Dabney and slavery

Discussion in 'General discussions' started by Herald, Mar 6, 2007.

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  1. Herald

    Herald Moderator Staff Member

    Thank you to Andrew for suggesting I find an existing thread of start one of my own. I searched and wasn't able to find a thread dealing with this topic. There probably is but I've missed it.

    My question is simple. If Dabney was sympathetic or in agreement with antebellum slavery, how does this effect his legacy? In the spirit of honesty, my question is not without a bias. I believe slavery, specifically antebellum slavery in the United States, was a great sin. As with any sin, it can be forgiven in Christ. Many PB members hold Dabney in high regard. I am not trying to create a stir or question Dabney's contribution to the church, but I would like an answer to my question.

  2. Blueridge Believer

    Blueridge Believer Puritan Board Professor

    Brother Bill, I would suggest reading Dabney's book, "In defence of Virginia and the south". It will give you an insight into what he thought as well as what he believed. One must remember that just 30 yrs befor the war, all the states were slave states and the Union still had five slave states untill after the war ended.

    BTW, what was the apostle Paul's view on slavery? How about the OT saints? IMO, Dabney's views on slavery do not affect his legacy whatsoever. He was a product of his time.
  3. bwsmith

    bwsmith Puritan Board Freshman

    Unfortunately, many men – and women – of conscience blinked at slavery. For example Daniel Webster’s contribution to the Dred Scott decision - which should be required reading. (As should Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and The Minister’s Wooing. )
    Maybe this link will help?

  4. satz

    satz Puritan Board Senior


    Is your problem with slavery per se, or with the specific way slavery was carried out in the time period you are referring to?
  5. Herald

    Herald Moderator Staff Member

    Brother James, I'm trying to divorce myself from the South vs. North perspective and center on the institution of slavery. It has been my experience that any comment about slavery (in the negative) is taken as a rebuke of the South. I am not going there with this question. I am centering on the issue of slavery and the role of the Christian in regards to it.

    What comments did Paul make regarding slavery?

    I believe this passage reveals Paul's true feeling about slavery. He viewed Onesimus as a brother in Christ, not a slave to man. He wanted Philemon to accept him as a brother. But Paul also knew that slavery was legal. He could have ordered Philemon (1:18-19), but instead appealed to him as fellow brother.

    I lump slavery in with divorce. Moses permitted divorce because of the hardness of Israel's heart. Slavery was also allowed, not because it was good and decent, but rather because the hearts of the people were corrupt in that area.

    I do understand that Dabney was a product of his time. We are products of our own time. But if slavery is wrong, then the era in which it is practiced is of little concern In my humble opinion. I suppose this can easily turn into a debate on whether slavery is a sin. The cat is out of the bag regarding my position on salvery. I do believe it is a sin.
  6. Herald

    Herald Moderator Staff Member

  7. Blueridge Believer

    Blueridge Believer Puritan Board Professor

    Paul also said:
    1Ti 6:1 Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed.

    Now back to the question at hand. How do you think we should feel about Dabney, since he was a Confederate officer and a slave holder himself? For that matter, since most of our fathers of the Puritan era were members of a slaveholding society, how should we feel about them? All it proves is that men were and are sinners. Slavery is not the supreme sin of the world. I would submit that the murder of millions of children in this country has far excelled it.
    BTW, slavery was around a long time before Moses tolerated it. Abraham was quite a slave holder himself.
  8. SolaGratia

    SolaGratia Puritan Board Junior

    Slavery & Christianity


    The www.trinityfoundation.org just released a new book which is a commentary on Paul's letter to Philemon, title Salvery and Christianity by author John W. Robbins. You might want to get a hold of it, since the author has some interesting information regarding the U.S. Civil War or the War of Rebellion (which is the official name for the Civil War in the Annals of the U.S.), Romanism, because the Pope was in favored of the Confederate government, Dabney, True Biblical Christianity, and more. Below is some info. from the website on the book,

    Slavery. Racism. Rebellion. Civil disobedience. The problems are as pressing today as they were 1900 years ago when the Apostle Paul wrote a letter to a slave-owner, Philemon, about his runaway slave – and the runaway slave carried Paul’s letter back to his legal owner.

    What did the letter say? Did Paul – does Christianity – approve of slavery? Does Christianity condone slavery? Or does the Gospel abolish slavery and establish freedom wherever it is believed? Jesus said, “If you abide in my Word, you are my disciples indeed; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

    Paul’s letter to Philemon is a masterpiece of divinely inspired political philosophy. It provides the basis for the non-violent abolition of slavery wherever the Gospel of Jesus Christ is preached and believed.

