Monday, August 12, 2013

Slavery and Turn the Other Cheek

I have been on twitter a lot recently (I find it fun when you have to burn like 5 minutes), and I was recently arguing about slavery in the new testament. I was arguing that slavery isn't only endorsed in the old testament, but in the new testament as well. @trellus disagreed with me and I challenged him as you can see here.
It took me a bit of thinking to come around to his point, partly because I was reading it at about 5 in the morning and partly because the situations seem so different. But he does seem to have a point, Jesus tells people to respond to violence by turning the other cheek, don't respond with violence, instead let the person strike you again. This is certainly not an endorsement of the violence, it is just a way to respond to violence. Using the same logic, couldn't we say that telling slaves to obey their masters doesn't necessarily endorse the slavery? You're a victim of slavery, you should respond by being a good slave. Don't try to escape, don't try to get out of your situation, just obey. As in turn the other cheek, this doesn't necessarily endorse that slavery, but it is responding in a similar way.

What this conversation did though, was remind me of my previous thoughts about turn the other cheek. From my post on Matthew 5:
Seems good as a general philosophy, although if you follow it too much you are asking to be taken advantage of. 
I do like the idea of nonviolence in many situations. If everyone is always trying to fight back with what they perceive is equal force, things can escalate quickly. Having people respond to violence with non-violence is a great way to break this. Being willing to take a couple extra hits could go a long way toward getting peace. In this way turn the other cheek is a great message.

On the other hand, you wouldn't want it to get out of control. If some sadistic person knows that you will never fight back they might just use you as a punching bag. Or if the other person is more interested in taking your stuff than peace, a turn the other cheek philosophy can be very bad for you. As with many things in the bible, they are good rules of thumb for a variety of situations, but there are also instances where they are a very bad idea. It's honestly hard to think of a better example of this philosophy gone awry than slavery.


  1. Christian slaves were to to work extra hard for their Christian masters so that the wonders of the Lord be shown to all.

    A reason why this attitude was prevalent was that Christians thought Jesus was coming back in their lifetime. (Behold, there will some among you who will still be alive when I return...blah, blah, blah.)

  2. I would argue that the "turn the other cheek" thing indeed does invite, or at least enable, violence. If you're not willing to stand up for yourself or for others and do the right thing to end violence, if you're inviting the world to pound on you for theological reasons, then violence will not only continue to exist, it will likely propagate because you and your ilk are unwilling to stop it. The same is true of slavery. If you won't stop it because you think some imaginary friend in the sky approves, there are going to be more slaves, not less.

    1. If we are talking about endorsement though, there is a point to be made here. Some of the verses I cited could potentially be argued away as not endorsing slavery. Honestly, I'd want to go back and read the verses again and think about it in the new context. There are also other verses though that tell the master to stop threatening his slaves. It's hard to argue that this isn't endorsing slavery even though it is trying to make the slave's life slightly less terrible.

      But ultimately you do make a good point here, turn the other cheek taken to the extreme has some pretty serious problems. It's a problem that comes up in the bible over and over again. There are instructions (in this case turn the other cheek) which are really good advice in certain situations and really terrible advice in others. The bible doesn't lay down any description of when to use it and when not to, it simply says to always do it that way.

  3. I am not sure I agree with your interpretation of the tweets, or my brain is tired. Telling a slave to listen to their master is an obvious endorsement of slavery, while telling someone to turn the other cheek is an endorsement of non violence.
    So Tim Garcia saying "Nor is turning the other cheek an endorsement of violence" is not a correct interpretation of your original statement, or a dishonest interpretation.

    1. I read your related post and I still think your initial reaction is correct :)


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