10. Brilliant response, charitably put!

    It seems absurd for Wilson to argue that our problems today are the result of the manner we ended slavery. Has it occurred to him that our problems are the result of continuing what John Wesley said was the most barbaric form of slavery to ever exist?

    His “Southern Slavery As It Was” should have been strongly condemned by all Christians. It appears little more than the regurgitation of Confederate propaganda. That most of it is true, is the way effective propaganda usually is. But it’s not the whole truth. If he had wanted to know the truth about Southern Slavery, he should have consulted Robert W. Fogel’s work on slavery (e.g. “Time on the Cross”, etc.) for which he won a Nobel Prize. Fogel finds that, yes, Southern slavery was usually not as atrocious as Northern abolitionists made it out to be. But he also concludes that if the Civil War had not been fought by the 1860s, the South likely would have won the war (given that it was growing at twice the rate of the North) and then likely have propagated slavery world-wide. Fogel, a self-confessed “secular Jew”, found that it was evangelical Christians who brought the issue of slavery to a head and it is to them, he says, that America owes the end of slavery and the progress of egalitarianism.

  11. Mark says:

    On is blog, Wilson wrote, “Virtually the entire Christian world shuns the idea of going to war over abortion. But if someone stupid (me, for instance) says something like “and so why didn’t we do that with a lesser evil in 1858?” such a one is instantly and conveniently represented as a ravening orc with a tenuous grasp of historical source materials. This level of defensiveness tells me that something much deeper is going on.”

    All the non-incrementalists want to take some time and mull this one over. Takes a little nuance and care precisely because they (wisely) realize REAL LIVES WOULD BE AT STAKE. It would be a very costly – but maybe entire right – decision to make. In other words, it takes courage.

    But it takes absolutely ZERO courage to oppose slavery, racism, etc. Of course it was wrong. Should it be condemned? Absolutely. But the only places that kind of position would have any bearing on one’s daily life are places very few readers of this blog live.

    Pastor Danny’s quick to criticize Pastor Wilson’s inconsistent political ideology, but let’s hear Pastor Danny weigh on the question of murderous hordes (abortion advocates) at civilization’s gates. What will he say? How consistent will he be? Venture a constructive theology, dear Pastor. One that makes sense of the decision to end slavery with violence, but not the genocide of children… and BLACK children in much higher proportions than white ones.

    1. What Wilson fails to understand in the blog quote you cited is that he is ignorant of the history. Does he not know that the “cornerstone” of the Confederacy was racism and slavery. Alexander Stephens, the Vice President of the Confederacy said so himself and did several of the secession statements. If he knows that and still calls himself a “paleo-Confederate”, then he’s a racist. If he doesn’t know that, then he is indeed profoundly ignorant.

      Either way, he has no credibility on the subject and loses credibility on every spiritual and ethical issue on which he comments.

      1. Nicolas Rivera says:

        John, It would be far more constructive to the conversation if you actually tried to engage the argument instead of attacking Wilson’s character. As a Hispanic, I would not benefit from slavery, but I can definitely see the strength of Mark’s (Wilson’s?) argument. Anyone who believes abortion is murder, quite analogous to any other atrocity in history (whether committed in Nazi Germany, or in the US), can see how relevant the question is.

        1. I didn’t attack his character. I noted that he is ignorant of history. That’s a statement of fact about his expressions of history. An attack on his character would be if someone then concluded he was hateful or a racists, etc.
          You’re accusation against me is false and you should apologize for it.

  12. Darius T says:

    Well, this thread STARTED well. {eye roll}

    Certain newcomers, you may want to review previous requests in the comments by Thabiti and Wilson regarding constructive debate. Thabiti is not “attacking” Wilson, and Wilson doesn’t feel attacked. If you can’t contain your disdain for either side, Thabiti may close the comments. It would be unfortunate to get to that point.

  13. TKyle says:

    I think the question of whether we should go to war over abortion needs to be asked. It absolutely requires a response. Wilson isn’t bombing abortion clinics because he believes in the principled incrementalism of removing sin from a society. So, why aren’t the rest of us bombing abortion clinics? Fair question in my mind.

  14. Gavin White says:

    Having last commented on this subject six months ago when Pastor Thabiti blogged about the Puritans not being so precious, according to a ‘rapper’,I am concerned to see the topic of slavery appear in another form.

    It seems to me that the peace of the church is being disturbed unnecessarily by rehearsing the pros and cons (mainly cons!) of slavery in the South.

    That time has passed and the voices of those best placed to comment lie silent in the grave, with John Brown’s body.

    As a foreigner I don’t know anything about the author of the following quote but it is contemporaneous and relevant and offers an irenic path through this particular minefield.

