Homosexuality, Slavery and Prayers for a President

Josh is a student at Reformed Theological Seminary, Washington DC and a member of Covenant Reformed Baptist Church, Warrenton, VA. I thought this short article he wrote regarding the Presidential Inauguration Prayer debacle “Not one word?” was excellent:

This past week saw yet another public controversy erupt regarding a Christian pastor and matters pertaining to sexual ethics. Most of you are aware of President Barack Obama’s first choice of Pastor Louie Giglio to give the benediction at the upcoming second inauguration. As the story goes, Giglio was effectively canned because he preached a sermon years ago in which he affirmed biblical teaching that homosexuality is sin. Needless to say, this was too much to bear for an administration devoted to “tolerance” and “diversity” (whatever those terms mean these days). The homosexual activists who supported the President’s re-election got what they wanted and so the pastor will not give the benediction after all.

But the controversy didn’t end there. It only escalated to a rather absurd level. This week, MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell gave his take on the matter along with an interesting commentary on using the Bible in the swearing-in ceremony:

This time, as it was last time for the first time in history, the book will be held by a First Lady who is a descendent of slaves. But the holy book she will be holding does not contain one word of God condemning slavery. Not one word. But that same book, which spends hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of pages condemning all sorts of things and couldn’t find one sentence to condemn slavery, does indeed find the space to repeatedly condemn gay people, as the now banished Louie Giglio said it does. And as the First Lady is holding that book for the President, sitting someone near them will be a pastor who the Inauguration Committee will make sure is much more adept at hiding what that book actually says than Louie Giglio was.

First, let’s give credit where credit is due. We need to thank O’Donnell for at least having the honesty to admit that the Bible does indeed teach that homosexual behavior is a sin, although he couches this teaching in emotionally-dripping language of “condemning gay people” (echoing the culture’s attempt to make one’s perverse behavior into a personal identity). It’s a subtle attack on Christian orthodoxy to be sure, but the acknowledgement of what the Scriptures teach on that subject is duly noted and appreciated. Yet the same can’t be said regarding his statements on slavery.

Does the Bible uphold the type of chattel-slavery which existed in Antebellum America to which O’Donnell makes reference? Absolutely not. The Old Testament does indeed uphold and regulate various forms of servitude. We’ll certainly acknowledge that. Indentured servitude, for example, allowed an individual to sell himself into slavery in order to pay off debts. It was a sort of social safety net in the ancient world which prevented individuals and their families from starving to death. That’s the context that’s often missing from these discussions. James White and others have talked about this at length. But it is beyond absurd to assert that this is somehow comparable to plantation slavery in 19th century America.

Yet O’Donnell says, referencing America’s practice of chattel-slavery, that there’s “not one word” condemning it. Really? Is he sure? Let’s take a look at Exodus 21:16 to see if that’s true:

He who kidnaps a man and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, shall surely be put to death.

So we see here that the practice of man-stealing (to use another term) and the subsequent selling of the kidnapped individual into slavery were ruled by God to be capital offenses. In practical terms, this means that the practitioners of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade–both of sellers and the buyers–would have received the death penalty. Just the other night as I led my family through our daily Bible readings, we came across a similar provision in Deuteronomy 24:7. Not one word, Mr. O’Donnell? Hardly.

Given what we see here, there’s one of two possibilities: either O’Donnell is being deliberately dishonest about what the Bible clearly teaches on this subject or he is simply ignorant of what the Scriptures contain. Either way, one can safely assume that his audience won’t know any better. Biblical illiteracy is ubiquitous in modern American society. That’s why so many critics on television can get away with such ridiculous rhetoric. They’re not seriously engaging the text of Scripture, but instead burning bibles they’ve constructed themselves out of straw. Certainly nothing new under the sun.

Josh Dermer

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