For the past couple of weeks, Douglas Wilson and I have carried on a discussion of his book, Black and Tan. The book and its prequel, Southern Slavery As It Was, triggered controversy that’s lasted these last ten years or so. Our exchanges have been charitable and frequent. I thought it might be good to include a post-by-post round-up for anyone wishing to follow the discussion as it evolved. I think I’ve gotten them all, but there have been a lot of posts, sometimes seemingly posted only minutes after one or the other of us have hit “post.” So, if I missed one or more, please charge it to my head (and eyesight) not my heart.
A brief post explaining how I became involved in this discussion and listing five reasons I think it wise to proceed with a public discussion rather than a private one.
I attempt (successfully, according to Wilson) to summarize the main argument and points included in Black and Tan. I quote at length Wilson’s comments rejecting racism and slavery, and attempt to summarize Wilson’s motivation for writing Black and Tan.
I attempt to address three basic aspects of the book: (1) the underlying logic guiding the entire book, (2) the exegetical case for slavery as a permissible institution, and (3) the historical claim that the South as a nation and the slavery it practiced was comparable to the Roman practice the apostle Paul addressed. I contend that the authority of the Bible was not widely challenged leading up to the Civil War, and that federal action to end the Civil War cannot be causally linked to our contemporary culture wars.
Wilson responds to my first critique by distinguishing between the formal authority and the functional authority of Scripture. He expresses his concern that the real issue was not the doctrine of Scripture among slaveholders and abolitionists but the doing of scripture, actual obedience.
I attempt to account for the biblical texts relevant to the question of slavery, its practice, and its end. I call for an immediatism to slavery’s end, contrary to the gradualism Wilson proposes. We cover the commandment to love, Philemon, 1 Tim. 1:10; 6:1-2, and the household codes.
Love Is Never Later (DW)
Wilson responds to my exegesis of the biblical texts with almost complete agreement. He agrees that we should privilege the command to love and that obedience to that command should not be delayed. Wilson points to some hypothetical situations where he suggests that love might not mean immediate manumission.
Wilson offers this article, originally published in Omnibus, as evidence of his treatment of Philemon and evidence of how closely aligned our understandings of the text are. He believes Philemon received Onesimus back as a brother, most likely freed Onesimus, that Onesimus became a co-laborer with Paul, and that Onesimus is likely the same Onesimus addressed by Ignatius.
Wilson reminds us of the original context for publishing Black and Tan. He recounts Paul Hill’s murder of an abortion clinic doctor, the questions Hill’s actions provoked, and his desire to avoid the marketing shrink wrap of so much evangelical culture.
A response to Wilson’s near complete agreement with my biblical exegesis of pertinent texts on slavery. Wilson imagines situations where a gradual manumission might be more loving, while I ask, “Why not free the slave immediately and still provide the kinds of support that express love?”
Wilson explains why he continues to believe that current obligations to do things like denounce racism cannot be disentangled from “messy history.” He also introduces the notion of progressive revelation as he discusses a portion of Lev. 25’s commands regarding slaves.
I attempt to explain why I think Wilson’s association with the “civilian affairs” of the South’s secession impairs his ability to value African-American life and to extend to African Americans the same right to pursue the freedom he cherishes.
Wilson explains why we mustn’t go to war with cartoons but recognize the humanity of our opponents and explains why he doesn’t think constitutional issues are easily disentangled from very real lives that have been disenfranchised.
In response to thread comments, Wilson takes up the issue of whether the War of Independence could be considered just and the Civil War not.
After attempting to avoid a discussion of the historical issues at play, I felt compelled to make an assessment of the assumed history in Black and Tan. I argue Black and Tan fails to provide us any history while attempting a major revision of our understanding of the American South and slavery. I also contend that the book’s failure to interact with differing perspectives amounts to a biased view and an overly optimistic view due to Wilson’s postmill perspective. I conclude with a postscript on historical and cultural hegemony.
Wilson replies to my concerns about the history in Black and Tan by admitting the book is not and is not intended to be a work of history, that he believes the book would have been stronger to interacting with differing viewpoints on the history, and explaining his postmill perspective. He pushes back against a postmodernism and “multiculturalism” that denies God’s metainarrative on history.
I reassert my basic critiques of Black and Tan‘s underlying history by responding to Wilson’s defenses. I also attempt to discuss how many African American and White discussants have two different things in mind when they talk about “multiculturalism.”
Wilson responds to my critique of Black and Tan’s history, agrees with my previous post’s comments about multiculturalism, and returns to a comparison of slavery and abortion, maintaining that abortion is far worse than slavery in its death toll. He also explains why he doesn’t think his postmill views lead to a “rosy” picture of slavery.
I attempt to define “racial insensitivity” and to comment on several minor and more serious comments in Black and Tan that I think fail to lovingly consider diverse readers and racial sensitivities.
Harder Than It Looks (DW)
Wilson responds to my definition of “racial insensitivity” with a proposed amendment and replies in turn to my citations of racial insensitivity. He offers an apology while distinguishing between persons genuinely offended and those who may be “flopping”. He calls for the kind of effort at reconciliation where parties say what they want to say and remain at the table after they have said it.
Following up on “Harder Than It Looks,” Wilson uses three biblical incidents to explain why his apology came with qualifications and explanations.
I offer an apology to readers who took offense at a passing reference to Trayvon Martin.
I respond to Wilson’s call to “stay at the table” by pointing out three problems with his apology post and seeking to get a clear sense of whether Wilson though he’d written anything insensitive in Black and Tan, accepts responsibility for those comments, and would retract them. I refer to some useful principles for apologies and forgiveness from Peacemaker Ministries.
Wilson pushes back against an apology I offered readers at Pure Church. He then reasserts the need for a full and complete acceptance of scripture and a way for understanding our current cultural struggles in historical context before he could apologize for Black and Tan across the board.
I clarify that I was not asking him to retract Black and Tan across the board, but respond specifically to the charge of insensitive comments. I also speculate about whether fear of negative results might hinder Wilson giving a more complete apology.
Wilson accepts that I was not asking him to retract Black and Tan and apologizes for misreading me. He restates his apology by admitting that he believes himself to have written some insensitive things in Black and Tan. He creates a placeholder for some future comments.
Hecklers Gonna Heck (DW)
As promised, Wilson returns with more thoughts about the kinds of fears he has in public conversations of this sort and why different tones might be appropriate for different persons in such a discussion. Part of his concern is that evangelical capitulation to insistence on “polite” speech often comes a step or two before evangelical capitulation to the demands of those rebelling against God’s rule.