House Story, Chapter 16


Photography by D. Plasman

This is Kamari. He’d make a good slave. He lives two houses away from the one we’re rehabbing. This little guy is smart, obedient, eager to learn. He comes with good teeth and solid bone structure.

I don’t own him, but if I were seeking to live my life according to biblical principles, while practicing radical obedience to God’s law, I could make an air-tight case why he should be my slave.

The Bible is clear on some things, including the understanding that slavery is a God-thing. I found over forty passages (more than a hundred verses!) in the Old and New Testaments that understand slavery—in a divinely permissive way— as the buying and selling of human beings. Passages like this one are hard to ignore:

As for your male and female slaves whom you may have: you may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are around you . . . they may be your property. You may bequeath them to your sons to inherit as a possession forever. You may make slaves of them. (Leviticus 25:44-46)

OK, I get it! For God’s people, slavery is a solid investment. (I’m reminded of a print ad for expensive Petek Philippe wristwatches. A WASPY dad stands next to his over-privileged son, beneath which appears the caption: “You never actually own a Petek Philippe, you merely look after it for the next generation.”)

Slavery is good for the economy and good for family values. Why settle for bequeathing jewelry or summer cottages to the next generation, when, like the ancient people of God, we could leave to our heirs the sons and daughters of our slaves?

Slaves (as Donald Trump could understand and might include as part of his presidential agenda if he knew his Bible) are an economic commodity. When a man strikes his slave, male or female, with a rod and the slave dies under his hand, he shall be avenged. But if the slave survives a day or two, he is not to be avenged, for the slave is his money. (Exodus 21:20-21)

OK, I get it! According to the Bible, the property value of slaves takes precedence over their humanity. If Kamari were to become my slave, I promise never to strike him—not with a rod, a 2×4, a baseball bat, or even the back of my hand. If uppity, a timeout will suffice.

I could go on about the divine justifications and the innumerable biblical laws that unquestionably support the institution of slavery. Even Paul and Peter are quick to remind slaves to obey their masters (Ephesians 6:5; I Peter 2:18) rather than to demand their freedom.

Over a hundred biblical verses support slavery. Yet, we’ve invalidated every one because we’ve grown in our understanding of human nature, individual dignity, and justice for all. What was applicable in one time and place is not so today. Ancient biblical writers understood slavery as a God-thing; civil societies today see it as something else—a deplorable and inhumane practice.

Take this interpretative template and place it over the issue of homosexuality: You can no longer call homosexuality a sin. Sorry, Westboro Baptist Church, American Family Association, National Organization for Marriage, Franklin Graham . . .

Take this interpretative template and place it over the issue of the ordination of women to ministry: You can no longer say that men only are called as ministers and priests. Sorry, Presbyterian Church in America, Southern Baptist Convention, Roman Catholic Church, most mega-churches . . .

Taking a stance because “The Bible says it” requires nothing. Loving God with heart, soul, strength, and mind takes everything, including a new understanding of scripture.

In spite of the fact that the Bible tells me I can purchase Kamari as my slave, it just wouldn’t be right.


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  1. Barbara Thibeault July 27, 2015 at 4:29 pm #

    Powerful and informative analogy. Thanks so much, Dan!

  2. Mary Kansfield July 27, 2015 at 5:49 pm #

    Oh Daniel,
    Good, good, good!

  3. Nika July 28, 2015 at 9:06 am #


  4. Marge Vander Wagen July 28, 2015 at 11:35 am #

    Amen. I work on a different principle. I am God’s beloved. The person next to me is God’s beloved. The inmate across the table is God’s beloved. The elderly person with dementia and Alzheimer’s is God’s beloved. Kamari is God’s beloved. These are my brothers and sisters.
    The intention of the Bible overrides the letter or literal law of the Bible. Jesus has come.
    In some ways, I guess I am a heretic.

  5. Trudy Bower July 28, 2015 at 7:58 pm #

    Very beautifully stated. Your comments are very clear and reflect a great deal of Biblical scholarship. Bravo!