    The Rev Frederick Augustus Ross said
    The one great idea, which I submit to North and South, is expressed in the speech, first in order, delivered in the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, Buffalo, May 27, 1853. I therein say:–

    “Let us then, North and South, bring our minds to comprehend two ideas, and submit to their irresistible power. Let the Northern philanthropist learn from the Bible that the relation of master and slave is not sin per se. Let him learn that God says nowhere it is sin. Let him learn that sin is the transgression of the law; and where there is no law there is no sin, and that the Golden Rule may exist in the relations of slavery. Let him learn that slavery is simply an evil in certain circumstances. Let him learn that equality is only the highest form of social life; that subjection to authority, even slavery, may, in given conditions, be for a time better than freedom to the slave of any complexion. Let him learn that slavery, like all evils, has its corresponding and greater good; that the Southern slave, though degraded compared with his master, is elevated and ennobled compared with his brethren in Africa. Let the Northern man learn these things, and be wise to cultivate the spirit that will harmonize with his brethren of the South, who are lovers of liberty as truly as himself: And let the Southern Christian–nay, the Southern man of every grade–comprehend that God never intended the relation of master and slave to be perpetual. Let him give up the theory of Voltaire, that the negro is of a different species. Let him yield the semi-infidelity of Agassiz, that God created different races of the same species–in swarms, like bees–for Asia, Europe, America, Africa, and the islands of the sea. Let him believe that slavery, although not a sin, is a degraded condition,–the evil, the curse on the South,–yet having blessings in its time to the South and to the Union. Let him know that slavery is to pass away in the fulness of Providence. Let the South believe this, and prepare to obey the hand that moves their destiny.”

    All which comes after, in the speech delivered in New York, 1856, and in the letters, is just the expansion of this one controlling thought, which must be understood, believed, and acted out North and South.


    1. Alan Cross says:

      If sin is all that falls short of God’s glory and if slavery is a product of the Fall, then its presence is not of the New Creation and was done away with in Christ – in Christ, we are all one. For Christians to have slaves and to hold other Christians as slaves was and is a deplorable act that falls short of God’s glory. Europe had outlawed slavery amongst Christians hundreds of years earlier but it was revived in the New World because of the economic benefits for White Europeans. The Biblical justifications came later to justify the “Way of Life” supported by African slavery. To try and justify it now on Biblical grounds is only to resurrect the evil from the grave and spread it around today cause true disruption in the church.

      African Slavery in America existed so that White Slaveowners, many of whom claimed to be Christian, could benefit economically. They then used the Bible to justify their position. It was wrong then and there were MANY voices trying to bring correction but they were ignored. It is a great travesty and there really is no way to defend it, in my opinion.

      1. Joe Rigney says:


        I appreciate your intense opposition to slavery, so I’m curious how you wrestle with the biblical issues involved:

        If all Christian slave-holding is as deplorable as you say, then how should we think about Philemon and the slave-owneres in Ephesians and Colossians? Why doesn’t Paul command them to immediately free their slaves?

        Also, no one is defending slavery. Wilson is arguing that there was a better way for slavery to end (as opposed to the violent way that it was ended), and that both the North and the South were guilty in ending slavery in a revolutionary and violent way. In fact, Wilson makes the same point that you do about the way in which biblical admonition was ignored in the run-up to the war. You can read his brief response over at his blog:

        1. Alan Cross says:

          Joe, I have read Wilson’s argument in “Black and Tan.” He does defend Christian slave-holding in the antebellum South while simultaneously decrying the Slave Trade. He seems to forget that the Domestic Slave Trade continued till the end of the Civil War with slave markets at the steps of churches in Southern towns and cities. My own town of Montgomery, AL had no less than 4 major slave markets on the same blocks of churches on Dexter Avenue where thousands and thousands of Black slaves were bought and sold, often by Christians. He makes the case that one could be Christian and own slaves while also opposing the slave trade that Scripture denounces. But, how can you oppose the slave trade while providing the market for such a trade? His history is simply horrible and he seems to base his defense upon the writings of R.L. Dabney, a Southern apologist with a massive blindspot as to the sins of the South and of Southern Christians.

          Wilson does in fact defend a Christian’s participation in slave-owning on biblical grounds and declares that abolitionists were evil to try to end the practice the way that they did. He says that if there had been more time then the gospel would have done its work just like Paul practices in the Roman Empire. The historical context was entirely different, however, as the South did their deeds 1800 years after the time of Christ and hundreds of years after Europe had outlawed Christians owning other Christians as slaves. That prohibition was lifted in regard to the African, however. Paul was dealing with a society that had never heard the gospel and knew nothing of Christ or the Bible. Dabney lived in a culture immersed in the gospel and Scripture. They are two totally different contexts.

          Plus, Wilson’s “give it time” argument does not hold water historically as institutional racism was still in full force 100 years later and had to be dismantled by the Federal Government yet again. Perhaps the problem was not the evil Yankees but Southern Christians who seemed incapable of treating other people with justice except when staring down the business end of a bayonet or canon. It is to our great shame that we ever participated in the practice and Wilson’s defense of Southern Christians on flimsy historical grounds only serves to exacerbate our historical folly.

