March 18th, 2013
I’m in the midst of following a rather interesting exchange between Thabiti Anyabwile and Doug Wilson regarding Doug’s book Black and Tan, which I read about five years ago, enjoyed and agreed with. I hyperlinked to the first post of each participant and assume that you are able if interested to follow and navigate to subsequent posts on your own if you wish to do so. For those of you keeping score, I’m only drinking a Guinness while writing this due to the unavailability of a pale ale at my disposal.
I would say that there are three main things that were at least semi-common practices of the old testament saints that are not inherently sinful in all cases but are a result of the fall and are not ideal in the created order which have been subverted by the incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. These things are (in no particular order) war, slavery, polygamy. There are obviously others but I would classify the three mentioned above as the main ones. I think evangelicals are tripped up by all of these topics and that understanding one of them helps you understand the others. I’m not the first person to bring up polygamy, as it has come up at least a couple of times in the comments of Doug’s blog posts, but I might be the first one to associate war here.
These are subversions in principle. These institutions in various forms will continue until Jesus Christ comes in glory to judge the living and the dead. There will always be polygamy, slavery, and war (c.f. Matthew 24:6 and Mark 13:7).
1. Polygamy: I think this might be the easiest of the three to deal with but still causes its share of stumbling. A lot of people who think it is settled try to use it incorrectly, especially in debating other sexual issues like homosexuality. There was an amendment to the North Carolina constitution last year that passed in spite of my opposition to it. The amendment defined marriage constitutionally as only being between one man and one woman. The subtext of this is as a referendum and a defensive act against the legalization of homosexual marriage. I voted against the amendment because of the unjust prohibition of polygamy that it implies. Now before you jump to any conclusions, let me affirm that marriage between one man and one woman is in every way superior to marriage between one man and several women. The Bible is clear on this (Ephesians 5, Genesis 2, Matthew 19, and several other places). Marriage is a picture between Christ and the church and the nature of your marriage (even unbelieving marriages) is always a reflection upon and a statement about Christ and the church. Sometimes we in our sexual relations preach truth about Christ and the Church, sometimes we preach falsehood, and sometimes we preach preach heresy. I would put polygamy in the falsehood category and not in the heresy category (like overt adultery or homosexuality).
By and large, this was the first of the three to be subverted in Christendom because polygamists are banned from church leadership as elders and deacons. This was not just a subversion of polygamy as such, but a subversion of ancient society. The polygamists were, by and large, the rich, the wealthy, and the powerful in society. Now the converted poor guy with one wife whom the converted polygamist was in many cases the superior in society was the inferior in the church. Notice how this subversion is accomplished. It is not in or by the state. It is not a political solution. It is a church solution. I didn’t research it but as far as I know polygamy is illegal in every one of the fifty states. One of the arguments that Christians erroneously make against state sponsored homosexual “marriage” is that this will open the door back up for legalized polygamy with the assumption that legalized polygamy would be a political retrogression. This is a settled and closed issue just as slavery allegedly is. On the contrary, I as a postmillennialist believe that as the church matures and grows in size and Christlikeness that all of the laws making polygamy illegal in the civil/political sense will be repealed. There will still be laws governing and requiring how polygamists would provide for their wives, but there would be so few polygamists that it would be irrelevant.
Our current cultural situation is not superior to one where technical polygamy is legal and widespread. How many people practice serial polygamy by shacking up with various people or multiple divorces and remarriages? The Bible is a lot clearer that divorce is worse than polygamy. We, thinking that we are wiser than God, have made polygamy illegal and divorce widespread in the political/civil realm. What do we have to show for it? How many children grow up in broken families without fathers? The functional widow and the fatherless are an ever-growing portion of the population. The state, with its anti-polygamy laws and its “war on poverty” openly subsidize and create fatherlessness. Is it any wonder that we are now dealing with widespread sexual deviation in this culture to the point where it is seen as a right, if not a virtue, to sin sexually? We are muddled because of a “crusader” mentality that thinks there “ought to be a law” for everything. If polygamy is bad, then it needs to be illegal; if drug use is bad, then drug use needs to be illegal; if slavery is bad then it needs to be illegal. Such goes the reasoning. But this is a muddled confusion between sins and crimes. The Bible says that drunkenness is a sin. The solution is the gospel, not prohibition. The Bible says that lending money to poor people is a sin. The solution is not some arbitrary anti-usury laws or regulations of usury. Passing laws that try to turn sins into crimes is believing that you are wiser than God. If God does not have a criminal punishment for it prescribed in the Bible, then it is wrong to have one in your political order.
