Women’s ordination and slavery – It’s easy to spot injustice and oppression in history

03 Jul

Slaves in the hold of a transport ship

It seems unlikely that in a few generations many will support today’s LCA notion that women cannot be called and equipped by God for ministry. The rest of the Church will look back in sadness and regret that women were so poorly treated. They will wonder at the inhumanity of the Church and, most likely, consider that they would never have participated in such systemic oppression of women.

As support for this hypothesis, we want to look at the way scriptural passages were used to support the notion of slavery. It is sad that so few people opposed this theology for hundreds of years, resulting in the dehumanising and deaths of countless thousands of people.

1. Slavery was divinely sanctioned by the patriarchs

Noah’s curse upon Canaan (Gen. 9:24-27) (the first appearance of slavery in the Bible) was a prophesy of the black African’s destiny.

Abraham is our godly example.  He was a great slave-owner. He received, possessed, and willed slaves to his children as property.  The Scripture says that the Lord blessed Abraham by multiplying his slaves (Gen 24:35), and an angel commanded the slave, Hagar, to return to her mistress (Gen 16:1-9), which “clearly support(ed) the fugitive slave law.” Hopkins (1864, 76-77)

Joseph saved many people from starvation because God commanded him to, “buy the people and the land, making them slaves to Pharoah.” (Gen 47: 15-25) (Stringfellow, in Elliot, 472)

2. Slavery was incorporated in Israel’s national constitution

God allowed two categories of slaves:  1. They were allowed to take foreigners as slaves and to will them to their descendants (Lev. 25:44-46).  2. Hebrews could will themselves and their families into slavery for a limited period of time. (Ex. 21 and Lev. 25)

3. Slavery was approved by Jesus and the apostles

Despite living amidst the brutality of slavery in the Roman Empire, Jesus and the apostles were not reported as speaking out against the practice. “It is impossible, therefore, to suppose that slavery is contrary to the will of God. … We accept the Bible terms as the definition of our slavery, and its precepts as the guide of our conduct.” (Pro-slavery Arguments, 1852,107-08)

Amongst other Biblical proof-texts, 1 Cor. 7:20-24 speaks clearly (Stringfellow), “as the Lord has called every one so let him walk”.

4. Slavery is a merciful institution

Through the practise of slavery, “millions of Ham’s descendants,” who otherwise “would have sunk down to eternal ruin,” have been, “brought within the range of the gospel influence.”  Hodge says (in Elliot, 848), “If the … course of abolitionists is right, then the course of Christ and the apostles were (sic) wrong.”


The style of hermeneutic is similar to that applied to opposing women’s ordination.

There can be no justification for denying women the opportunity to respond to their call. When Scripture is used to justify an abusive position it reflects poorly on the hermeneutic, the scholar and the Church.


Elliott, E.W., ed (1969) Cotton is King and Pro Slavery Arguments… New York, Negro Universities Press (originally published 1860)

Hopkins, J.W. (1864) A Scriptural, Ecclesiastical and Historical View of Slavery from the Days of the Patriarch Abraham, to the Nineteenth Century, New York, W.I. Polley and Co.

Pro Slavery Arguments: Several Essays (1969) (orig published 1852), New York, Negro Universities Press.

Swartley, W.M. (1983) Slavery, Sabbath, War & Women, Herald Press, Scottsdale PA, USA.

1 Comment

Posted by on July 3, 2011 in Hermeneutics, history, theology


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One response to “Women’s ordination and slavery – It’s easy to spot injustice and oppression in history

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