          Finally, it must be noted that the Northern Abolitionists that Wilson detests were not appealing to a pagan culture but to a Christian influenced culture. They should have had a willing audience instead of opposition. The South started the War and it was completely avoidable if they had been prudent. Wilson seems to have his history flipped on even how the Civil War started. I do not know Wilson personally and am only familiar with his ministry on a surface level, so I am simply dealing with his arguments put forward here on their own merit. This is not personal. I just think that he is very wrong.

          1. Aaron says:

            Alan Cross,

            That was cogent, powerful, and an effective argument. I’m sure Rev. Wilson and others would call your examples anecdotal, but at some point. . . there’s just too many anecdotes.

            This is really a “who has the better history” battle. . but one would think that even if we can’t solve that problem, we could at least agree to not speak to and address those issues in such a way to offend so many of our African-American brothers and sisters.

            1. Darius T says:

              OR, perhaps Christians should stop being so easily offended. It is the era of offense, litigation, and hurt feelings. Prov 19:11

            2. Aaron says:

              Darius. . . I’ll ignore the most heartless, thoughtless use of the word, “easily” I’ve ever seen.

              My goodness, hurt feelings don’t come close.

            3. Darius T says:

              Thanks for proving my point, Aaron.

            4. Dan Phillips says:

              **LIKE** on Darius T’s first.

            5. Aaron says:

              If you guys are really going to accuse African Americans of being “easily” offended at the sympathy to southern slavery, or that they’re just struggling with “hurt feelings”. . I’ll just let your words speak for themselves.

              It is “glory to overlook an offense”, but is it “glory” to overlook the systematic, unjust, oppression of a people over hundreds of years. If you guys want criticize the (admittedly) litigious, “hurt feelings”, culture we live in, I”ll sign on. But please put the broad brush away when we’re talking about slavery. You’d be offended too.

            6. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

              That last comment is very well put, Aaron.

            7. Darius T says:

              Aaron, I wasn’t talking just about black Christians. I know plenty of white Christians who get vicariously offended for other people. Everyone needs to tone down the emotion and rhetoric. In this case, no one alive has been a slave in 19th century America, so they shouldn’t talk like they are so personally offended. That’s ridiculous. I think taking offense is nine times out of ten a sinful urge, and usually leads to more sin.

            8. Darius T says:

              Don’t forget who was the easily offended group of people in Jesus’ day: the Pharisees. To be easily offended means one probably has an issue with pride, among other things. I have enough pride in my heart already, I don’t need to soak in it by taking offense at misconstrued words or my own hurt feelings. My “feelings” don’t mean squat. God is holy, and He is the arbiter of justice. Being offended is the opposite of charity and belies a lack of faith in His sovereignty, and has no place in Christian life.

            9. Darius T says:

              We badly need Christian authors to speak to the sinfulness of taking easy offense. Our culture is awash in it, and based on a quick perusal of blogs, many Christians are clearly not far behind. The current intolerance in society for certain words is part and parcel of that underlying sickness.

            10. Aaron says:


              Thanks for the clarification, but I still strongly disagree. I’m not speaking of some pedantic “offense” taken about something that is not “PC”, etc. . .We’re talking about the actual ancestors of current African Americans. Some of the arguments put forth are hurtful, offensive, and frankly. . in dispute. So, why not love our African American brothers and sisters, and stay away from those arguments. We can talk about the civil war all day. . that doesn’t mean we have to minimize the severity of slaves’ condition, etc. . . . . .

              This is not an “easy” offense. This is real for many people, and we should treat it as such. You’re lumping the issue of slavery with the modern “word police”. I think that’s a bridge, way, way too far.

            11. Darius T says:

              I will definitely grant that this is a sticky subject and one that shouldn’t be approached too readily. And just because I think Christians should “buck up” and stop being offended, that doesn’t mean I give license to people to create undue offense. However, while some of Wilson’s arguments/facts may yet be in dispute, his underlying points have not really come under attack that I’ve seen. And they are very important points and apropos to our current cultural disputes. Several people, including Wilson, have pointed out the moral and Biblical inconsistency with being FOR the Civil War while being AGAINST abortion clinic bombers. And the underlying concern here (Biblical fidelity) is one that applies in many areas that have no relation to slavery or abortion. If something is wrong, it is wrong no matter who wields the power.

              As for the offense you are referring to, I think the point must be made that many American blacks are NOT descended from American slaves (or Africa, for that matter). In fact, as a side note, I am 100% Caucasian but I am more African-American than many blacks in this country as my father was born and raised in Nigeria. Other than their skin color, they have no connection to the slaves. So why would they be offended? Furthermore, for those who ARE descended from the slaves, are they not in a better position (generally speaking) than if those ancestors had been left in Africa? That doesn’t make slavery right, but it does mean that they have nothing to personally complain about. They have benefited from their ancestors’ suffering.