    Dr. John W. Robbins holds the Ph.D. in Political Philosophy from The Johns Hopkins University. His most recent book is Freedom and Capitalism: Essays on Christian Politics and Economics.-www.trinityfoundation.org
  9. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    Yes, we're all sinners and so let's not shy away from the fact that Dabney's views toward black people was sinful. We need not beat around the bush nor believe we are more justified in God's sight by noting that.

    I wish I could find a biography of a contemporary of Dabney - John L. Girardeau. Contrary to Dabney, Girardeau labored to spread the Gospel and establish Presbyterian congregations among black men in a time when Dabney was actively working to refuse their admittance into the Presbyterian Church.

    Seems to me that one man could live by the idea of "...there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, ..." when it went against the grain of socieity while another man could not.

    I have no doubt that Dabney trusted Christ as His Savior but this is a blight on the man's record.
  10. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    Here it is:


  11. Blueridge Believer

    Blueridge Believer Puritan Board Professor

    Have you ever read some of Lincoln's views on Black people? There was never a more vile rascist. It seems it was a societal trait in those days. Whatever you want to say about Dabney, he is no geater sinner than you or I. He was no less of one either.
  12. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    Do you have a reading comprehension problem?

    Did I mention Lincoln for a moment? I don't care for one solitary moment what Lincoln thought of Black People. I do care how a minister of the Gospel of Christ did. A strange comparison you make.

    I demonstrated a peer who, under persecution, labored in the Gospel to treat men born in the image of God as worthy heirs to share in the inheritance of the Gospel.

    You seem to think that Paul was asking little of the Jews to treat Gentiles like brothers. It was hard enough to get a Jew to think of a "dog" as a human being worthy of simple conversation much less to embrace a man who you grew up thinking unclean. Do you think it was a small thing that Peter separated himself from the Gentile believers in Antioch? Paul had to withstand him to his face! The scene is pitiful - a pillar in the Church probably caused some Gentiles to desire circumcision just so they could be like Peter and the other Jews who were separating themselves.

    Integrity demands that we face our sins and not pretend they're not so bad because, after all, Lincoln was a sinner too. That's the way the world judges righteousness.

    Let me write this again so you can read it after you take off your blinders that prevent you from seeing any criticism of things of the South - Dabney is no better or no worse than I. Let me say this again so you triply have no excuse not to pay attention: Dabney is no better or worse than I. We're all sinners saved by Grace.

    I do think it is lamentable and, indeed, a blight on the man's reputation as a man of the Gospel that he refused the right hand of fellowship to men who were made his brothers and sisters by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
  13. Davidius

    Davidius Puritan Board Post-Graduate


    It is sad to think that race could cause us to view our brothers and sisters in Christ differently. However, must racism be equated with slavery? As others in this thread have mentioned, I myself am wondering if the whole counsel of God concerning the institution of "household servants" should be thrown out because of one verse in Philemon. Indentured servitude used to be a way that criminals or individuals owing debts could both make amends and learn a skill which would help them to later be more effective in society. Also, it is an unfair generalization to say that every single Southerner during the civil war beat their slaves and treated them like animals. What about when slaves were seen as equals in Christ (part of the covenant household), provided for (food, shelter, religious teaching, love, etc) but just don't have the same social status and are employed in the service of another human being? Is it possible that the baby is being thrown out with the bathwater? But as you've already mentioned, Rich, I realize that this thread is about Dabney and his view of slavery. So perhaps this is the wrong place for my question.
  14. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    And also, let us not let modern discussions of racial-based slavery blind us to the fact that indentured servitude, properly qualified and applied, can be a great asset to society.
  15. ChristopherPaul

    ChristopherPaul Puritan Board Senior

  16. Blueridge Believer

    Blueridge Believer Puritan Board Professor

    Psa 133:1 <A Song of degrees of David.> Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!
    Psa 133:2 It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments;
    Psa 133:3 As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the LORD commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.


