The Religious Right, the Bible, and Slavery

People For the American Way’s Right Wing Watch blog noted yesterday that one of Pat Robertson’s viewers asked a question about early American Christians having supported slavery [full disclosure: as my bio notes, I’m a senior fellow at PFAW]. Robertson said that the Bible supported slavery, but added, “We have moved in our conception of the value of human beings until we realized slavery was terribly wrong.” As RWW blogger Brian Tashman noted, “Of course, when Dan Savage made a similar point about the Bible (albeit with saltier language), the Religious Right was irate.” Savage picked up on the Robertson comment and noted,

We’re asking conservative Christians to ignore what the Bible says about homosexuality just as they ignore what the Bible says about slavery. (They ignore what the Bible says about slavery so thoroughly that many don’t know that the Bible says anything about slavery at all!)

Actually, as RD readers know, the religious right doesn’t ignore Bible passages about slavery altogether; it uses them to support anti-worker, anti-union policies. A March 2011 article on biblical capitalism noted that Ralph Reed co-authored a 1990 Christian Coalition leadership manual that cites four passages instructing slaves to be obedient to their masters, including this one from 1 Peter 2:18-19:

Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. 

The lesson drawn by Christian Coalition leaders from these slaves-obey-your-masters passages?

Of course, slavery was abolished in this country many years ago, so we must apply these principles to the way Americans work today, to employees and employers: Christians have a responsibility to submit to the authority of their employers, since they are designated as part of God’s plan for the exercise of authority on the earth by man.