An Introduction to the Paleo-Confederate Kerfuffle
In addition to the scuffle surrounding feminism, complementarianism, & sex there was also a small murmuring about Doug Wilson’s views on the South and slavery via twitter and some blogs.
From what was being said, Doug Wilson supports slavery and they pointed to a book which he wrote over a decade ago, Slavery As It Was (there was a counterpoint written by two professors from Idaho University, Slavery As It Wasn’t). That book is out of print because of major citation errors by his co-author. In the interest of knowing exactly what he says on these issues I found and purchased Black & Tan: A Collection of Essays and Excursions on Slavery, Culture War, and Scripture in America (which may win the award for the worst font choice of any book I’ve ever read)--an expansion of his own part of the original Slavery As It Was. Racial reconciliation is important to me and racism must be rooted out in our country and especially in our churches. You can read what I have said about race related issues here
I’m not going to review it per se because I do not have the historical chops to do so nor will I offer much commentary. I will offer what I see as major points of Doug’s view and try to offer quotations which fairly represent the content and context for better or worse. Make your own judgement from there.
UPDATE 3/18/13: This post is old but it’s still being read so I want to update it with the most helpful development in relationship to the book. Thabit has been critique Doug’s position and Doug has been responding. Outside of being a model of Christian polemics, it’s also been a beneficial discussion which has been long overdue. I’ve been discouraged to see so many other critiques pop up which clearly haven’t read the book all that closely and can’t be following the dialogue between Thabiti and Doug. Without further ado, here’s Thabiti’s latest which links to the whole back and forth.
A Timeline of Recent Conversation
The recent Bloomington talk on Sexuality caused an uproar due to, among other things, Doug’s view on race and he offers a fact check at bottom of page here. Anthony Bradley, a leading reformed/evangelical scholar on all things race related, entered the fray with “Jared Wilson, Paleo-Confederate (Doug) Wilson, and 1 Cor 3 Reformed Tribalism: Part 1.” Anthony Bradley list these books as counter points to Doug’s
- Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market by Walter Johnson
- How Race Is Made: Slavery, Segregation, and the Senses by Mark Smith
- Freedom's Coming: Religious Culture and the Shaping of the South from the Civil War through the Civil Rights Era by Paul Harvey
- A Nation under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration by Stephen Hahn
- Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865-1920 by Charles Reagan Wilson
Douglas Wilson then responded to Anthony Bradley with “Lord Acton, Anthony Bradley, & Me.” All these articles plus the quotations should give you a multifaceted look at the situation.
What Douglas Wilson says in Black & Tan
Summary: Slavery in the South was an evil that needed to be abolished and God judged our country for not doing so but the way in which slavery was abolished in the United States was contrary to Scripture and cost us over 600,000 lives. He argues against large scale violence to cure social ills. So for instance, he would argue we shouldn’t have killed each other to abolish the societal evil of slavery and so we must not kill each other to rid our society of equally contemptible societal ills like abortion. The Civil War allowed our Constitution to be turned upside down (limits on Federal rights move to limits on States’s rights) and allowed social evils like abortion, gay marriage, etc. to flourish in our current society.
Slavery was evil and part of the falleness of humanity.
As a conservative Reformed minister, I affirm that God governs the world through covenant sanctions; He both blesses and curses. I take it as self-evident that in the disastrous outcome of the War Between the States, God was pouring out His wrath upon the South. Since our God is never capricious or arbitrary in His judgments, this outpouring of wrath was just and righteous in every respect.
Understanding the outcome of the war as a judgment from God was common among pious Southerners at the time. (Kindle Locations 227-230). Kindle Edition.
The necessity of condemning racism is clearly revealed in Scripture, an acknowledged authority by many Southerners. (Kindle Location 247). Kindle Edition.
Everyone in the faith is called to remember that "slave and free" are not categories that will be operative in the eschaton, and they are unlikely to be operative in Christian cultures where the gospel has significantly accomplished its work. The fact that many Christians have failed to recognize this should not surprise us. Christians fail at a lot of things, but the Scriptures continue to summon us back. . . .
But this harmony (figured so powerfully at Pentecost, a reversal of Babel) is only possible in Christ, as a result of the leaven of the gospel being introduced. (Kindle Locations 372-376). Kindle Edition.
All attempts to make the white mistreatment of blacks in America into a unique event in the history of the world are actually attempts to say (surreptitiously) that since this sin is unique, the redemption that we bring to it must also be unique. Jesus may have died on the cross for ordinary sins, such as lying, sleeping in the wrong bed, or cheating on crossword puzzles, but since this sin is unique in the history of the world, it calls for more, something else-reparations, perpetual liberal guilt, something big and done by us. And when I say "done by us," I mean by the appropriate federal agency.