              No one is proposing that we go back to slavery; no one is supporting racism in any form. This is a theological discussion at the core. Taking offense makes absolutely no sense if one actually reads the arguments being made. Disagree, sure, and do so heartily if you’d like.

              As for minimizing the severity of the slaves’ condition… I think we can and should all agree that even if Wilson has painted the picture a bit too rosy, the picture painted by our government-run schools and our media misleadingly makes slavery appear ugly and vicious, which doesn’t make sense with either the laws that existed at the time (abuse of slaves was actually illegal in several parts of the South) or sound economic practice. Was there abuse? Of course. But were there also many slaves who lived almost like extended family members of their owners? Absolutely. In those situations, setting the slave free into a society not built to handle free blacks well MAY have been preparing that slave for a much harder life than if they had remained a slave. And, lest we forget, Roman slavery was very brutal. It could be just as ethnic/racially-based as the American version, since it was made up of people conquered by the Romans. You think white Americans looked down on black Africans 200 years ago? That was nothing compared to how the Romans felt about pretty much everyone else in their day. Yet Luke 7 shows that there were kind Roman masters as well.

          2. Joe Rigney says:


            I think you actually have something worthwhile to contribute to the discussion, particularly with respect to whether the recovery of slavery after its end (in Europe) means that we can’t apply the NT passages straight across.

            However, when you say (below) “Wilson admits that this is what the Gospel does [sets people free], but then treats the American South like it was pagan Rome in that we should not have expected Christians to behave Christianly,” you betray the fact that you’re not reading carefully. Wilson explicitly says, in the book and in this blog discussion, that the reason that God judged the South through a horrific war was because they did not “behave Christianly.” To insinuate otherwise is to misrepresent his position.

            1. Alan Cross says:

              Joe, I read that. But, he asserts that Dabney and others claimed that God judged the South because of their sin of slavery. Is that what Dabney or other Southerners believed? They say that God judged the South, but we are not certain what for. Some say that God judged the South because soldiers were playing cards and drinking alcohol. Very few thought they were wrong. Actually, after the War, Southern theologians doubled down and asserted that God was actually purifiying the South because they were right and that their influence would not be political but instead cultural. So, led by a Theology of the Lost Cause, they developed Jim Crow. This is why Southerners held so closely to segregation all the to the 1960’s.

              Wilson says a lot of things, actually. He says one thing and then he says another. He says that slavery is wrong and that God judged the South for it and then he says that Christians were not wrong to participate in it. He says that he is not defending slavery but then he defends the Christians who participated in it. He says that it is wrong and that God was right to judge the South but that slavery is allowed for in Scripture as a legitimate activity. On the one hand, he says that the South was still affected by pagan thought and on the other hand it was Christian. Yes, I have read him carefully and have taken a lot of notes on what he said. I understand your position, but I do not think that I misrespresent him. If he admits that the South was not behaving Christianly, then why take time to defend Southern Christians were slaveholders? He says that it was allowed because they lived in a slave-holding society. That is the issue, not what the world does.

    2. Chadd Sheffield says:

      Gavin, no one in this current discussion has mentioned a ‘pro’ of slavery. Secondly, that is a nice quote.

  15. Darius T says:

    Wow. Thanks, Gavin, that is a great quote!

  16. Jennifer B. says:

    I think the Gospel Coalition should also be posting the responses of Douglas Wilson to their site.

    1. EMSoliDeoGloria says:

      I’m sure Pastor T will graciously link them, but Douglas Wilson is not a member of this site and posting them here could seem like an endorsement of his views, which I would regret seeing.

  17. Nathan says:

    Thomas Sowell and Shelby Steele are remarkably helpful on these issues yet no one ever interacts with their arguments (Anthony Bradley deals with Sowell’s economic writings yet ignores his writings on race, slavery etc). This is extremely troubling.

  18. Alan Cross says:

    Is it possible that William Lloyd Garrison gets a bad rap? He put forward the idea of rejecting parts of the Bible because he was not able to adequately contest the Southern Slaveholder’s assertions that Scripture was on their side – if I am not mistaken. So, he suggested that perhaps part of the Bible should be ignored so that the greater truths could be preserved. For that, he was considered a radical and a liberal. I wonder if his proposition was not yet another result of the Southern Evangelical position. If they say that the Bible promotes slavery and Garrison, knowing that that is wrong says that we should not then follow the Bible on that, is Garrison actually rejecting the Bible or was he rejecting a wrong interpretation of the Bible?

    One must wonder if Paul was not actually dismantling the whole slave system in Gal. 3:26-29; Col. 3:11, Eph. 2:11-22; and Philemon through the impact and leveling power of the gospel. I think he was taking on Aristotle’s Natural Slavery theories and was destroying them piece by piece and I think that Garrison got that. But, the view put forward by Southern theologians seemed almost unassailable for Garrison dismissed not what the Bible was really saying but the interpretation that we now consider false.