2. Slavery: With the prior discussion on polygamy as a backdrop, perhaps we can now look at slavery. This is especially complicated in America because it was the only nation in modern history that “ended” slavery with a war. Even now, 148 years after the end of the war, this is still a touchy subject. The propagandization of the war and the history leading up to it by the victors, muddles the water even more. Even more than this is the fact that the war is seen through the horrific lens for post war relations between those of African descent and those of European descent. (Note that I did not use the word “race” in the previous sentence. There is only one human race all descended from Noah. The idea of multiple races implies some sort of evolutionary polygenesis that I wholeheartedly reject. I’m not going to go any further down this tangent, but I encourage you to look up Answers in Genesis on the topic.) Like polygamy, there are circumstances where slavery is not inherently sinful. You could legitimately have slavery be part of the enforcement of a broken private contract where the party breaking the contract does not have funds to pay restitution. Like polygamy, our civil and political treatment of slavery is a result of believing that we are wiser than God.
Our contemporary prison system is more horrific on average than southern slavery and possibly ancient slavery. In fact our contemporary prison system is slavery, but all of the slave masters are the worst of all possible alternatives, agents of the state. We need to not pat ourselves on the back and think that we have ended slavery. A war and a constitutional amendment saying that slavery is ended do not end slavery. Lincoln used conscription (which is clearly a form of slavery) in order to defeat the confederacy. In fact, if I were a diabolical monster who wanted to enslave a population, the first thing I would do is write a law formally stating that slavery was illegal. Then I would have sycophants in the judiciary (whatever form it would take) who would rule in every case that whatever the state is doing to people is not slavery. Forcing you to work in compulsory schools for ten years: not slavery. Giving a substantial portion of your income (as much as 90% at some points in U.S. history): not slavery. Being forced to fight wars all over the world via conscription: not slavery. Telling businesses what they had to produce and what price they had to sell what they produced for in order to wage said war: not slavery. Sending people in your country to concentration camps and detaining them against their will for several years: you guessed it – not slavery. Amazing, isn’t it? What a racket! These examples aren’t from Lenin (who was a master of this and self-conscious disciple of Abraham Lincoln). These are examples from post-civil war, post 13th amendment US history. Thinking that we have somehow ended slavery on a national or worldwide basis is beyond naive. In the “non-slavery” 20th century, hundreds of millions of people were killed by their own governments. The slavery of the modern state is more barbaric than southern slavery and more barbaric than ancient slavery, while apparently being subtle enough that the average person experiencing it doesn’t even see the problem.
There were certain atrocities of the antebellum southern slavery system. There were laws and regulations prohibiting free market competition with the plantation system. There were laws prohibiting teaching your slaves how to read and write (thereby keeping those who were slaves as slaves indefinitely if you were to unrighteously follow said laws). There was a racial element to antebellum southern slavery. There was kidnapping and manstealing where people who were kidnapped and shipped halfway around the world. Everybody American knows the story. If you are a product of the “non-slavery” compulsory government educational system who doesn’t have enough intellectual curiosity to read minority reports, that’s all you know. All you know are the horrors of the southern slave system. Just like all you know are the horrors that the Nazis committed. You are not taught about the greater horrors of the North or of the pre-cold-war Soviet Union (America’s allies during the second world war). Southern slavery is supposed to justify Sherman’s murderous and rape-filled march to the sea and the Holocaust is supposed to somehow justify the bombing of Dresden and the dropping of an atomic bomb on Nazi ally Japan. I’m not going to focus much more on slavery. I’ll leave that to Doug and Thabiti. As you might surmise from the end of this paragraph, my focus is going to be on the third (and most horrific) of these categories: war. I’m going to poke my fellow evangelicals in the eye on this and I’m going to do it hard.
The way that slavery will end (note this is future tense and not past tense) will be by the gradual spread of the gospel. One important effect of the spread of the gospel and the growth of the church will be the emergence of a free market economy. As ably pointed out by Ludwig von Mises in his magnum opus Human Action is that slavery can never compete with free labor in a free market economy. (See Chapter XXI Work and Wages section 9 “The work of animals and slaves.”) In a free market slavery is a losing proposition, so even slavery among profit-seeking unbelivers will end. Indeed it was the industrial revolution that caused formally legal slavery to be ended in every country except for the United States. It’s easy to write a law ending slavery or to have a subsidized compensated emancipation when your slaves are already providing you with an operating loss.
3. War: War is no less subverted by the advent of Christ than polygamy or slavery. I believe it will be the last of the three to fall in practicality. This may be due to the particular culture that I live in, but I think the subversion here is more subtle than the other two. There have been two thousand years of Christianity, and by my reckoning a majority of Christians are still pro war. It doesn’t matter what the war is about; we’re for it. We love our crusades and we will crusade over the most trivial of things. There have been good guys and bad guys in church history on this, and there will continue to be good guys and bad guys. While not perfect, Augustine’s just war theory was a big step in the right direction. Because Christianity has spread throughout the globe, you are not going to have a war today that does not have Christians on both sides. Christians should be the last ones to buy the propaganda and nationalistic fervor that leads to war. Is our allegiance to the political district we happen to dwell in or to the international kingdom of Jesus Christ? (It’s supposed to be a rhetorical question.) If Christians refuse to fight against other Christians in armed combat, war will be subverted. The Bible is clear about the global nature of the church. Here are a couple passages that illustrate this:
“And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God. And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this?” -Acts 2:1-12
“And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints. And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.” – Revelation 5:8-10
Like slavery and polygamy, participation in warfare or membership in an army is not inherently sinful. Like polygamists and slaveholders can be converted and aren’t required to send their extra wives or slaves packing, so members of armies can be converted and aren’t required to desert. ”And the soldiers likewise demanded of him [John the baptist], saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages. (Luke 3:14)” However, just as I wouldn’t encourage an existing Christian to go out and get more wives or buy some slaves, I would also not encourage a Christian to enlist an army. Governments do capricious things and get involved in stupid wars. It’s what they do. War is the health of the state. You do not want to be voluntarily enlisted in an army when an Austrian dignitary gets assassinated in Sarajevo. If you join an army in the world today the odds are pretty good that you will be ordered to commit acts of warfare against other Christians.
