‘Gracious and cordial’ does not describe the ‘homosexual lifestyle’ slur or the attempt to deny legal equality

Some white evangelicals are very upset over the recent kerfuffle involving the Rev. Louie Giglio.

Giglio has been a respected leader within the evangelical community, but his recent invitation to pray a benediction at President Obama’s second inauguration brought with it the national spotlight and the scrutiny of those outside the evangelical tribe. Giglio’s past sermons condemning homosexuality — and, more importantly, his implicit continuing endorsement of that condemnation — drew strong criticism, leading Giglio to withdraw his initial acceptance of the invitation.

The criticism directed at Giglio seems to have confused and angered many evangelicals who don’t see anything wrong, or even unusual, in the sermons about homosexuality for which Giglio was denounced. He is, after all, a nice guy, and his condemnations of what he calls the “homosexual lifestyle” were expressed in what he, and many of his fellow evangelicals, regard as a nice way.

Matthew Lee Anderson, writing for CNN, conveys the prevailing evangelical confusion over how Giglio’s niceness could be met with such a backlash:

Giglio’s sermon on homosexuality was in an entirely different league than Charles Worley’s, who momentarily became famous last year for ludicrously suggesting that gays and lesbians should be fenced off.

Indeed, Giglio’s defenders have been quick to point out that his position on the question comfortably fits the main currents of what Christianity has always taught about homosexuality, and does so with a gracious, cordial tone.

Anderson goes on to cite Southern Baptist leaders Al Mohler and Russell Moore expressing their offense that others are offended by Giglio’s comments. That doesn’t really tell us much about what’s going on, because Mohler and Moore are always offended by something or other — that’s their thing.

But the same kind of reaction is being expressed by evangelicals less inclined toward perpetual offendedness and professional indignation. Andrew Marin and Michael Kimpan provide good summaries of the widespread confusion and offense in response to the criticism of Giglio, including folks like Gabe Lyons, Ed Stetzer and John Dickerson, who don’t tend to be Mohler-esque culture warriors.

I think the source of this confusion and anger is privileged distress, currently being expressed in the form of what I call “grievance envy.” I want to explore what that means — and to suggest how we might best respond to it — and we’ll get to that in the next post. But first I want to respond directly to Anderson’s suggestion, widely shared among evangelicals reacting to this latest controversy, that Giglio’s condemnation of LGBT people somehow involves a “gracious, cordial tone.”

There’s nothing gracious or cordial about it. That word “gracious” simply does not apply — not in the sentimental sense Anderson uses there, and not in the deeper, theological sense.

Anderson misapprehends two things there.

First is that what he and Giglio and others perceive to be a “gracious, cordial tone” does not seem at all gracious or cordial to those on the receiving end of it — not to people who understand the contemptuousness and vicious slanders invested in that phrase “homosexual lifestyle” or who understand the callous cruelty of the “ex-gay” ideology Giglio endorsed, which accuses LGBT people of having a moral, spiritual or psychological deficiency in need of a cure.

If you intend to be gracious and/or cordial, then you should never, ever, utter that insidious euphemism “homosexual lifestyle” ever again. Please. Thank you. OK, then.

The second thing that Anderson, Giglio, et. al., misunderstand about this “gracious, cordial tone” is that tone doesn’t matter. Substance matters.

Adopting a more gracious and cordial tone than Charles Worley sets the bar abysmally low, but it also is meaningless if that gracious and cordial tone is used to advocate the same denial of equality under the law and denial of equality under God that Worley advocates.

Or, as I put it back during Worley’s 15 minutes of infamy, “You can’t deny people their rights and be nice about it.”

Let me paraphrase part of that post to update it for our current context:

Anderson & Giglio want you to understand that they’re not at all like the infamous homophobic preacher Worley. They’re totally different.

Worley wants to deny LGBT people their basic civil rights and legal equality because he hates them. Anderson & Giglio want to deny LGBT people their basic civil rights and legal equality for other reasons.

See? See how very different they are? Same political agenda. Same desired outcome. Same fundamental discrimination enshrined in law. But Worley is mean. Anderson & Giglio are gracious and cordial. They’re nice.