    That is my opinion, anyway. Garrison should have had allies among the Southern clergy – not enemies. But, they were too captive to their culture and were guilty of subverting Christianity to a pagan system of thought in the South. THAT is the real legacy that has tarnished Christianity in America to the present day – not Federal intervention during the Civil War.

    1. David Burkhardt says:

      Alan Cross; well said! The same with the Dutch Reformed church propping up error in South Africa! Some have said the American civil war was a continuation of the conflict between England and Scotland? John MacArthur has stood out and stated that the American Revolution can not be justified from a Christian perspective, that it was purely economic and politically driven!! Even though some clergy tried to stir up fear that everyone would be forced to unite with the Anglican church.

  19. What encourages me greatly is seeing the godly example of thoughtful, christian dialogue that is placed before us by these men. What saddens me greatly is that Gene Genovese died before this conversation took place.

  20. Scott Kerr says:

    I did not read enough to see the points being made concerning the Civil War and Roe vs. Wade, I am responding to the email letter I received on this issue.

    If I understood correctly, the author was introducing the idea that the slavery practiced in Roman times was equivalent to that of the last 3 centuries. I could not disagree more. Slavery in Roman times was an economic condition one might find oneself in, either voluntarily or not. It was not permanent beyond the economic restrictions and requirements under Roman law.

    But behind the racism in America and elsewhere, the philosophies which Darwin attempted to validate, created a situation in which the exploitation of human beings was justified by the notion that there were less evolved races born into a condition justifying their enslavement. Science without God will reduce mankind down to their base components without leaving any inherent meaning or dignity. The God of the Bible is the foundation of the assertion, however imperfectly realized, that all men are equally endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights.

    1. Joe Rigney says:


      Great point about the Darwinian, ‘scientific’ racism. The challenge is that prior to the Civil War, that viewpoint was dominant in the North, not the South. The South was full of racists, to be sure, but the vast majority held to mono-genesis (descent from Adam and Noah) and that slavery was justified on cultural, not inherent biological grounds. Scientific racism quickly spread in the South after the War and became the backbone for the racial animosity of the Jim Crow era. A great book that discusses this is Eugene Genovese’s “A Consuming Fire.” In fact, anyone wanting to understand how white Christians in the South thought about slavery and the War should check it out.

      Also, Rodney Stark in his book “For the Glory of God” describes Greco-Roman slavery as incredibly brutal. Slaves often came from conquests in war and were used in mines and the galleys. So I don’t know that we can dismiss the comparison as easily as you do.

  21. Phillip says:

    Rev. Anyabwile writes in a reasoned, logical way. I see two problems with his analysis of Doug Wilson’s “driving logic” in Black & Tan:

    1. Rev. Anyabwile refers to Mark Noll’s book, The Civil War as a Theological Crisis. It seems that most of that well-documented book shows that the fullest theological crisis actually came after the Civil War had ended, resulting in a marked increase, over decades, in lack of confidence in Scripture as being reliable. Therefore, it seems that Rev. Doug Wilson makes a stronger point than Rev. Anyabwile.

    2. Rev. Anyabwile states, “Rather than lamenting the use of Federal power, it seems to me we must evaluate the merit and outcome of the Federal action taken.” I see it a little differently. I lament the precedents for expanded Federal power, precedents that were, in many cases, established during the Lincoln administration and it’s handling of the Civil War. The Lincoln administration did many things that exceeded their Constitutional authority. The expansion of the size, power, and reach of the Federal government can, in many cases, be traced back to the Lincoln administration’s actions, while executing a war.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Phillip,

      thanks for contributing to the discussion. If you summarize Noll correctly, I think you’re making my point. That leading into the War and during, the country was not witnessing the abandonment of Scripture. Some were, but that was minority. If weaknesses evolved over decades later, that’s a separate issue. But those weaknesses weren’t a major contributing justification for the War.


    2. Alan Cross says:


      The expansion of Federal power is completely beside the point. In a sense it could be expected. Southern Christians, unable to govern themselves effectively and eradicate injustice from their midst in relation to how they dealt with Slavery, lost the freedom that they had previously enjoyed. It is all quite Biblical. The bigger question is why there was such a massive theological blindspot when it came to this issue in the first place. I maintain that the primary driver behind Southern Slavery was not a Biblical injunction at all, but it was economic. The Biblical defense only came later when a theological justification was employed to defend an immoral practice. Southern Evangelicals led by Dabney and others were guilty of using the Bible to promote their own way of life at the expense of others – many of whom had become their brothers and sisters in Christ. THAT is the bigger issue, not increasing Federal power. If Southern Christians had dealt with the issue on their own as they should have, the Civil War would have never happened.

