Doug Wilson’s Race Problem

Abortion is at least as great an evil for black culture as slavery was.

And with that line, Doug Wilson strikes again.

There are all sorts of parallels drawn between slavery and abortion in the so-called pro-life movement, some implicit and some explicit. I’ve heard pro-life speakers call for a second civil war, in fact, in order to “rid the country of the evil of abortion.” The problem, though, is that Wilson isn’t just saying that abortion is at least a great an evil for black people as slavery (which if you accept the premise that abortion is murder on par with the murder of an infant, child, or adult, you can see why someone might make that argument) but rather that it’s at least as great an evil for black culture as slavery was. I’m sorry, what? The decisions some black women make to end their pregnancies is just as harmful to black culture as was chattel slavery? I would like to hope that even those who view abortion as murder would find this suggestion reprehensible.

The context of this statement, of course, is that Doug Wilson is still trying to dig himself out of the hole he created when he published Southern Slavery As It Was in 1996. In that volume (which can be read online here) Wilson argued that antebellum slavery was Biblical, that slave owners treated their slaves well and that slaves lived an easy life of plentiful food and clothing in exchange for very little labor—a good deal all around—and that the abolitionists were horrible people who spread propaganda and lies about slavery in an attempt to foment a pointless war. Here’s a quote: “Slavery produced in the South a genuine affection between the races that we believe we can say has never existed in any nation before the War [the Civil War] or since. … There has never been a multi-racial society that has existed with such mutual intimacy and harmony in the history of the world” (p. 38, 24). Needless to say, Wilson’s arguments flew straight in the face of every piece of historical consensus about slavery, and made a lot of people pretty angry.

Ever since writing this piece of slavery apologia, Wilson, a self-described “paleo-confederate,” has been offering explanation after explanation in a vein attempt to prove that he really isn’t racist. He ceased publication of Southern Slavery As It Was and wrote a follow up book in 2005, Black and Tan. I haven’t read this second book, but based on a scathing review by conservative African American pastor Bryan Loritts (which is a good read, by the way), it sounds like Wilson didn’t do much to change his tune. According to Loritts’ review, Wilson still contents that abolitionists were wrong and that slavery was in practice not all that bad for black people. The difference, it appears, is that Wilson repeatedly insists that he doesn’t think that white people are superior to black people, and also that he does think that it was good and right for slavery to ultimately end, though he objects to the manner in which its end was brought about. On that front, here’s a quote from another of Wilson’s recent posts on the topic:

If anyone would like to read a glorious and detailed treatment of the Pauline strategy for dealing with slavery, I commend N.T. Wright’s commentary on the book of Philemon in the Tyndale series. Warning: Paul’s strategy played out in slow motion, and did not require slaughtering 600,000 people to do it. But that’s not a bug; it’s a feature.

Wilson responded directly to Loritt’s post, and his response speaks volumes about the way the blatant racism of the past has, for many, transformed into a more covert racism in the present:

I have said for some time that America is long overdue for an adult conversation about race. … The conversation should center on the blood of Christ.

The blood of Jesus makes it possible for the white bigot to repent of his idiotic sense of superiority. One of the things that the cross of Jesus crucifies is every form of preening racial conceit. It astounds me that there are people who think that I don’t believe that.

The blood of Jesus also makes it possible for the white liberal to repent of his exasperating and cloying insistence on a soft bigotry of low expectations, coupled with his destructive subsidies of all the wrong things in the black community. But the blood of Jesus makes it possible for the liberal to repent of Margaret Sanger’s war on black children in utero. In addition, it requires that he repent of celebrating, and giving awards to, those rap thugs who want to teach America’s next generation to think of black women as bitches and ho’s who are supposed to be beneath contempt. In the face of this demolition job being run on the black family by progressivism, with black children killed by the million, and black women publicly degraded by black men, and other black men standing by letting them, let’s get out there and rebuke the three remaining people who think that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man. Way to keep the priorities straight.

The blood of Jesus makes it possible for those many blacks who have experienced genuine hostility, animosity, mistreatment, and injustice at the hands of whites to forgive their enemies as Jesus taught all Christians to do. There has been much to forgive, and may God richly bless every saint who has been enabled by the grace of God to do so.

The blood of Jesus enables certain other blacks to repent of their opportunism. I speak of those who play the perpetual victim even though they have never experienced anything worse than a two-day delay in their most recent affirmative action promotion. These are blacks who yell at those who judge them for the content of their character rather than the color of their skin, like somebody is supposed to have said once. I think it was supposed to have been important, but I am not sure anymore. Opportunism is a sin to repent of, and it is one of those things that makes an adult conversation about race so difficult. But the fact that many people can’t afford to say anything about it doesn’t mean they can’t see it.

According to Wilson, white bigots, white liberals, and black opportunists need to repent, and blacks who have actually legitimately suffered at the hands of whites need to forgive. Now I’m not black, and I’d be really interested in seeing an African American blogger’s take on this piece, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the more words Wilson spills trying to dig himself out of the hole he jumped so willingly in, the wider he’s making that hole.