And evangelicals like Anderson & Giglio have had it up to here with people not recognizing the extreme importance of that distinction. They share Worley’s hateful goals, but not his hateful sentiments, so how dare anyone compare them?

  • LL

    Those uppity gay people, who can’t be gracious when somebody calls them perverts who are trying to destroy marriage and America. Awfully narrow-minded of them. 

  • Jim Roberts

    I will say, being actually nice and pleasant to gay people and showing them actual grace and mercy (as I should to all people, not just them) is what lead me to conclude that gay people are just kind of okay like the rest of us and not abominable monsters. I’m fairly certain I’m not alone in just being nice being the turning point in my experience with gays but in what the Bible has to say about gays. Can’t have that.

  • pharoute

    I wish they denounced divorce as vehemently as they denounce homosexuality. At least they’d be consistant.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ann-Unemori/100001112760232 Ann Unemori

    Wasn’t Mr. Giglio also involved with stopping human trafficking? 

  • Magic_Cracker

    The great thing about taking umbrage is that no one has to give you any. Hell, we should just make umbrage our official currency and the Great Recession would end yesterday!

  • Mike Helbert

     Yes. That was the primary reason he was tapped to work the inauguration.

  • Persia

    What, all human trafficking? That’d be pretty impressive, but still wouldn’t make his position on equality any less objectionable.

  • AnonymousSam

    Yes, how dare they be so intolerant!

  • Carstonio

    Love the callback to Highlights. The Gallants might claim that they simply want to save gays and lesbians from hell, but they sure don’t act like it. Where’s the tearful pleading and begging? They act more like they simply want the satisfaction of seeing sexual heathens get their just desserts.

  • Carstonio

    Or else the Gallants would petition their god directly: “Lord, eternal suffering is an unjust and undeserved punishment for any human crime. On behalf of my fellow humans, I ask you to either change the rule or impose a far less cruel sentence.”

  • Lliira

     Yeah, I want to know which human trafficking Giglio fights against. Is it only prostitution? (I don’t say “only forced prostitution” because I have literally never seen anyone who fights against forced prostitution, but not consensual prostitution, who is not a sex worker.) Sexual slavery is a serious problem everywhere in the world, but almost everyone who is not a sex worker whom I see talk about it lumps all sex work with sexual slavery, mistates the numbers completely, and refuses to acknowledge that sex work might be something an adult chooses to do, either as a decent way to make a good living or even as a calling.

    What’s Giglio doing about child slavery on cocoa plantations? How about slavery in China? How about prison labor? Migrant workers? No one can do everything, but if he actually cares about human trafficking, he should at least have a position on this stuff.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

     They are both very unpleasant characters.

    Between the Walrus and the Carpenter, I personally find the Carpenter much easier to deal with. But it doesn’t matter to the dead oysters.  

  • Michele Cox

     For what it’s worth, I’ve never made any money in the sex industry at all (and there are a number of professions legitimately described as sex work that aren’t legally prostitution), and I’m clear on the difference between forced and voluntary sex work and see the distinction as critical. 

    I do also acknowledge that there are instances of coercion that are problematic, even where conditional consent is present — and that that applies to careers that are not so stigmatized, too.  Free, full, knowing consent — consent where there is a valid alternative — is a key component in making any human interaction ethical.  (It’s also difficult to define, and essentially impossible to enforce via the judicial system. Which is no reason to lump forced and voluntary sex work into the same bin.)

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    Yes to all of this. Just a question: do you do work against forced sex work, is this a big deal to your life, or are you like me, and talk about it and sign petitions and such? If you do work in this area, I will have to change my numbers to “all but one person”. Also, if you do work in this area, against forced sex work but explicitly not against voluntary sex work, that’s great, and can I have some links that I can link to on my site?

  • EllieMurasaki

    There’s two of us (though I have to confess that my activism is mostly confined to explaining the difference between forced and consensual as applicable to sex work). I bet there’s more.

