Puritanism, Slavery, and Abortion

Discussion in 'General discussions' started by carlosstjohn, Aug 31, 2015.

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  1. carlosstjohn

    carlosstjohn Puritan Board Freshman

    Hey everyone! I have a question for you guys to help me out with today.

    I want to start by saying I love the puritans. I hold them in high esteem and reverence as thinkers of the Bible.

    Secondly, I would like to say all of us believe that abortion is sin. Minus the nuances and exceptions that you may hold to, general abortion is murder. I would also say that most of us would say that a real christian cannot believe in abortion. Sure there may be some exceptions but any person now that is born again cannot support abortion. (Feel free to discuss this as this second premise serves as a pillar for my question)

    So, how then, as we reformed believers who love and support puritans, knowing that some had the flaws of owning slaves and not standing against the idea of slavery, can we also say that there is no way a true christian can believe in abortion?

    In other words, we love the puritans. And we are so quick to explain away, not really justify, but just more explain why we can still read and enjoy the puritans even if they owned slaves. But when it comes to abortion, we are more quick to question someone's true salvation if they believe in abortion? How can these two actions/ideals be consistent with one another?
  2. OPC'n

    OPC'n Puritan Board Doctor

    The first thing that comes to mind is that God has a law against murder but he never stated a law against slavery.
  3. Backwoods Presbyterian

    Backwoods Presbyterian Puritanboard Amanuensis

  4. Andrew P.C.

    Andrew P.C. Puritan Board Junior

    Abortion is sinful, wicked, and should be abolished. Period! There are no exceptions. General or particular abortion is sin.

    Likewise, God sees the baby in the womb at conception as a person/human!

    Secondly, You'd have to define slavery. I will assume you mean American Slavery?
  5. NaphtaliPress

    NaphtaliPress Administrator Staff Member

    Did a lot of Puritan ministers own slaves? Did any Westminster divines own slaves?
  6. BGF

    BGF Puritan Board Sophomore

    I am curious about this as well. I can't answer the OP because I'm ignorant of the extent of puritan slave holding or approval of it.
  7. reaganmarsh

    reaganmarsh Puritan Board Senior

    Jonathan Edwards did (if you count him as a Puritan).
  8. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior

    As Sarah noted, murder is a cut-and-dried issue, Biblically. Slavery is not.

    A person may give all of the 21st century emotional reactions to slavery he wants--that's easy. What is not as easy is teasing out the different kinds of slavery, what was sinful but permitted in Bible times, and what is entirely permitted by Scripture (indeed, certain forms of slavery were sanctioned under OT judicial law), as well as forms of slavery entirely foreign to the Scriptural narrative.
  9. carlosstjohn

    carlosstjohn Puritan Board Freshman


    True, in a sense. God made have never stated a law against slavery per se but holding against people against their will, treating them as property? The Bible would not condone that as well.
  10. carlosstjohn

    carlosstjohn Puritan Board Freshman

    My bad, I should've defined it.

    Yes, I am defining slavery for this question as American slavery. The slave trade, the treatment of them, the whole thing.
  11. carlosstjohn

    carlosstjohn Puritan Board Freshman

    I've read that both Edwards and Whitfield owned slaves. However, not all puritans owned them. And I'm sure that most, if not all, of the ones that did own slaves treated them kindly.
  12. carlosstjohn

    carlosstjohn Puritan Board Freshman

    Can you expand on this thought?

    Are you saying that the way african slaves were kidnapped, uprooted, transported, and forced to live and work in the new world was not necessarily a problem, biblically?
  13. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    To move in a slightly different direction, may I ask, What do you think the Puritans believed about abortion?
  14. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior

    What I am saying is that there are important distinctions to be made among different types of slavery, and we would have to deal with these different types of slavery separately. Some types of slavery, the Bible condemns out of hand. Other types, OT judicial law sanctioned (like penal slavery).

    I didn't say anything about African slaves; but if you want to know, I think there are several different issues that have to be dealt with separately when it comes to African slaves in the New World. Some of these issues are:
    1. Manstealing (which was not really a part of the Atlantic slave trade--the slaves were purchased from Africans who probably acquired them as war prisoners)
    2. Slave transport (which I understand to have been atrocious and inhumane)
    3. Racism (which cannot be justified)
    4. Forced labor in the New World (this labor was probably a lot better than the slavery that these folks were subject to in Africa; that doesn't make it right, but it's probably true on the whole)
  15. carlosstjohn

    carlosstjohn Puritan Board Freshman

    Ha, I mean, I am not informed in what they believed about abortion. But if I were to guess I am sure they would not condone it and consider it murder.
  16. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior

    "Puritan" is a bit of a slippery term, too.
  17. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    There has been quite an amount of medical and moral development of the issue since the 17th century. We should not assume they viewed the issue in the same light as we do. Once this issue is understood from their perspective there might be more openness to consider their perspective when considering the issue of slavery. Historical study has to take in more factors than simple ethical norms.
  18. Wayne

    Wayne Tempus faciendi, Domine.

    For one, it seems very important to distinguish between the English Puritans and the American Puritans.

    I dare say none of the English Puritans owned slaves.
  19. OPC'n

    OPC'n Puritan Board Doctor

    I'm not trying to be snarky but was it worse to be taken a slave during American times than any other times? :scratch:. I've only seen the Bible encourage people to become free if it's possible but in the meantime serve their masters as though they were serving God. I've never seen a Scripture which tells masters to free their slaves bc God's law didn't allow it. Even Paul when he sent a slave back to his master told the master to treat the slave as though the slave were Paul....i.e treat him with brotherly love....he didn't tell the master to free the slave. Do we really believe that if the puritans had slaves they didn't treat them as God commanded them to.....to love them as they love themselves and to care for them since they were in their responsibility? They probably treated their slaves better than we treat each other today.