Note that Wilson puts himself in a category here that needn’t do a thing, the category, presumably, that is righthe isn’t a white bigot and he isn’t an evil white liberal and he isn’t one of those money grubbing black welfare queens and he isn’t one of those blacks who has suffered real wrongs but harbors bitterness and needs to learn to forgive. Everyone is wrong but Wilson, you see. Which leaves Wilson wondering exactly why everyone always seems so angry at him when he opens his mouth on this issue. Can’t they see that he’s the one who’s right here, unlike all those others who are wrong? 

Wilson is still seeing racism as something that is primarily individual—a problem harbored by white bigots—and not something that is, most crucially, systemic—a world of privilege and unconscious racism. Further, when he does speak of racism in a systemic way, Wilson places the blame equally on white bigots and white liberals and black “opportunists.” Of course, Wilson’s inability to understand the systemic and ongoing nature of racism, and his need to place some of the blame for the situation on black people, take second place alongside his constant need to minimize the evil of slavery.

It seems that Wilson only stirred the flames with that post, because when he gave yet another response yesterday he started his post with this:

In the brief moment of calm that has descended upon our discussion about race and slavery, a calm that was provided to us by the weekend, I thought I should insert a quick comment here on what it was that made me think it was a good idea (back in the mid-nineties) to go into print on the topic of American slavery and our current culture wars. There are various theories out there on this subject, including the one that posits that I am an idiot, but this is a theory that I have not found compelling so far. Sure, the evidence is abundant enough, but it is too disorganized. Needs to be footnoted. Somebody needs to go into the archives.

Because Wilson rarely offers links, and because I don’t follow the Christian blogosphere outside of its most progressive wing, I’m unsure where Wilson’s recent pushback is coming from.

In this most recent post, Wilson explains that in the early 1990s there were a variety of people in Operation Rescue who literally talked of igniting a war to end slavery—a very, very literal flesh and blood war. In fact, Paul Hill, who murdered a doctor who performed abortions, saw himself as a modern day John Brown. Many of these individuals drew comparisons between slavery and abortion. Wilson says that he became convinced that this use of violence was wrong, and that the goal should be to bring about gradual change by means of the gospel. This, Wilson explains, is why he wrote a booklet arguing against the use of massive violence to end slavery.

And so this is the background to my standing question. If we could bring an end to abortion in the United States by precipitating a war (or by trying to), should we do that? Abortion is at least as great an evil as slavery was. Abortion is at least as great an evil for black culture as slavery was. If you allow for gospel gradualism now, then why is my urging a gospel gradualism in 1858 a thought crime? And if gospel gradualism was sinful then, why isn’t it sinful now? I ask these questions, not as a cute hypothetical, but to explain an important part of how I came to these convictions in real time, and why I went into print with them. And if I am successfully shouted down by some in the Internet brigade, the question still remains. If it was noble then, we should be doing it now. If we shouldn’t be doing it now, then we should allow reasonable questions about why we shouldn’t have been doing it then. But what we may not do, if we have any integrity at all, is allow our cowardice to become the exclamation mark next to the courage of our ancestors, which for some reason is the option that many modern Christians choose.

Once again, Wilson is arguing that he’s the good guy here. How can anyone not see that all he was doing when he wrote about how awesome slavery was was arguing that people shouldn’t go around shooting abortion doctors? He wasn’t defending slavery, he was just arguing that a massively bloody war was not the right way to end it! But as a commenter points out, this explanation actually makes no sense.

Pastor Wilson, on your first argument, how does showing that Southern slavery wasn’t as bad as people think help your case? If you’re trying to prove that going to violent war on the abortion issue was wrong because going to war on the slavery issue was wrong, doesn’t diminishing the evil of slavery HURT your own case?

As I can see, you’re not really explaining why you spent so much time defending slaveowners and emphasizing (exaggerating) what an amazing society Southern Slavery was. Someone could spend a ton of time showing how we shouldn’t go to war against abortion just like we shouldn’t have gone to war against slavery without EVER minimizing how bad slavery was, and their case would actually be stronger.

Exactly this. Wilson’s insistence that he wrote Southern Slavery As It Was simply to argue that antebellum Americans shouldn’t have let the issue of slavery push them into a deadly war, and that gradual emancipation would have been better, runs into a wall when you recall his glowing defense of southern slavery.

Another commenter made perhaps the best comment in the thread:

If I say something that gets exposed as error or foolish or immature—I then can either have the humility and grace to say, “That was wrong.” Or I can give explanation after explanation to justify my motivation and cast my backing off of those statements in a way that leaves me as highly esteemed as possible by those whose opinions I most care about.

Interestingly enough, the most recent article in the conservative Christian blogosphere to push back against Wilson, posted on The Gospel Coalition no less, makes this exact point:

It seems to me that Wilson’s firmer exegetical ground would be strengthened if it were unencumbered by statements that could reasonably be interpreted as defenses of American chattel slavery. … So much would be gained if Wilson dropped those points or restated them…

Wilson has promised to respond to this question posed on The Gospel Coalition sometime this morning. Reading Wilson’s response will be interesting, but there’s one thing I’m fairly certain of—Wilson’s continual attempts to dig himself out of the hole he created for himself aren’t going to do him much good. As long as he continues making statements like the one I started this post with—”abortion is at least as great an evil for black culture as slavery was”—Wilson is going to have a problem exorcising the demons he released with Southern Slavery As It Was.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.