  • The Guest Who Posts

    We have different experiences, then. I understand the difference between sexual slavery and choosing prostitution, and so do most people I know.

  • Michael Pullmann

    “Matthew Lee Anderson, writing for CNN”

    Impossible. CNN is part of that damned God-hating librul media.

  • Victor Savard

    (((Giglio has been a respected leader within the evangelical community, but his recent invitation to pray a benediction at President Obama’s second inauguration brought with it the national spotlight and the scrutiny of those outside the evangelical tribe. )))

    Jeff! Sorry “I” mean Fred, I had a dream last night about your American President Mr. Obama and his wife and me, myself and i thought that ya might be able to shed a little light on “IT”.

    Anyway the dream went something like this; For some reason in my dream me, myself and i found ourselves in the flesh at their home. Forgive U>S, but ya know what dreams are like, because when ya wake UP from them ya just don’t remember enough of “IT”. To be honest , I had forgotten all of “IT” until sinner vic reminded me while his 92%  U>S (usual sinning gods) were sitting on his trone. Anyway “I” then remembered that me, myself and i had a great time but “I’M” not sure how long I was at their house but “IT” had to be at least a week because when I  got there, their house was beautiful but when I left,  “IT” was a mess. In my dream, there was only Mr and Mrs Obama with a young boy child present. Long story short, “I’M” sure that they were Fed UP with me and although no “ONE” told me to leave, “I” was able to sense that “IT” was time to part WAYs.  I was ready to leave because me, myself and i did not want to spoil the friendship that we had created with them. As  I was about to leave, I noticed that “I” was not wearing any pants and because of the large top which  “I” had on, I didn’t think that they noticed so I told them that I had to go back UP STAIRS cause I had forgotten something. As I walked UP, I thought of some of the great times we had travelling in their mobile home and to be honest I still find “IT” hard to believe that we had really been moving in this house but again I remember that this was “The house of your U.S. of America” and because we’re in “The Twenty First Century” “I” figured that with their GPS anything was possible NOW!

    Longer story short, I eventually found my pants in the NOW cluthered house. To be honest, they must have given the entire  staff the week off  because “IT” NOW was a mess and to be honest in my dream, I was thinking that I should have helped a little but me, myself and i were having so much fun that we forgot all about “IT”.

    I’ll close by saying that “I” got a hug from Michelle Obama but please don’t tell her because as she was hugging me goodbye, I was wondering if she was thinking that I might have taken something from UP STAIRS. Believe “IT” or not, I was actually ashame of thinking that during my dream and thought of how silly I was to have thought that. Michelle even convince Mr Obama to give me a hug also but the young black little boy would not give me a hug. I sense that he wanted to but for some reason I guess that he must have been scared of me.

    Go Figure!

    Victor! Victor! Victor! You’re off topic again so can ya tell US (usual sinners) already. :)

    http://www.splendoroftruth.com/curtjester/2013/01/power-company-ridicules-dalai-lamas-stance-on-same-sex-marriage/

    Happy New Year Fred to you, your family and friends.

    We may not always agree but nevertheless, we’re all GOD (Good Old Dad”s) magical crystals, I mean GOD’s Loving Children.

    http://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=18142394&postID=7017227555271155874

    Peace

  • Francis Dickinson

    My instinctive reaction about “Gracious and Cordial” was to start to quote Stephen Sondheim’s Witch in anger.  Unfortunately it would be a step up for ‘Gallant’ to even rise to the level of those the Witch was condemning.  (Not that her hands were clean, of course).

    You’re so nice.
    You’re not good,
    You’re not bad,
    You’re just nice.
    I’m not good,
    I’m not nice,
    I’m just right.
    I’m the Witch.
    You’re the world.

    I’m the hitch.
    I’m what no one believes,
    I’m the Witch.
    You’re all liars and theives,
    Like his father,
    Like his son will be, too-
    Oh, why bother?
    You’ll just do what you do.

  • http://profiles.google.com/marciepooh Marcella McIntyre

    Just wanted to say – LOVE IT! (I love Into The Woods and “Last Midnight”.)