With the advent of the firearm and its dissemination to the people, the military model of defense became obsolete for all intents and purposes. Now all you need is a well armed citizenry trained in marksmanship. This is the Swiss model of defense. Nobody is going to successfully invade and occupy a country where every inhabitant is a potential sniper in a guerrilla resistance. If you have a free market and self-defense is included in that free market, the ability to defend yourself from an aggressor nation without the use of state-sponsored warfare and armies will not be lacking.
I’m going to quote Thabiti Anyabwile verbatim on this, because if the paragraph quoted below applies to not enslaving others, how much more does it apply to not killing them for the sake of national or ideological vainglory?
“What texts am I speaking of? I would privilege all the biblical texts that command love for neighbor (Matt. 22:35-39), love for enemies (Matt. 5:43-48), and especially love for brothers and sisters in Christ. This, our Lord teaches us, is the second greatest commandment. All the Law and the Prophets hang upon this command and the command to love God above all (Matt. 22:40). Jesus teaches us that love is the distinguishing mark of true discipleship, a mark that should be so evident that the world will know we’re His disciples (John 13:34-35). The apostle John elevates love to almost a synonym for the gospel itself—”This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.” He continues, “And this is his command: to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as He commanded us” (1 John 3:11, 23). John tells us we have no right to regard ourselves as Christians apart from love for the brothers (1 Jn 4:20-21).”
Both the North and the South were wrong to resort to warfare. Both sides invaded each other. (The Battle of Gettysburg occurred in the North. If the South had fought the war in an entirely defensive manner on its own soil, this would have been very different.) The reasons for the war are broader than slavery, and I would contend that while slavery surely was a factor, but I don’t think that it was the primary factor. However, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that slavery was the only factor. Was ending slavery worth waging war over? Was it deserving of the “conquest of Canaan-style” total war march to the sea? The Northerners were the crusaders in this war. Convert or die. It’s fairly safe to say that most American Christians are Northerners now in this sense. Subsequent American warfare has been universally in-line with the crusader mentality, whether it’s the slaughter in the Philippines, the World Wars, the Cold War, Vietnam, or the current middle eastern wars (complete with the almost universal American Christian sentiment that we will bomb the hell out of anybody who even looks at Israel funny). All of these wars have had widespread Christian support.
The “culture wars” will always be a losing proposition for Christianity if we approach it with a crusader attitude. I would also contend that the culture wars will continue to be a losing proposition until we as Christians reform our perspectives on war. We might even want to rethink the name “culture war” itself.
Can you be taken seriously when you talk about how sacred life in the womb is when you support United States wars that bomb foreign civilians (including pregnant women and the unborn babies they carry)? Are we only pro-life within the borders of the United States? Is the pro-life movement just a smokescreen to get Christians to vote Republican (cough, National Right to Life, cough)? If you are bloodthirsty in your foreign policy, these questions are on the table when you’re talking about abortion with unbelievers. American Christians should not let their warmongering be an excuse (albeit an illegitimate one) for unbelievers to continue in their unbelief.
I would contend that our witness is compromised when Christians support, endorse and vote for pro-war candidates. What if both major party candidates were pro-war? Don’t vote for either. You’d do the same thing if they were both pro-abortion, wouldn’t you? Nah, you’d probably still vote Republican anyway with some convoluted lesser of two evils logic. If you voted for “Bomb, Bomb Iran” candidates John McCain or Mitt Romney, then shame on you. You deserve Obama. I am ashamed to say that I voted for war criminal and general all around tyrant George W. Bush twice. I deserve Obama. I didn’t come around entirely on the war and peace thing and repent of voting for Bush until sometime in 2005.
But, you may say, there hasn’t been a pro-life anti-war candidate in my lifetime. What do I do? Five years ago, I would have said vote your conscience and leave the parts of your ballot where there isn’t a good choice blank. I’m less convinced of the merit of that today than I was then. Today, I would say don’t waste your time voting at all. Vocal non-voting and protest of the establishment non-choices provided is more effective than voting. It is still not the complete answer though. Like polygamy and slavery, the solution is not the state; it is the church. The state is the problem, not the solution and will continue to be the problem until it acts in such a manner that it only intervenes in situations that the Bible defines as crimes and only intervenes using Biblical due process. Your vote won’t get the state there; spend your time doing something more productive.