    I think the point is is that God's law is steadfast in all ages. His law against murder is set and never changes. He never had a law against slavery but does have a law that we follow the laws of the land. The puritans lived during a time when slavery wasn't against the law of the land and of course it wasn't against God's law. How some ppl treated the slaves was against God's law but I'm quite sure the puritans didn't practice harshness against their slaves which would have broken God's law. In light of this type of thinking, why are we comparing their owning slaves to abortion? You can't compare the two.

    To be fair in all things, God in the OT told his ppl to set free the slave after 7 years and in the NT told the slave to try to gain their freedom if they could but to serve their masters as though they served God in the meantime. I believe God wishes all mankind to be free from slavery, but he had no law against slavery.
    Last edited: Aug 31, 2015
  20. carlosstjohn

    carlosstjohn Puritan Board Freshman

    The slavery of the day was based on racism. That is why it is against God's law. Sure, if the slavery that the Puritans partook in was just indentured servanthood neutral towards race, we wouldn't be having this discussion. But the colonial slavery that took place was based out of kidnapping and racism. Even if they treated them kindly.
  21. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    I have to ask, Did any "Puritan" hold slaves on this basis? I find it hard to believe, especially in light of the fact that the "Puritans" objected to the slavery entailed by "absolute monarchy," and this absolute monarchy had been argued on the basis that the English were slaves to their Norman conquerors.
  22. JimmyH

    JimmyH Puritan Board Junior

    I suppose it is safe to say that the slavery of any period in history was based on racism. Whether Egyptians toward Hebrews, Babylonians toward Judah/Israel, or later, the African slave trade. The Africans who sold their brother Africans as slaves to Europeans to bring to the Colonies probably felt superior to their captives.

    Just curious, do you have any specific examples of Puritans, well known perhaps, who owned slaves ?
  23. OPC'n

    OPC'n Puritan Board Doctor

    Last edited: Sep 1, 2015
  24. Reformed Roman

    Reformed Roman Puritan Board Freshman

    While it surely was not as bad as American slavery I still think some had slaves... And I don't condone it. I think it's a reminder to us all that Puritans were sinners too. While they had a high view of God and biblical doctrine, that was not always lived out in the best of ways. I think we should regard them as sinners who loved the LORD, but sinners nonetheless. I don't think they should be brought as high as some bring them, but I also value and highly treasure their works and I believe in general they lived godly lives. But the truth is we can't just say every Puritan was the same. Some would burn enemies at the stake... Just like we can't generalize Presbyterians or Baptists... As even us reformed in faith are rare, and many in our denominations make all of us look poorly by association.
  25. OPC'n

    OPC'n Puritan Board Doctor

    No one is trying to put them higher in righteousness than they deserve. We know they were sinners. But no one has proven they broke God's in having slaves, yet this thread is comparing their actions to that of committing murder. It's wrong.
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2015
  26. johnny

    johnny Puritan Board Sophomore

    Freedom is over-rated in our society and culture.
    It is used as a by word to justify mans insatiable lust and sinful desires.
    This stands against the word of God which teaches slavery is of the heart.


    Slaves in ancient times often lived very well, rising to high positions within the Masters estate.
    In fact some slaves looked down on ordinary citizens, they had money, power and influence.
    There is ample evidence of this in Pompeii, (a snapshot in time) just watch any documentary on it.
    And are we not all slaves in some ways, to our Mortgage, our Taxes, our Job.

    "Sorry for Pontificating, I dont generally do that on here"
  27. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Professor

    That is indeed a charitable assumtion. Not to say it is correct but it may not be because we all are capable of aborting our babies and having slaves in spite of our belief in Jesus.
  28. Reformed Roman

    Reformed Roman Puritan Board Freshman

    I did not mean in this conversation.

    I I was just saying at times I think they are viewed by reformed Christians as higher than any other men since their time. And many under value some of the theologians alive today. I just think it's a great reminder that Puritans were mere men and these reformers, while highly intelligent and theological, had struggles just like us
  29. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    Returning to the OP to get some focus on the original question.

    If the Puritans were abortionists then would we still appreciate their theology?

    The question seems like an oxymoron to me given the Westminster standards but, assuming the Puritans had such a theological blindspot on that issue, it would certainly call into questin their overall character.

    That said, the theology of the Puritans is that of the Scriptures so it's not as if their theology would have emerged as a consequence of their moral character. The theology is a result of exegesis and careful theological work to include interacting with the history of theology. Thus fallible men could articulate what the theology of the Scriptures is and their articulation would be accurate insofar as they articulated the theology of Scripture.

    The question might well be noted that there are probably murderers of every theological stripe and we could ask: "Well, how could I believe that because Josef Stalin believed that and Josef Stalin was a murderer."

    For example:

    1. Hitler was evil.
    2. Hitler thought smoking cigarettes was bad.
    3. I don't want to be like Hitler.
    Therfore, smoking cigarettes is good.

    Of course the Puritans were not abortionists. Perhaps in the history of Puritanism there are those that might have owned slaves and been man-stealers. These are then sinful men who hold to a Biblical theology. The theology doesn't emerge from their character but from the Scriptures.
  30. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    Abortion in Colonial America

    I came across a very disturbing website that claims that early New England residents (wouldn't that mean Puritans?) did in fact perform abortions. I hope the website is wrong, but here it is...


    Here's another similar website about abortion in the early days of our country...

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