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    Kinda funny when you think about it, isn’t it?  After all, the Bible calls homosexuality immoral, but not the owning of one person by another.

  • MikeJ

     Which makes you wonder: were all of those unrepentant slave owners really married in the eyes of God? They didn’t just commit one sin, they continued to be involved in the slave owner lifestyle every day.  They knew it was wrong.  G. Washington freed his slaves upon his death, but he was so caught up in the slave owner lifestyle he couldn’t leave it himself.

    Should we say that all of his descendants are illegitimate? Surely god wouldn’t approve of somebody so mire in sin getting married.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ann-Unemori/100001112760232 Ann Unemori

    FWIW, G Washington had no descendants, legit or il, Martha had had children from her first marriage, one of whose descendant would go on to marry Robert E. Lee, and the Lees were kindred of Helen Keller. What that means is anyone’s guess.
    If you’re talking of children and descendants of Jesus Christ that’s straying into Dan Brown territory. 

  • MikeJ

     We can apply the same standard to anyone involved in the slave owning lifestyle.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    I seem to not have been clear. I’m not talking about people who simply talk about this stuff. I think most people do, in fact, understand the difference between sexual slavery and consensual prostitution. I’m talking about people who work at ending sexual slavery. People whose big deal, whose central goal, whose life’s work, whose job, is directly related to attempting to end sexual slavery. 

    If your activism is confined to talking about it when it comes up, I am not talking about you. I am talking about the groups that say they exist in order to end sexual slavery, and the spokespeople and leaders of said groups. If there are any that are not run by sex workers (former or current) that do not act like all sex work is forced, I have never seen any.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    If you’re talking of children and descendants of Jesus Christ that’s straying into Dan Brown territory.

    No, Dan Brown makes up stuff that is provably false. Whether Jesus had kids is not a provable hypothesis.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ann-Unemori/100001112760232 Ann Unemori

    To me, the irony is that Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, including Sally Hemmings whom he loved dearly but did or could not set free; yet it was his own words, in the very Declaration of Independence, that would provide the ultimate impetus for Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation years later. Yes I know of the 3/5 clause, and of Lincoln’s desire to preserve the Union. But against all odds, the slaves were set free. 
    Please no flames.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I hesitate to say Jefferson loved Hemings. One, he didn’t set her free. Two, wasn’t she considered black by the one-drop rule and nothing else, and wasn’t she Martha Jefferson’s half sister? Sally might have looked quite a lot like a younger, healthier Martha.

    In news that is not at all related, I need to rewatch 1776.

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    I think we might have discussed this earlier. I had found the fact she looked like Jefferson’s ex-wife sort of romantic and used it as a data point that he really loved her. 

    You or whoever I discussed this with found the same fact somewhat creepy instead and laid out a pretty convincing argument for same.Given the recent book about Jefferson and his slaves (to wit, he REALLY, REALLY, REALLY liked owning people) It appears you were correct. 

  • Ursula L

    G. Washington freed his slaves upon his death, but he was so caught up in the slave owner lifestyle he couldn’t leave it himself.

    This is not strictly accurate.

    Washington left, in his will, that his slaves would be freed, not at his death, but at his wife’s death.

    This was, probably, intended as a way to care for his wife – she would be supported by the labor of their slaves for the rest of her life.

    But it actually served to create a significant problem for his wife.

    Because the only thing between their slaves and their slaves’ freedom was his wife’s life.  

    And given the horrible injustice and attack that enslavement is, his slaves would have been completely justified in killing the one person that stood between them and freedom.  

    Or a single slave would have been not merely justified, but heroic in killing the one person that stood between all of the slaves and freedom, even if it cost that slave their own life in “punishment” for murder.  Because it would not be murder, but rather self-defense from the oppression and violence and slavery, and the defense of others from the oppression and violence of slavery. 

    Martha Washington was, rightly,  left utterly terrified that she might be killed by her slaves in order to end her ongoing oppression and enslavement of these people.  Her terror was such that she worked to free those people during her life, in order to try to protect herself.