      We are missing the forest for the trees here. Can anyone imagine Jesus owning slaves? Paul? Peter? Any of the Apostles? We are truly straining at gnats. The larger context is that Jesus sets captives free. Wilson admits that this is what the Gospel does, but then treats the American South like it was pagan Rome in that we should not have expected Christians to behave Christianly. He makes a poor argument, I believe.

  22. Kris Drees says:

    Pastor Thabit,

    May I humbly submit that you might be missing a chance to fight Pastor Wilson’s presupposition of postmillenialism influencing his just war theory. This is probably where his logic should be critiqued instead of granting him this point by not countering it.

    What I mean is that Pastor Wilson seems to be claiming that the war was unjust on behalf of the north because they did not exhaust all other possible means of eliminating the sin of slavery. Just war theory claims that a war can only be just if it is waged after all other means are exhausted. This is primarilly a reference to diplomacy. Pastor Wilson seems to be claiming that the North was wrong because the government waged war before the gospel had the chance to slowly do away with slavery.

    It seems to me that we have to judge the just-ness of the war based upon the knowledge that the leaders of the North and South had at the time. For the North, the war was for a just cause; that of extinguishing slavery, but also included an unjust cause; that of limiting states rights. For the South, the war was for a just cause; that of preserving states rights, but also included an unjust cause; that of preserving slavery. I believe that the Northern cause was a more just cause, as is witnessed by the fact that no major European powers backed the South. We should judge both sides based on the knowledge that they had, not a prediction that slavery would have dissapeared anyway.

    This method of critiquing Pastor Wilson would mean that your two arguments are unnecessary. The authority of the Bible is irrelevant because the US government is a secular, not a Christian institution. The question of causation is also irrelevent, because none of the Northern leaders could have predicted the issues of today with any accuracy.

    Because of Christ,

    1. Kris Drees says:

      Also, I wanted to thank you and Pastor Wilson for your clarity and charity. I have lifted you up to some of my congregation as a great example of pastoral care.

    2. Ray Nearhood says:


      The preservation of slavery was a cause of secession for the South, however, the eradication of slavery was not a cause of declaration of war for the North. That should collapse your theory of the justness of the North’s part of the war. Not that I think that that matters much.

      Pastor Wilson seems to be claiming that the North was wrong because the government waged war before the gospel had the chance to slowly do away with slavery.

      That’s not quite right. Wilson argues that slavery would have been done away with by the spread of the Gospel, peacefully, if men would have been obedient to God (one of his presuppositions [I don’t remember if it is stated in the book] is that all men – believers or not – are bound to the moral law and obedience to God). He argues that the Gospel was taking hold in the South, that Christians were spreading the Gospel, and slavery would have been done away with peacefully and correctly.

      The authority of the Bible is irrelevant because the US government is a secular, not a Christian institution.

      This would be a whole other argument, but it seems that you are saying that God is Lord of Christian institution – full stop. Everything else gets to do their own thing. I’m sure the Westminster Divines, and most Reformed folk through the years, would disagree. For example:

      “The moral law does forever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof; and that, not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator, who gave it. Neither does Christ, in the Gospel, any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation.” WCF 19:5

      Pastor Wilson disagrees with Westminster West style Two Kingdoms theology. Would Pastor Anyabwile argue your point (which sounds something like Westminster West style Two Kingdoms theology) they would be at an impasse until that was resolved – if ever resolved. Not sure was Pastor Anyabwile’s position on that is, but it probably wouldn’t be wise to argue that here. Perhaps as a side note, like, “I know Doug Wilson opposes Two Kingdom theology, but…”

      The question of causation is also irrelevent, because none of the Northern leaders could have predicted the issues of today with any accuracy.

      Prediction of future of events was never Pastor Wilson’s point. Present obedience to God’s word always has been.

      1. Kris Drees says:


        I did not claim that ending slavery was a cause of the North declaring war. That was obviously the attack on Ft. Sumter. However, the Emancipation Proclamation made ending slavery a goal of the war. See: Frank J. Williams, “Doing Less and Doing More: The President and the Proclamation—Legally, Militarily and Politically,” in Harold Holzer, ed. The Emancipation Proclamation (2006) pp. 74–5. This makes the North’s cause more just than the South.

        Also, I never claimed that unbelievers or secular governments are not under God’s moral law. What I am saying is that a government
        should not be required to take into consideration ‘gospel transformation’ when deciding the just-ness of declaring and waging war.

        I am not claiming that God is not Lord of a secular government (forgive the double negative). God is sovereign over all the affairs of men. His laws apply to all. What I am saying is that war is not necessarily a violation of God’s law, when it is waged for just cause and in just manner.

        Pastor Wilson does seem to be claiming that the responsibility of the present disobedience of God’s word is to be laid at the feet of the North for eroding the separation of powers and state’s rights. I am saying we cannot lay the responsibility on the North because they could not have foreseen this modern disobedience.