    Goodnight dear brethren!:lol:
  17. BlackCalvinist

    BlackCalvinist Puritan Board Senior

    But slavery of the apostle Paul's time and manstealing are/were two different things. Slavery in the US resembled virtually nothing of slavery practiced during NT times.
  18. BlackCalvinist

    BlackCalvinist Puritan Board Senior

  19. Herald

    Herald Moderator Staff Member

    Let me qualify what I mean by slavery. In the antebellum context slavery did not consist of indentured servitude. If a person wished to obligate themselves to another for payment, I would not equate that to slavery. But America's history is not with indentured servitude. Rather it is with the trading of human beings for profit.

    James was quite right when he pointed out the horror of abortion. But my OP was not to compare one sin against another. That is an attempt to minimize the gravity of one sin by trumping it with another. Slavery was an abomination. Strong word? Yes, I suppose it is. But what sin isn't an abomination before the eyes of a holy God?

    Many of us have our personal heroes. Spurgeon, Edwards, Pink, Gill, Calvin, Luther etc. They were all men. They were all sinful men. Knowing this, shouldn't their fallibility be all the more cause for us to embrace God? None of us, nor any person of history is beyond examination. God does not care what side of the Mason-Dixon Line that we call home.

    It would be easy for this thread to take on a life of its own. We are not going to solve the problem of racism in this thread, but perhaps we can remember that the gospel is to go forth to all, regardless of race, current religion or socio-economic status. Racism always results in slavery...of the mind. The mind must first be convinced that one man is better than another. Once that is accomplished, one man owning another comes naturally.

    There is only one enslavement that I would desire:

    [bible]Romans 6:22-23[/bible]
  20. Herald

    Herald Moderator Staff Member

    Jacob, but we're not talking about indentured servitude.
  21. BlackCalvinist

    BlackCalvinist Puritan Board Senior

    Well, when we're dealing with slavery in the US, it was indeed race-based and racial biases were institutionalized by the government to continue such oppression. Injustice upon injustice was piled upon people snatched from their land and sold into slavery. Husbands and wives were separated from one another, as one was sold off one place, and another elsewhere.

    Let us not downplay the inhumanities that were done in an effort to save a 'hero' of the faith's reputation. He defended it. Let us not try to change it into a strictly 'slavery' (and then 'biblical slavery') issue when it was indeed a 'race' issue to begin with. That's disrespectful to the people who still deal with the effects of it today.
  22. Davidius

    Davidius Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    I surely didn't mean to be disrespectful toward anyone and I apologize if it seemed that way.

    I think I made every point that you made in response to my post. Was I unclear about the distinction you brought up? I said I realize that the thread wasn't originally started to be about "slavery vs. 'biblical slavery'" but I was agreeing with others who were responding to reactionary tendencies. People earlier in this thread have said that slavery of any kind is immoral and I think that's false. That's all I was trying to say. As you can see from the small part of my comment which you did quote, I acknowledge that the concept of racial superiority is evil.
  23. ChristianTrader

    ChristianTrader Puritan Board Graduate

    The only reason that people still deal with the effect today is due to Reconstruction and the various governmental programs in the following years. I personally think that Black Americans in general would have been better off if the South had won. But I am a crazy CR, so you do not have to mind me. :D

  24. bookslover

    bookslover Puritan Board Professor

    And, apparently, Dabney never changed his mind. When he died in 1898 - more than 30 years after the end of the Civil War - he had instructed his survivors that he was to be buried in his military uniform. Good theologian, but definitely with a blind spot regarding slavery.
  25. BlackCalvinist

    BlackCalvinist Puritan Board Senior

    It's cool. I apologize if I came off a little too harsh. I still get a little heated on this sometimes. And for the record, I do believe that an institutionalized form of slavery for criminals would probably be extremely beneficial to our society.... and somewhat rehabilitative.

    I'll agree with the above post - Dabney just had a blind spot on slavery.

    At the end of the day, we all have blindspots..... while I don't wanna ever see slavery in the US minimized, I also don't wanna see folk harping all over every theologian who ever owned a slave (there's a few folk on the board I was a moderator at who LOVE bashing Jonathan Edwards on this issue).

    As my good friend Redeemed would say "I wonder how people are going to look back on their lives 50-100 years from now when they're dead and which sins of theirs they'll pull out and parade around as if it were the totality of their lives...."
  26. bookslover

    bookslover Puritan Board Professor

    Doesn't it imply that he never changed his mind about the slavery issue and that, on that score, the South was right and the North was wrong?
  27. Davidius

    Davidius Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Since the conflict wasn't ultimately about slavery :)worms:?) I don't think the fact that he was buried in his uniform necessarily means that it was because of his racial philosophy.
  28. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member


    Let me get this out on the table to disarm some people that love the South: I acknowledge that racism exists in the North and always has. Growing up in the military (my father was career USAF) I was isolated from much of the turmoil going on in the 70's and 80's. My parents are from New London, CT (though my family now all lives in the South in TX and VA).