    But this freeing was not a moral act, but rather an act of selfish self-protection – there is no indication that she would have freed any of her slaves during her lifetime if she hadn’t been afraid for her life, any more than Washington was willing to free any slaves during his lifetime, loosing the benefit of their forced and enslaved labor.  

    Washington deserves no moral credit for this provision of his will.  He and his wife had no children, so it cost them nothing to free their slaves at the end of their lives, and he fully intended to enjoy all the benefits of owning slaves for the entirety of his and his wife’s life.  

  • Ursula L

    To me, the irony is that Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, including Sally Hemmings whom he loved dearly but did or could not set free;

    I don’t think it is in any way accurate to say that Jefferson “loved” Sally Hemmings in any meaningful way.

    She was his slave, and, by his understanding, not a full human being but rather his property.  He did nothing to free her.  He had the right legally, and, in the eyes of a slaveholder, morally, to have sex with her, or to force her to do anything else, without any consideration of her will or choice or consent.  

    Which made any sexual intercourse with her rape as it ignored her consent.  

    Even if Jefferson thought she consented, she had no right to refuse consent, and no power to resist.  In that circumstance, it is impossible to distinguish between consensual sex and rape.  And a slave owner does not, in any way, deserve any benefit of any doubt, real or imagined.  Because they are slave owners, people so monstrous as to choose to treat other people not as people, but as property.  

  • http://www.oliviareviews.com/ PepperjackCandy

    From my reading, it looks like the one-drop rule didn’t apply in Virginia at the time.  A black person was one who had more than one black great-grandfather. 

    Sally would not have counted as white, since she had two black great-grandfathers.  However, since they were acknowledged to have had a white father, her children had only one black great-grandfather and thus they were white in the eyes of the laws of Virginia.  That is why when her eldest left, Jefferson did nothing to bring him back. 

    I don’t know if Jefferson loved Sally either, but she spent two years in France.  In France, she was a free woman.  She could have gotten employment as a seamstress and stayed.  It seems that, since Jefferson convinced her to come back from France to Virginia, some kind of affection must have existed between the two of them.  Maybe she was infatuated and he was in lust.

  • Lliira

    Thomas Jefferson is a very difficult figure to understand. One thing seems clear: he had an idea in his head of a certain aristocratic lifestyle that included having one courtesan, and Sally Hemings was that courtesan for him. But I honestly don’t care what Thomas Jefferson thought at this point; reams have been written and speculated and we haven’t gotten much of anywhere, because we’ve been starting from the wrong position. What Sally Hemings thought and felt is what’s important. That’s where any true answers lie.

  • Lliira

     Her children were in Virginia. She had no ability to choose anything freely vis a vis the man who imprisoned them and repeatedly raped her.

    Also, if you’re going to call Thomas Jefferson by his last name only, it would be only right to call Sally Hemings by her last name only as well. This tendency to identify men by last names and women by first names is demeaning to women, and Sally Hemings has already been demeaned more than enough.

    Maybe she was infatuated and he was in lust.

    Why could it not have been the other way around? Is lust the only thing a man can feel toward a woman? Can women not be swayed by sexual desire?

    Personally, I think Hemings thought she could live better as a courtesan than a seamstress, and that she wanted to help her children. And I think Jefferson was infatuated with at least the idea of their relationship, but Jefferson’s feelings were a mystery even to Jefferson. But we need more information about Hemings and her children before we can take more than an educated guess.

  • P J Evans

    Jefferson usually was in a financial state where he couldn’t free his slaves. He needed them to keep his crops growing so they could be sold for money to pay his bills. (Most of his wealth was in land and the slaves to work it.)

  • veejayem

    Consent is the key. Bestiality and paedophilia are almost universally condemned, primarily because they are inimical to what most of us would believe to be the ideal ~ a loving relationship between equals. A “good” slave owner treated his or her human chattels as a decent farmer would treat his livestock ~ say, one-tenth morality to nine-tenths self-interest.

  • http://www.oliviareviews.com/ PepperjackCandy

    Hemings had no children when she was in France.  She went to France when she was 14 and came back when she was 16.  Her first child, Harriet, was not born until 1795.