        1. Ray Nearhood says:


          What I intended to say but was in a hurry earlier (and I do think that this is a pertinent) is that the Emancipation Proclamation was an executive order, not ratified, made by President Lincoln after the war had progressed two years and the Union was beginning to win. This is pertinent because it was not the stated goal of the war, even by the President that issued the Proclamation. That goal was the preservation of the Union, with or without slavery (this is not to say that Lincoln did not want slavery ended, even prior to the his election. He did. The “House Divided” speech is proof of that). The Proclamation did not apply to all slave holding states (Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri and many territories were not subject to the Proclamation – leaving nearly 1 million slaves in servitude) until after the war was finished. Anyhow, the point being that Emancipation of slaves was not a goal of the Union. It became a goal that was not realized until after the war was over, even in the Union States and many territories that were still slave holding at the beginning of the war.

          Also, the attack on Fort Sumter was, perhaps, the first war act of the war, however, even that is a complicated issue (Sumter was not Federal land, in the way that bases are today… many other Federal facilities in the South were seized without incident prior to Fort Sumter, etc…). Maintenance of the Union was the cause of the Union, not defense of federal facilities nor recapture of Fort Sumter and the like.

          The point is, if you are basing the justness of the Union in the war comparable to the Confederate states, then you will have to – at least – grant that they were more just only after two years of fighting.

          What I am saying is that a government should not be required to take into consideration ‘gospel transformation’ when deciding the just-ness of declaring and waging war.

          OK, then I misunderstood you.

          Pastor Wilson does seem to be claiming that the responsibility of the present disobedience of God’s word is to be laid at the feet of the North for eroding the separation of powers and state’s rights.

          I don’t think so. I think he is saying that the conditions that allow for the legality present disobedience – and the way that disobedient things are made legal – is a result of the results of the war. We are reaping the benefits of a combination of man’s disobedience and a society that can (and does) legally promote such disobedience.

      2. The eradication of slavery was a major cause for many Northerners to vote for Lincoln (and many had that abhorrence to slavery because of the influence of Biblical values). Hence, the North’s opposition to slavery was indeed a cause of the Civil War.

        Note Julia Ward Howe’s (a Northern abolitionists) writing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”: she beheld the glory of the Lord in the Union army precisely because she believed it was marching on to wipe out slavery.

        1. Ray Nearhood says:

          “…she beheld the glory of the Lord in the Union army precisely because she believed it was marching on to wipe out slavery.”

          That’s fine. However, biographical information about some Northerners supporting the war efforts because it would end slavery is no different than saying that some Southerners were fighting for a cause other than the preservation of slavery. Neither the eradication of slavery, nor the cause of limited federal power apart from the maintenance of slavery were the stated causes of either side.

          Preservation of the Union with or without slavery (North) and the promotion of state’s rights with the maintenance of slavery (South) were the stated goals of each sides fight.

          IF “To be a confederate, is to be a proponent of slavery.”
          THEN to be a unionist is to be a preserver of the union of states – slavery optional.

          Neither, I think, are true.

    3. David Burkhardt says:

      Kris said: My comments enclosed {}; “It seems to me that we have to judge the just-ness of the war based upon the knowledge that the leaders of the North and South had at the time. For the North, the war was for a just cause; that of extinguishing slavery, but also included an unjust cause; that of limiting states rights. For the South, the war was for a just cause; that of preserving states rights, but also included an unjust cause; that of preserving slavery. {Well said!} I believe that the Northern cause was a more just cause {Maybe if you subscribe to the just war theory via Augustine}, as is witnessed by the fact that no major European powers backed the South {The cause of eliminating evil slavery would have been justification in and of itself for the use of total war by “just war theorists”! Not that any European power would have allied itself with either side??} {In fact it might be argued that Great Britain, the superpower of the era, had more sympathies toward the South, based on the cotton trade and that the North was a major industrial competitor! And after Wilberforce peacefully ended the slave trade and eventually slavery, that was repugnant!! And the South after Gettysburg was losing the war, though the North’s violation of civil liberties in the martial state imposed was also lesser repugnant?} We should judge both sides based on the knowledge that they had, not a prediction that slavery would have disappeared anyway.” {Some knowledge; Wilberforce moral example, increased mechanization such as the McCormick reaper, etc; lessened economic need}

      I agree with a poster prior, that the Apostle Paul was setting the table for the eventually dismantling of slavery among Christians with both the inner impact of the Gospel of Jesus, and outward possibilities of that flow into a society.

      Lincoln’s views on slavery were a mixed bag. Again sounding like a broken record!: “The Real Lincoln” documents! If it was such a high priority, then why right away after the seceding of several Southern states in 1861, and them leaving the Congress, did Lincoln & Co. not enact the Emancipation Proclamation for all African Americans in both the North, Border states, and South. That act might have trembled the South, believing an internal uprising might occur??! But the EP was enacted after the North, finally, had somewhat competent Generals in Grant, Sherman & Sheridan and through sheer numbers and equipment was winning a war of attrition after the first 2 years of war. And the EP only applied to slaves in the Seceded South!! Did not want to anger the Border states: MD, WV, KY, MO,etc? and such. And ask if she were alive, why Harry Truman’s mother (from MO) refused to sleep in the Lincoln bedroom at the White House??! Just saying the War was not all about evil slavery, though that is what the majority believe!! The war did end slavery as practiced by the South for certain, but did not end racism or discrimination based on race!! That took the Supreme Court, Truman, Ike, JFK & RFK, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to start the ball rolling in that regard!