But racism and slavery and mistreatment and genocide are not unique. This is how fallen and rebellious human beings treat one another. The Serbs did it to the Croats, the Germans did it to the Jews, the Idahoans did it to the Nez Perce, the kirks did it to the Armenians, the Iraqis did it to the Kurds.... I trust you get the general drift. This is what life outside of Christ is normally like-red and yellow, black and white-and even when the gospel of Christ comes to a people, it can often take centuries to get them to knock off some of their more resilient pagan practices. For example, how long did it take Europeans to get rid of polygamy' And at the headwaters of the slave trade to America there were blacks going to war with other blacks, enslaving their brothers, taking them down to the coast, and selling them. (Kindle Locations 390-399). Kindle Edition.
The slave trade was an abomination, and those evangelicals in England like William Wilberforce who led the fight against it are rightly considered heroes of the faith. The Bible clearly rejects the practice of slave trading (I Tim. 1:I0; Exod. 21:I 6). In a just social order, slave trading could rightly be punished with death. (Kindle Locations 495-497). Kindle Edition.
Let there be no mistake here-the logic of the Christian gospel is contradictory to the institution of slavery generally, and as the gospel of salvation progresses through history, one of the necessary results is the gradual eradication of all slavery. Jesus Christ really is the ultimate Jubilee. (Kindle Locations 592-593). Kindle Edition.
Thornwell was unsuccessful in his attempt to get the Confederate States to acknowledge the lordship of Christ." So although the Southern culture represented much that was admirable, the biblical principle remains-to whom much is given, much is required. And although the South was correct about the central constitutional and cultural issues of that war, southern diehards must learn the hard lesson of Habbakuk, who had to accept that God can use an ungodly nation to judge another nation which is "not as bad" (Hab. 1:13). In this view, the severe judgment that befell the South from the hand of ccd was true justice in part because of how the South had treated her slaves. So this essay should not be taken as minimizing in any way a sin that God judged so severely. (Kindle Locations 610-614). Kindle Edition.
Please remember that throughout our booklet, in describing features of Southern slavery, we used words like deplorable, wicked, evil, despicable, cruel, intxnisahle, abuse, immorality, and, fallowing Dabney, criminal barbarity. Now here is a simple Golden Rule question. Would anyone who had not read our booklet, but who had read McKenzie's article about it, gotten this impression of what we really believe (and plainly said) about such things? The answer is no. So why should I believe that he has special competence in representing Southerners who have been dead for more than a century, when I know, for a fact that he has grossly misrepresented this Southerner, despite the fact that I went out of my way to condemn in round numbers every Southern sin I could think of? (Kindle Locations 1222-1226). Kindle Edition.
Scripture doesn’t condone slavery (as practiced in the South) but it also doesn’t excommunicate slaver owners in the early church.
If it had been, it is hard to see how the biblical instructions could have been applicable-for example, I would not cite I Timothy 6:1-4 to a person trying to escape from a Nazi death camp. "Obey the existing authorities!" But if antebellum slavery was the normal kind of sinful situation that Christians have had to deal with regularly down through history (e.g., one comparable to what Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus had to address), then the instructions in I Timothy 6 make perfect sense. We need to learn that the antebellum situation was one of Normal Sin, not one of Apocalyptic Evil. (Kindle Locations 88-93). Kindle Edition.
By rejecting the biblical account of the origins of man (consequently rejecting the true nature of man) and accepting the evolutionary account as unquestionably true, the modern secularist state is irremediably committed to racist principles, whether they want to be or not. Fundamentalist Christians, even the ones who are openly (and unbiblically) bigoted against members of other races, are committed (ultimately, in their first principles) to racial reconciliation-whether they like it or not. (Kindle Locations 418-421). Kindle Edition.
The Bible is not silent on the subject of slavery. We must be careful, however, if we use the phrase biblical slavery. What do we mean by it? A common confusion blurs an important distinction between Ilebrew slavery-i.e, slavery in a nation covenanted with God, with laws received from His hand-and the slavery that is seen in the pages of the New Testament. In the former, we see how God's laws govern and regulate the practice of slavery in a nation called by His name and covenanted with Him. In the latter, we see God's laws as they teach His people how to live within a culture having ungodly laws concerning slavery. In the Roman Empire, the system of slavery was, along with the rest of that culture, in rebellion against the true and living God. In the Hebrew republic, slavery was akin to what we would call indentured servanthood--the only permanent slaves were foreigners (Lev. 25:44-46) or Hebrews who voluntarily submitted themselves to a more permanent servile status (Exod. 2 1:5-6). But in the Greco-Roman world, the system of slavery was pagan from top to bottom, front to back, with the slaves having virtually no recognized rights at all. "Although we do have documentary evidence for manumissions, we encounter still more bills of sale and wills, which consider slaves not as persons but as things, as to somata dorrlika, slave bodies.'' So a vast difference exists between the laws God gave to His own covenant people for the regulation of slavery among themselves and the laws God gave to His covenant people to regulate their conduct in the midst of a pagan system. (Kindle Locations 633-642). Kindle Edition.