  • http://twitter.com/Jenk3 Jen K

    Why does this remind me of Bernadette from Big Bang Theory?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dajFAqYrQLA
    “I’m nice to EVERYONE!!”

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     

    I don’t think it is in any way accurate to say that Jefferson “loved” Sally Hemmings in any meaningful way.

    She was his slave, and, by his understanding, not a full human being but rather his property.  He did nothing to free her.  He had the right, legally, and, in the his own eyes as slaveholder, morally, to have sex with her, or to force her to do anything else, without any consideration of her will or choice or consent.  

    Which made any sexual intercourse with her rape as it ignored her consent.  

    Even if Jefferson thought she consented, she had no right to
    refuse consent, and no power to resist.  In that circumstance, it is
    impossible to distinguish between consensual sex and rape.  And a slave
    owner does not, in any way, deserve any benefit of any doubt, real or
    imagined.  Because they are slave owners, people so monstrous as to choose to treat other people not as people, but as property.

    I am entirely willing to accept that nothing Jefferson did ameliorates the wrongness of that relationship or makes it stop being rape.

    I am somewhat less willing to say that Sally Hemmings’s own feelings don’t matter. You seem to be arguing that in considering the nature of their relationship, we ought to totally ignore what she thought about it and how she felt about it. Since what we know about her is limited, it may be “safer” to assume the worse in orderto make sure we duly condemn Jefferson, but your reasoning says that even if we had absolute proof that she thought of herself as a consenting participant, even if she thought of herself as Jefferson’s lover, we ought to ignore her position in favor of declaring her a rape victim.

  • EllieMurasaki

    That rather depends on whether it’s possible or impossible to have a consensual relationship between people who have a large enough power imbalance that the one with the power should not be attempting to pursue the relationship.

  • Water_Bear

    Don’t most people oppose bestiality primarily because it’s gross and a public health risk?

    I mean, most people eat animals and at least a plurality are still in favor of animal testing for medical purposes. Seems kind of hypocritical to say “hey! stop raping that horse!” to a zoophile while eating a steak and using psychiatric medicine which went though animal trials.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Well, as animals have no legal rights, by and large, the least we can do is be concerned about animal welfare. If we’re going to eat them, the least we can do is treat them properly.

    That means no overcrowding, no making them eat the processed remains of other members of their species (seriously. This was how mad cow disease got spread.), no making them live in their own poop, and obviously no using them sexually, since they can’t meaningfully consent to that act.

  • Water_Bear

    Well, as animals have no legal rights, by and large, the least we can do is be concerned about animal welfare. If we’re going to eat them, the least we can do is treat them properly.

    That seems like somewhat self-serving logic. We won’t stop killing and eating them, but we will “treat them properly” in ways which benefit us (through decreased risk of disease less environmental damage or higher quality meat) or stop other people from doing things we find gross like sadism or rape towards animals. It’s hard to see how that has anything to do with the animal’s welfare; they’d probably be better off not to be farmed for their organs in the first place, and all the other abuses stem from that initial situation.

    I’m not a vegan or anything, far from it I’m a huge proponent of animal testing and couldn’t imagine giving up beef, it’s just the hypocrisy bugs me. If other people actually care about these animals they should actually make some kind of sacrifice towards that end, otherwise the rhetoric sort of rings hollow.

    TL;DR: I feel weird condemning a zoophile as a rapist when that same logic makes me a (pseudo-)cannibalistic serial killer.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     

    Don’t most people oppose bestiality primarily because it’s gross and a public health risk?

    Well, many people no doubt justify their opposition to bestiality on that basis, much as many people justify their opposition to homosexuality on that basis.

    In my experience, when I explore the latter in more detail it turns out that by “homosexuality” those people mean anal sex. And when I point out that the majority of anal sex is performed by heterosexual couples, and that a relatively large number of homosexual couples don’t engage in it at all, they either refuse to believe me or decide that it doesn’t matter, gay sex is still icky and gross and dirty and unhealthy because it just is, OK?

    So, at least in that case, I conclude that no, causality runs in the other direction: many people claim gay sex is gross and a public health risk because they oppose homosexuality.

