The Christian Theology of Abolitionists: Against Douglas Wilson's PaleoConfederate Dreams

The Union Blue, Union In Christ, and The Gospel

[edit: This post is specifically targeted towards Wilson’s supporters, some who may have questions and are open not to supporting him anymore]

Last week, there was an outrage about Jared Wilson of The Gospel Coalition using a blog post to quote Douglas Wilson on sex, rape fantasies and marriage: see my two posts 50 Shades of Confederate Grey: Rape Culture and Slavery and 50 Shades of Douglas Wilson’s Racism and The Gospel Coalition, as well as Jared Wilson, Paleo-Confederate Doug Wilson, and 1 Corinthians 3 Tribalism part 1: UPDATED by Dr. Anthony Bradley

In Wilson’s [linked here] essay: “Southern Slavery As It Was,” he and the League of the South’s Steve Wilkins claim that, among other things, blacks were happier during slavery, they gladly served the Confederacy, black families were stronger during slavery, and that U.S. American Chattel slavery was not built upon any hostility between the races. All of these false white supremacist myths have been debunked by Southern Slavery As It Wasn’t by Sean M. Quinlan and William L. Ramsey.

Now, the problem that I have with Wilson’s religion is the theology behind, and no I am not talking about his claim to be Reformed (Presbyterian tradition, etc), what I am talking about is his and folks like Gary North’s persistence that the abolitionists did not have Christians among their numbers, and that they were humanists embarassed by the Bible and its history. The problem with the liberal approach to racism is that they say, “all you need is some education and learning, and then you will change your ways.” This is absolutely not true. The “education is the only way approach” is baloney, as if racists and white supremacists cannot read or write, and don’t publish books. No, in fact, Douglas Wilson and Gary North and R.J. Rushdoony and company are well read, it’s not that their ability to read or write that’s the problem. The problem is HOW THEY CHOOSE to read history, which is in a reactionary and revisionist manner, by hijacking both anti-racist sentiments (racism is wrong) and traditionally conservative causes (private education, states’rights, etc.).

First things first, the abolitionists of the 19th century were not the first Christians to argue against slavery. In fact, in this regard, they are totally unoriginal. For example, see Father Ernesto Obregon: “Did the church Fathers address the issue of slavery?”; from Gregory the Theologian to Eustathios of Sebasteia to Symeon of Thessaloniki to Basil of Caesarea they all questioned slavery as a moral evil prior to the Reformation (before the 16th century). No one would ever suggest that these men were embarassed by the Bible at all, in fact, they used it frequently in their cases for abolition.

Fast forward after the Reformation and the founding of the United States in the late 18th century, and there is a bond between churches, Christianity, and the Federalist Party. Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s father was a Calvinist (Reformed) and an abolitionist, and this is where she got her Christian desire to fight for freedom (See Gary Dorrien’s The Making of American Liberal Theology Volume 1). Another Calvinist (Reformed Protestant) thinker, Lemuel Haynes, argued against slavery based on the Book of Acts, from one man, came all of humanity. It is Adam, and NOT Noah’s 3 sons that should be at the center of Christians’ theological reflection on race. For more, see my post on Lemuel Haynes.

Other Christians from the Reformed Tradition, like John Brown and Denmark Vesey, were inspired by Scripture to fight for the equality of races; John Brown was a defender of Calvinism, and even got into a fight with a Methodist pastor over predestination (for more, see Louis A. DeCaro. Fire From the Midst of You: A Religious Life of John Brown). In the 19th century, women evangelists such as Zilpha Elaw, a Protestant who affirmed that the Bible was inerrant (without error), made abolitionist cases against Southern slavery as well: For more, see Zilpha Elaw: Inerrantist and Abolitionist as well as William Andrews’ Sisters Of The Spirit.

I could go on, and talk about the testimony of John Quincy Adams and the imperfect President Abraham Lincoln, but briefly, I would like to discuss the Confederate States of America. A plain reading of the Constitution of the Confederate States of America plainly shows that the CSA’s laws in favor of slavery was race based:

From Article One:

*S9, L4:

“No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.”

*Section 9, Line 1:“The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.”
“The importation of negroes of the African race from any foreign country other than the slaveholding States or Territories of the United States of America, is hereby forbidden; and Congress is required to pass such laws as shall effectually prevent the same.”

What rebellions could the South be referring to? Well, the slave rebellions of course!