The issue is whether it Christian man could have lawfully owned a slave in 1850 America without being necessarily guilty of a moral outrage. Was slave ownership mtalutn in se, an evil in itself? The answer to that question, for anyone who believes the Bible, is that it was possible for a godly man to own slaves, provided he treated them exactly as the Scripture required. In a sinful world, slave ownership generally is sinful, and it is a system that invites abuse. Over time the gospel will overthrow all fortes of slavery. But again, the kingdom arrives like yeast working through the loaf, and not like a coup de main. (Kindle Locations 858-862). Kindle Edition.
The United States didn’t abolish slavery according to Scriptural precepts.
That our nation did not remove slavery in the way it ought to have been removed helps to explain many of our nations problems in dealing with contemporary social evils. Those evils include abortion-on-demand, radical feminism, and rampant sodomy. In the pursuit of our constitutional rights, we have legally executed. over forty million unborn children in this nation, and we are about to be oppressed with sodomite marriage. (Kindle Locations 88-94). Kindle Edition.
The best way to subvert a pagan system of slavery is through careful obedience to the law of Christ. This means that while obedient Christians could have found themselves either slaves or masters, the instructions given to them in their respective stations are very clear. Christian masters were to remember that they had a Master in heaven, and this Meant they had to treat their slaves charitably (Eph. 6:9). Christian slaves had to work diligently for their masters, knowing that ultimately they were doing their work for God and not for men (kph. 6:5; Col. 3:22-23). And Christian slaves who happened to be owned by Christian masters were told to pay even greater attention to this submissive demeanor, because the beneficiary of their labors was a brother in Christ (I Tiny. 6:2; Phil. I0-I9).These scriptural instructions, carefully followed, resulted, over time, in a peaceful elimination of Roman slavery, and had they been consistently applied by Southerners, they would have had an analogous impact on the slavery of the antebellum South. (Kindle Locations 513-519). Kindle Edition.
If we respond to the "embarrassing parts" of Scripture by- saving, "That was then, this is now;" we will quickly discover that unembarrassed progressives can play that game even more effectively- than embarrassed conservatives can.' Paul prohibited eldership to women? that was then, this is now. Moses condemned sodomy'- that was then, this is now. (Kindle Locations 579-581). Kindle Edition.
Who cannot lament the damage to both white and black that has occurred as a consequence of the way in which slavery was abolished: I am forced to say that, in many ways, the remedy which has been applied has resulted in problems that are every bit as bad as the original disease ever was. Christians who doubt this should consider whether it was safer to be a black child in the womb in 1858 or in 2005. (Kindle Locations 741-744). Kindle Edition.
Jesus won racial reconciliation on the cross and that’s a positive good.
The universal salvation offered by Him means that all who turn in repentance away from their idolatries-whether African, aboriginal, American, or alternative-will be forgiven. Moreover, the prophets declare in many glorious passages that all the ends of the earth will turn, repent, and call upon the Lord. Their lives, families, households, tribes, and nations will be transformed by the power of the gospel. The Christian faith is the future of this world.' The wonderful result will be a Trinitarian glory which will include lots of brown and tan, red and yellow, black and white. (Kindle Locations 258-261). Kindle Edition.
The leadership of the early church at Antioch contained at least one black man (Acts 13:1). And what happened to Miriam when she opposed the marriage of Moses to a black woman (Num. 12)? God turned her a little bit whiter than she had been previously, but it was the white of leprosy, and this was not generally taken as an improvc- nment. As Christians, we regard the gift at Pentecost to be a great reversal of Babel, and we believe that our missionary efforts will eventually result in the elimination of all racial hatreds in Christ-the only way such hatreds can be eliminated. (Kindle Locations 620-624). Kindle Edition.
Do you want to stop the salvation of the world that Jesus purchased? )oil might better spend your time throwing snowballs at the sun. (Kindle Locations 1131-1132). Kindle Edition.
As a postmillennialist, I look forward to the time when the cathedrals, symphonies, and literature of Africa will put to shame the current achievements of dead white guys-not to take anything away from them, but there is a lot past seventh grade awaiting all human cultures in Christ. So white supremacists are like that kid in seventh grade, absolutizing the present moment for all the wrong reasons. (Kindle Locations 466-468). Kindle Edition.