    I remember being shocked when my father told me that his father and uncle were racist. Moving around a lot, I probably spent a grand total of a week with them in 18 years. The realization that they were racist was quite a shock to me. I remember talking to my grandmother around 1992 when my brother was getting married. I was excited for him. She was not so excited. I asked her why? It was because my sister-in-law (Mexican) had a wallet full of pictures of friends who, in her words, were "..blacker than the Ace of Spades...." My grandfather, who was 94 when he died in 1990, used to say that black people were related to monkeys. These are all Yankees folks.

    I've lived all over the U.S. and I can say that racism exists everywhere. Anyone that knows the history of the U.S. knows that we have a history - both in the North and the South - of racism. Margaret Sanger, like many in her day, was a huge believer in Eugenics. Planned Parenthood was created to cut down on the number of "undesirables" that the colored races were producing.

    Thus, no corner of the U.S. has clean hands. In short: This ain't a Southern thang. Lincoln was not a saintly hero that considered all men equal and it's clear that he would have compromised on slavery to preserve the union at certain points in the Civil War.

    That ought to satisfy those who fear that every time someone like Dabney comes up that the high falootin Yankees are sticking their noses in the air and dissing the South.

    So, now that I've said that let me make this plain: this absurd idea that life was heaven on earth for the black people in the South before the War is just absurd. I've had conversations with sober and respectable Christians that try to re-pristinate the South and argue that black people liked living in the South and conditions were just great for them.

    There are plenty of wonderful things about the South. It's simply not necessary to try to whitewash the period or make excuses for it. If a Yankee is trying to pretend that racism is a Southern thing then tell him to pound sand but when people are saying American slavery was bad as was the racism that pervaded the U.S. during that period, Christians ought to be the first people to agree with that wholeheartedly.

    Hemming and hawing over it and saying: "Yeah, slavery was bad but let's not forget that indentured servanthood is good" just strikes me like saying: "Suicide bombers are bad but dynamite is good for mining so let's not forget about that."
  29. Davidius

    Davidius Puritan Board Post-Graduate



    While I agree with your post in general, I would say that those who react in such a way are not being so ridiculous. It's mostly done in response to reactionaries (something on which Joshua has touched). Whether or not all blacks in the antebellum South lived well (which I don't think any intelligent person would argue), the fact is that some did. There were godly men who treated their servants as I would assume Abraham did his. When someone comes along and says "slavery was done wrongly by some (or most?) 18th and 19th century Southerners (Americans), therefore all slavery is evil and a sinful abomination to God," it's important to point out that they're wrong because they're teaching the doctrines of man as the commandments of God at that point. We're not trying to defend racial subjugation, we're saying that 1) it's not fair to use slavery as something with which to pick on the South (an issue which you've aptly dealt with), 2) it's not fair to accuse anyone who has ever practiced slavery as being cruel and sinful and 3) the differentiation between cruel, racially-driven slavery and 'other' slavery is important for other reasons as well, such as being able to respond to those who make it sound like God was a racist plantation owner because of their knee-jerk reaction to seeing what the bible has to say about slavery. I hate hearing people dismiss things in the bible which have become politically incorrect, joining in with the crowd and condemning things which the bible hasn't condemned, just to look better to unbelievers. When my atheist uncle brought up this issue with me I had to be honest with him and say that the bible doesn't condemn slavery but that it was actually acceptable in Israel's civil law and that Paul describes how slaves can glorify God through their status, by showing what it means to be a bondservant of Christ. However, I did point out to him that the slavery described in the bible is not what everyone thinks of today when their knees jerk.

    The people who argue this way could be a little less dismissive of the real problems which you've addressed; you're definitely right there. But that is an issue of having left something out, not of having said something incorrect.
  30. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    My g-g-g-father moved from Pennslvania with his 2 slaves prior to the Civil War and then him and his slaves fought together for the north, afterwards splitting up their land and sharecropping all together afterwards. That part of southern Missouri was a hotbed of Confederate sympathizers and the rest of my relatives were them... So, I can recognize the complexities of all this.

    And yes, Sunday morning is still the most segregated time in America.
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