  23. J.F. says:

    Anyone else find it ironic that Wilson denounces African-Americans for playing the victim in his book while simultaneously portraying those who shared his political ideology (southerners) as victims of northern aggression/federal overreach/bloodthirsty abolitionists?

    1. Kevin Evans says:

      This is a very good point and I am glad you made it. It shows clearly the lack of empathy and thoughtful approach that is missing in Wilson’s book.

  24. Brian Metzer says:

    Thanks for taking up this conversation is such a thorough manner. While I appreciate the “dialogue,” and understand everyone’s expressions of appreciation to both sides, I hope that some persuasion might take place.
    One question that remains for me is exactly what Christian “alternative” to “the way slavery ended” might actually be envisioned that could have averted God’s judgment? If indeed, the toll that was paid during the Civil War was indicative of God’s severe judgment of sin (of both North and South), exacted on the South by the less righteous (generally speaking) North, and it was righteous judgment and deserved, as Wilson states, what hypothetical alternative does Wilson imagine?
    Isn’t Wilson in the end saying, “If only those Northerners had been more Biblical, we wouldn’t have had the Civil War, and the usurpation of states’ right… we could have experienced some other judgment from God for our sin?” The only alternative presumably that could have avoided God’s judgment was either gospel obedience from Northern and Southern Christians, or repentance and gospel reformation, and in short order. Because regardless of the Biblical or liberal stance of radical abolitionists, the one thing that seems inevitable is that God was going to judge the South.
    Further, taking Wilson’s slow road transformation view, who is to say that in God’s timing we hadn’t already passed the point when slavery should have been phased out through the outworking of the gospel? This seems to be another weak point in my estimation. It presumes that it must have been at some point yet future. The Christian community into which Paul wrote was not a power-wielding community. Pragmatically, his ability in the short run to change cultures and institutions was limited (and I do assume that he had this in view) and would happen through the accumulation of Christ-changed people. It seems to me that by the time Christianity had so grown that Christians actually were in stations of power and were themselves collectively responsible for the culture, that era in a distinctly different environment than that of Paul addressing Philemon.

    1. Alan Cross says:

      Great comment, Brian. Wilson acts like it was the Northern Abolitionists who decided to pursue the war the way that it happened. Also, the option of repentence was open to Southern Christians all along the way, an option that they never pursued, even after the war.

      The rest of your comment is spot on.

    2. I agree with your comment entirely, except for the brief suggestion that South was more righteous than the North. New England was the original Bible belt. Through the first half of the 19th century, it was the South that had the reputation of being a spiritually dark place.

      Contrary to Wilson’s suggestion, the North was pursuing the gradual approach and the South was committed to slavery. Further proof of that is that it took more federal action about a century later to deal with the racists policies the South still clung to. To imagine that the South was poised to gradually relinquish is sheer fantasy — fantasy in the opposition to fact.

      1. Brian Metzer says:

        John, thanks for your comment. I was not personably suggesting that the South was more righteous. I was just reiterating Wilson’s line of thinking.

  25. Adam Borsay says:

    Not having read the book what I would be interested in is Wilson’s views on “Just War”. If he takes the position of absolute pacifism on the part of Christians, I would consider his argument against the Civil War stronger. In that case, on a scale of degrees for sin, war/murder is always higher than “slavery”, no matter how morally repugnant it is. But, if he is not a complete pacifist(anabaptist mold perhaps), than his arguments fall flat. To put it simplistically; If he defends fighting Nazis, but not in freeing slaves, his point, imho, is moot.

    I think a stronger case could be made for arguing for the sinfulness of war in general, and that a lack of repentance of that sin by both the North and the South coupled with an ongoing sinful attitude and actions towards the “losers” of the war and the newly freed slaves is what should be explored.

  26. Brian Metzer says:

    Fortuitously, while doing family history, I ran across this unrelated Rev. Hopkins who posited in 1861 a nearly identical line of thinking as Doug Wilson,_Ecclesiastical,_and_Historical_View_of_Slavery. Replace “Radical Abolitionist” with “ultra-abolitionist.”

    Full text of the tract can be read here:,+ecclesiastical,+and+historical+view+of+slavery&hl=en&sa=X&ei=PVwTT5qHBMXo0QHslJ1h&ved=0CDAQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=scriptural%2C%20ecclesiastical%2C%20and%20historical%20view%20of%20slavery&f=false

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Thabiti Anyabwile

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

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