Black “Confederates” fought for the South and contributed to Southern society; although resentment and horrible sin (separating slave families) existed, there was comparatively (to slavery practices in Brazil and the Caribbean) genuine affection in some cases.
See chapter “Black Confederates” for a full discussion.
Before discussing some of the particulars, a reply should first be made to an anticipated objection. The modern egalitarian mindset is incapable of recognizing an aristocratic and feudal society, which the antebellum South was, without assuming as axiomatic that the subordinate classes must, of necessity, have been constantly seething with resentment and discontent. Therefore any black "contribution" to the cause of the South (if you can prove it, which you can't because we're not listening) must have been coerced at the end of the lash, and there ends the discussion. In the South there was resentment and discontent, and injustice was done to the blacks, but there was also a great deal more than this. (Kindle Locations 893-896). Kindle Edition.
This black support was like the rest of the country-torn and mixed. Some blacks were trying to prove themselves. Some wanted adventure, while others were fighting for self-preservation. Many of the tree blacks in the South were well-to-do slave owners themselves and they knew a Northern victory would ruin them, which it did. But the majority of blacks who supported the cause did so in order to protect the way of life they had always known. (Kindle Locations 903-906). Kindle Edition.
We must recognize the nature of the racism that has afflicted many in the South since the war is partially the fruit of the Reconstruction and not necessarily the direct result of slavery and the war. Those southern whites who today despise blacks, far from showing ongoing resistance, are continuing to submit to that humanist nightmare which was first imposed at Reconstruction. Far better would be the attitude of Southern whites who fought and bled alongside Southern blacks. At a reunion of the 7th Tennessee Cavalry in 1876, Col. William Sanford said, "And to you our colored friends ... we say welcome. We can never forget your faithfulness in the darkest hours of our lives. We tender to you our hearty respect and love, for you never faltered in duty nor betrayed our trust."' There is an element in the Confederate heritage (at its best) that includes deep affection between white and black. This is not a denial that there was also great sin, and sin that included racial. animosity. One wit once distinguished the racism of the North and the racism of the South in this way: in the North, people did not care how far blacks advanced, just so long as they did not get close; in the South, people did not care how close blacks got, just so long as they did not advance. Reconstruction imposed draconian terms in this regard, and the Southern paternalism turned to animosity. And of course Christians must reject every form of racial animosity or vainglory. (Kindle Locations 937-945). Kindle Edition.
In order to avoid uprisings, the communists in China had to murder millions of people. The slaves in Haiti (whose conditions were far worse than those of their counterparts in the South) did rise up in a bloody way. Our argument is simply' an assertion that the many observers who traveled through the South were not like Lenins "useful idiots" who went to the Soviet Union and saw peace and harmony everywhere, instead of the genocide that they ought to have seen. The South was not covered with death camps of the variety found so popular in the twentieth century. If the situation was as evil across the board as some have described it, there would have been far more revolts (as in Haiti), or true totalitarian measures would have been necessary to head off such revolts. As McKenzie points out, this is a counterfactual argument, but it certainly seems to me something that a reasonable and historically-informed person could believe. (Kindle Locations 1166-1171).
At the same time, it is important to note again that this is a eorn- paratrve situation. There were slave revolts in the South, and they were brutally put down. From Eugene Genovese: "In 1856 the slavcholders of Tennessee repeated the performance with a slight variation: They carried the impaled heads in It parade. And unlike the Louisianians of 1811, they had not even confronted slaves in arms; their victims had only fallen under suspicion of insurrectionary design."' But at the same title, Genovese still notes the "infrequency and low intensity of revolts in the Old South relative to those elsewhere."' (Kindle Locations 1171-1175). Kindle Edition.
This is the context in which we should consider the following comment about us: "Wilson and Wilkins make two such broad generalizations. The first is that slave life was'amazingly benign." McKenzie then goes on to discuss something which we were not discussing at all when we made this comment. He brings up the separation of slave families, which we had already condemned as deplorable, and then rhetorically asks, "This qualifies as'amazingly benign'?" In using the phrase "amazingly benign," a fair approach would link it to another phrase, which would be "compared to what?" We were not arguing that it was benign to separate a slave family as compared to keeping that slave family together. A fair-minded reading of our booklet would show that we would say antebellum slavery was "amazingly benign" as compared to (1) the rhetoric of the abolitionists; (2) what was occurring in other parts of the new world that used slaves, such as Haiti or Brazil; and (3) what had happened in other slave-owning societies in ancient history, like pagan Rome.'" (Kindle Locations 1226-1232). Kindle Edition.