Monday, 26 March 2007

The Lessons of Slavery for the Christians

This week-end (tomorrow) marks the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade by the British Parliament. Something which, of course everyone should rejoice in, even though 200 years on there is evidence that slavery still exists in the world albeit in different forms to what one may normally think about when thinking about slavery.

Many institutions and organisations have been keen to rejoice in and mark the anniversary. This afternoon in London, the Church of England, had organised a "Walk of Witness" which was led by the archbishops of Canterbury and York.

200 years ago, there was a strong debate within the Church of England to decide whether William Wilberforce was right to say that Christians should oppose salvery. Last year the Church made a formal apology for its role in slavery. The Church held slaves on plantations in the Caribbean.An amendment "recognising the damage done" to those enslaved was backed overwhelmingly by the General Synod in February 2006.

The Roman Catholic Church seem to have been a little more precaucious in rejecting slavery, with Pope Eugene IV condeming it in his bull Sicut Dudum as early as 1435. As late as 1866, the Holy Office of the Vatican was however still issuing statements in support of slavery and it seems to have waited until 1917 to official condemn it (some say this did not happen until as late as the Vatican II Council, in 1965).

Still, right up until abolition, the Bible was used to justify slavery. Leviticus was a particularly useful tool in the respect but there several passages of the Bible can be used to support this practice. At the time when the different books constituted the Bible, slavery was something perfectly normal and socially accepted, just like other customs which have since then been discarded.

The Bible was also used in the State quite recently to forbid mixed race marriages. It has been used to forbid many things, indeed.

Today, the archbishop of Canterbury invited the people attending to join him into "humbly" preparing themselves to "ask forgiveness for [...] our part in disfiguring the face of the Church, making Christ unrecognisable in the world."

I would like to hope that it will not take 200 years for all religious leaders and their followers to do what they did over slavery; to move away from their holy texts which are so obviously steeped in the traditions of the time at which they were written and to stop "making Christ unrecognisable in the world" by recognising that homosexuality is not the "abomination" they currently want to believe it to be. IF they can change their minds on such a pervasive biblical tradition as slavery, they can do it for other, less prominent, things.

The events of the past few months, and of last week particularly, in which Dr Sentamu (the archbishop of York) was himself rather ignominiously involved, do not lead me to optimism.

See Also:
* Christianity and slavery on Wikipedia.
* Christian View of Slavery Same As Homosexuality by Liberated Christians.
* The Final Abolition of Slavery In Christian Lands on Religious Tolerance.org
* Two Classes of Church Citizenship? - Advert in the Church Times by the Lesbian Gay Christian Movement. More details here.

First published on Saturday 24 March at 19:55. Updated on Monday 26 March