    I don’t know for sure that the same is true about bestiality; I haven’t explored the topic at the same length. (Though, after performing in a production of Albee’s “The Goat” recently, I did end up discussing it a lot.) But my intuition is that the same dynamic applies.

    Also, the notion of anyone opposing bestiality because it’s gross and a public health risk while being indifferent to the meat industry, at least in the U.S., is just too risible to even take seriously. It would be like opposing masturbation because of the health risks involved, while being indifferent to smoking.

  • Brannogenos

    That was brilliant. Eloquence intelligence and completely accurate. Thank you.

  • Ursula L

    Jefferson usually was in a financial state where he couldn’t free his slaves. He needed them to keep his crops growing so they could be sold for money to pay his bills. (Most of his wealth was in land and the slaves to work it.)

    He always had the option of freeing his slaves, and defaulting on his debts, going through bankruptcy, selling his land, his books, etc.  

    This is only a valid argument if you consider money owed to creditors as being a stronger moral imperative than human freedom. 

    If you can’t pay your bills without enslaving people or keeping them enslaved, then the right thing to do is not pay your bills.  

    If your wealth depends on the enslavement of others,  the only right thing to do is stop being wealthy and live (or not) in a way that is consistent with your economic status without slave labor.  

    Jefferson could have freed his slaves, and accepted the hardship that would come to him as a consequence of no longer owning slaves.  He preferred his comfort, and the status that came from wealth, and the “respectability” that owning slaves and paying his bills gave him, rather than the damage to his reputation that would come if he freed his slaves and defaulted on his debts.  

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     I wish I could like this twice.

    Well, I suppose I can. I wish I could like this twice without violating the implicit expectations of this site.

  • P J Evans

     I wasn’t there, so I don’t know what he actually thought. (I doubt that you do either.)
    I do get tired of people who want to read historical actions according to current moral and ethical standards. The world now is not the world then; we can’t access it, and I am not at all sure we have the standing to judge it.

  • Ursula L

    We don’t have to read Jefferson’s mind on the matter.  We can observe his actions, and judge the man according to his deeds.

    He had two options:

    1.  Keep his slaves enslaved, and use the fruits of their labor to pay his debts.

    2.  Free his slaves, and live with the consequences of not being able to pay his debts.  

    He chose the first, the theft of the labor of others for the sake of paying his debts.  

    Robbing a bank to get the money to pay his debts would have been more ethical.  No mind reading involved, that is what he did.

    And Jefferson knew slavery was wrong, and freedom is good.  He wrote eloquently on the topic of the value of freedom.  Again, no mind-reading required, we need merely read what he has written.  

    Yet despite his valuing freedom in the abstract, he valued it less that the ability to pay his bills, as shown purely by his actions.  

    ***

    What is even more disturbing is that people today still accept the argument that he “couldn’t” free his slaves because he would not be able to pay his bills without the theft of their labor and freedom.  We still value his obligations to pay bills over the freedom of  the people he oppressed.  

    Freeing his slaves is not something that he lacked the ability to do.  It’s something he chose not to do.  He knew the law, and knew how to free a slave if he wanted to.  And he was often in the position of writing the laws, and could have worked for laws that prioritized freeing slaves over paying cash debts if he wanted to.  

    Jefferson was one of the most powerful men in the latter years of the American colonies and the early years of the United States.  It is utterly ridiculous to see him as powerless, unable to free his slaves despite wanting to do so.   

    Jefferson certainly lived in a culture where keeping slaves was acceptable, but defaulting on debts was seen as a humiliation, a failure.  And he acted as someone of that culture, choosing to keep his slaves and pay his bills.  

    Which only shows that he was as screwed-up as the rest of the slave-based culture he lived in, and as immoral and hypocritical as every other slave-owner who claimed to value freedom.  

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    He always had the option of freeing his slaves, and defaulting on his
    debts, going through bankruptcy, selling his land, his books, etc. 

    If Jefferson had gone through bankruptcy, his slaves would have been seized and given to his creditors.


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