Article 4, on the States, makes it obvious why the Confederacy was formed in the first place:

Section 3, Line 3:

“Section 3, Line 3:

“The Confederate States may acquire new territory; and Congress shall have power to legislate and provide governments for the inhabitants of all territory belonging to the Confederate States, lying without the limits of the several Sates; and may permit them, at such times, and in such manner as it may by law provide, to form States to be admitted into the Confederacy. In all such territory the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected by Congress and by the Territorial government; and the inhabitants of the several Confederate States and Territories shall have the right to take to such Territory any slaves lawfully held by them in any of the States or Territories of the Confederate States.”

Expansion of the slave trade WAS the driving force, and not the enslavement of Native Americans or Hispanics or poor Irishmen, but African soon-to-be-but-not yet-Americans. After all of this, let me say that states’ rights is not in and of itself morally reprehensible. Rather, what it has shown historically is that time and time again, states’ rights confederacies throughout history have failed, never having lasted long; in fact, as I cited the Federalist Papers in a past post, The Federalist Papers and Abraham Lincoln,, Publius (mostly Alexander Hamilton) argued for a strong central but decentralized government, based not on the strength of the states, but on the SEPARATION OF POWERS. This is quite a crucial difference. The leading Founding father who was pro-states’ rights was Thomas Jefferson, one of the authors of the Anti-Federalist papers, and yes, he was pro-slavery. In U.S. American history, the major political battles so far have both been about the lives of African Americans, slavery and legalized racial segregation. Now, say what you will, but Confederate politics in both instances are racist stances that imposed restrictions on the lives of a group of people.

Therefore, an appropriate Christian response to the Confederacy should be this: some of the political ideas such as a Line Item Veto were good things, but overall, the goal was the expansion of African enslavement and we should be remorseful. never forgetting that fact with acts of lament and repentance. Southern History is not anything in itself to be condemned, and being White and Southern should not equal being racist or bigotted; there were and still are racists in the North as well. Negative stereotypes do not benefit persons of any background, but the knowledge of historical facts benefits all. Let us not celebrate the bloodshed of the War Between the States, but let us also not remain silent on the violence against enslaved African bodies in the past either. Remembering the suffering of others, repenting over past sins, and working towards peaceableness between all people groups is what the Gospels and Paul’s letters teach us to do.

Now, go forth, and do good as our Savior did.

For more, read:

Warnings About PaleoConfederate Douglas Wilson and B BLACK AND TAN by Dr. Anthony Bradley

By The Way, Black And Tan Is No Better by Dr. Anthony Bradley

In light of these questions, I ask you, why is Douglas Wilson a contributor to Christianity Today? Where is the outrage about that fact?

13 thoughts on “The Christian Theology of Abolitionists: Against Douglas Wilson's PaleoConfederate Dreams

  1. David Michael McNelley

    Let’s not only call the South out on their hypocrisy. Let us also call out the North on their hypocrisy. The constitution of the CSA might seem in places repugnant, but this is no more repugnant than the Emancipation Proclamation, which did not free a single slave North of the Mason-Dixon line. Has it ever occurred to you or anyone else, why, if Lincoln was so concerned with eliminating slavery, why he conditionally limited the EP to the Southern states? My thoughts on one aspect of the slavery issue is that Lincoln demonstrated an extremely distasteful double standard and inconsistency with his treatment of the slave issue.

    Villifying the South, as the North did, and the church’s taking a stance, treating Northern ideology as righteous, and Southern ideology as unrighteous, creates the same dilemma as when the church of today gets overly involved in the discussion of political policy. When we require the church to carry the stamp or banner of one political party or another, we bring the church to a place where hypocrisy is possible.

    1. RodtRDH Post author

      Did you even read my post at the end?

      I said both northerners and southerners had problems with race. No, going to war cannot be a “righteous cause” but there were righteous and just results.

      Lincoln’s election, fact is, was the reason why the South Seceded, and why? Because of the GOP platform to ban expansion of slavery in the new territories.

  2. Brian LePort


    Great post! I especially appreciate the reference to the Fathers’ views on slavery. I read Gregory of Nyssa’s sermon from the Book of Ecclesiastes where he rails on those who think they can own another human. He basically accuses them of playing God. And as you said, there is no way we can say he is embarrassed by Scripture. In Wilson’s warped world Paul the Apostle would be embarrassed by Scripture b/c he talks of the Law as bringing bondage, being unable to save, and he sets aside covenant signs like circumcision and Sabbath b/c the Spirit is doing a new thing…yet we know he had the utmost view of Scripture. Wilson is defending Scripture. Wilson defends his perverted fundamentalist hermeneutic.

    1. RodtRDH Post author

      ” Wilson is defending Scripture. Wilson defends his perverted fundamentalist hermeneutic”

      You mean, “Wilson isn’t defending Scripture”

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