The other common thread between between complementarianism and conservative evangelical views of slavery (and other forms of injustice and discrimination) is the appeal to authoritarianism. Such evangelicals insist that:
– marginalized people should submit to whatever the majority or the patriarchy dish out
– the authority of the majority and patriarchy is for the good of oppressed people and the good of society
– oppressed people should endure discrimination and ill-treatment quietly and be happy with what they have until their oppressors decide that they can have the same rights as everyone else.
As I’ve been looking into how complementarians deal with the issue of slavery, I’ve come across a number of examples of both historical revisionism and appeals to authoritarianism.
Apparently Glenn Beck decided to “educate” his viewers on slavery today with useful “facts” such as Christians ended slavery, “Religious White people woke up the rest of the country” to the evils of slavery, and a bunch of other lies and half truths. (I’ll post the transcript when Fox has it up.)
Frantz Kebreau of the National Association for Conservative People of All Colors (NAACPC) reimagined an American history in which slavery was not initially raced-based and the “Christian” founders were anti-slavery. Republicans, in this narrative, have led the fights for abolition, emancipation, voting rights, civil rights, and even integration, while Democrats have fostered racism for political gain.
I’m not terribly surprised by any of this. I heard similar things all the time growing up in mostly white, conservative churches. These are the things white traditionalist Christians often tell themselves, and teach their children, so they don’t have to think too hard about the role people like them have played in the history of slavery and anti-black racism.
As a kid, I heard lots about evangelicals like William Wilberforce, a staunch opponent of the slave trade and abolitionist activist in the UK, but nothing about more representative evangelicals like R. L. Dabney, a lifelong defender of Southern slavery and the inferiority of black people. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson were held up as great heroes of faith who just happened to be on the wrong side of history on slavery. The evils of slavery and the role of white Christians in maintaining and championing it were minimized: black people owned slaves too, most slave owners were very kind and paternal to their slaves, most slaves loved their owners like family, and the few slave owners who were truly cruel to their slaves weren’t really Christians, anyway.*
This is stuff I picked up on mostly from the pulpit, bible study, and listening to adults talk history and politics, and less from a Christian fundamentalist education (though I did have a little bit of that, outside SGM). So I asked Josh Stieber, who also grew up in Sovereign Grace Ministries, what he was taught at the SGM school he attended. His response:
When learning about abolitionists, it was implied, if not outright stated, that they were rash, demanding, and irresponsible. The markets would figure themselves out in a way that could eliminate slavery while a wise government could solve the “problem” in their own time. We learned that slaves were so used to living out their indentured role that it would have been cruel for owners to simply turn them loose, they wouldn’t have known how to handle their freedom; the compassionate approach was to kindly continue to rule.
* Not incidentally, this rhetoric goes hand in hand with the lie that the “‘Founding Fathers’ “founded the nation on Christian principles” (except Jefferson, the cat’s out of the bag on that one) – and also goes with idea that the racist beliefs of the Founding Fathers and the fact that many of them were slave owners were irrelevant (they too were just misguided, helpless victims of their times, you see).