Sunday, September 21, 2008

Race and Slavery as Synonymous or Separate Issues?

From Mark Noll's
"The Civil War as a Theological Crisis"

The University of North Carolina Press
Chapel Hill, 2006

pg 51 - 52:

“The negro question lies far deeper
than the slavery question.”
(Philip Schaff)

What Schaff saw when he defined “the negro question” and “the slavery question” as two distinct matters and what Schaff practiced in assuming that they could be treated as one problem constituted a theological crisis. The crisis created an inability to distinguish the Bible on race from the Bible on slavery meant that when the Civil War was over and slavery was abolished, systematic racism continued unchecked as the great moral anomaly in a supposedly Christian America. The crisis reflected a greater difficulty than when a large Protestant population drew incommensurate theological conclusions from a commonly exalted sacred text that it approached with common hermeneutical principles.

The crisis identified by Schaff involved two badly handled questions. The first concerned how to regard African Americans and their relationship to Caucasians. This issue pointed to foundational theological difficulties since most of American’s white Bible-believing Christians addressed the issue with commonsense solutions derived neither from the Bible nor from the historical storehouse of Christian moral reflection.

The second mishandled question was the issue of what the Bible had to say about the general economic organization of the United States and its practices, potential, and problems. This issue also betrayed the theological difficulties because, while oceans of ink were spilled in trying to decide whether the Bible legitimated slavery, far less biblical analysis was devoted to the broader American economy of which slavery was a part and to principles of economic justice. David Brion Davis once highlighted the underpinnings of the confusion involved here: “In the Untied States...the problem of slavery...had become fatally intertwined with the problem of race. Race had become the favored idiom for interpreting the social effects of enslavement and emancipation and for concealing the economy’s parasitic dependence on an immensely profitable labor system” – and for concealing as well the challenge posed to capitalist individualism by the patriarchal communalism of the slave South. Buying and selling slaves so monopolized theological attention that little energy remained for evaluating American systems of buying and selling in general.