Here is the unedited version of the letter. The newspaper did make a couple of changes, but nothing of importance.
The Bible Continues to have an Important Role
I am writing in response to Darya Gemmel's May 4 letter to the editor titled, “Message was OK.”
It is crucial for us to remember that a message is greater than its content. The message of a speech is also tied to things like word choice, body language, and tone. All these parts combined form the actual message of Dan Savage's speech: It is okay to bully people who believe “b***s***.”
According to Dan Savage we can ignore the words of the Bible because “the Bible is a radically pro-slavery document,” and “because the Bible got slavery wrong.” While it is true that the Bible makes allowances for slavery, it is hardly pro-slavery. We must remember that the Bible was written within a certain cultural context, and within that context slavery was a normal, acceptable, and some may argue, necessary part of life. As we interpret what the Bible says about slavery we have to keep this social context in mind.
While Dan Savage can conveniently look back on ancient history and pass judgement, he fails to appreciate precisely why he holds the position on slavery that he does. While he might call it “the easiest moral question that humanity has ever faced,” his position is actually the minority position. Not only has slavery been acceptable throughout human history, it is still very acceptable throughout the world. If National Geographic is correct in its September 2003 report then “there are more slaves today than were seized from Africa in four centuries of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.” Even today people are getting the “easiest of moral questions” wrong.
Why do so many of us in the Western World get this moral question right? The answer is the Bible. It is true that the Bible outlined rules for the fair treatment of slaves, yet it is also true that the apostle Paul planted the seeds which revolutionized the way people viewed slavery. Commenting on Colossians 4:1 historian and theologian N. T. Wright writes; “Paul does not protest against the institution of slavery. That would be about as useful, for him, as a modern preacher fulminating against the internal combustion engine. His approach is subtler. He has found a fixed point on which to stand, from which to move the world: slaves too are human beings with rights.”
Slowly the world did begin to move. The first sign that these seeds Paul planted were germinating is seen in 379 during Lent when Gregory of Nyssa preached a sermon condemning the institution of slavery. A person will search in vain to find a similar sentiment expressed at that time in the ancient world. It was a slow, especially by our standards, process, but as Christians meditated on the teachings of Christ and the teaching of Paul they began to realize that this culturally acceptable institution was not acceptable to God. Eventually people like William Wilberforce, who were influenced by this vein of Christian thinking, appeared on the scene and fought to end the practice of slavery. This is a fight that continues today.
To say that the Bible got slavery wrong is to ignore the role the Bible played in bringing the Western World to the understanding we have today: that slavery is an immoral practice. We must remember that when handled correctly the Bible continues to play an important role in influencing the morality of people.
Paul Steele, an imperfect disciple