“Apostle” Fails to Challenge Mortal Sin of Slavery

“Apostle” Fails to Challenge Mortal Sin of Slavery September 25, 2015

(Rome) So-called “apostle” Paul, after meeting with a runaway slave named Onesimus has refused to directly challenge the criminal institution of slavery and has instead sent him back to his owner with a weakly-worded letter that nowhere directly and forcefully condemns the institution of slavery.

Critics of the apostle reported that they are “hugely disappointed” by the “apostle’s” failure to directly and forcefully confront slavery.  They question the wisdom of affirming a CINO in his heretical dissent by writing him, “I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you” (Phm 7).

“This kind of kumbayah nonsense only tells slaveowners that they have nothing to repent” complained one anonymous combox commenter.  “Paul is soft.  I’ve never trusted him and this is why.”

Still others are critical of Paul’s refusal to “drop the hammer” and excommunicate Philemon, citing the numerous times in the Old Testament people are killed or suffer a grisly fate for disagreeing with authority figures.  Paul, failing to invoke his alleged “apostolic power” has instead written to Philemon “I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own free will” (Phm 14).

“Consent?  Free will?” said another anonymous combox critic.  “What is this? Anarchy?  The Church is supposed to be about Obeying the Rules, not doing whatever the hell you feel like!  Paul is taking the Church in a very dangerous direction.  We have to resist him to his face.” Paul’s defenders have noted that he does, in fact, make a thinly veiled plea to Philemon for Onesimus’ freedom, writing

Perhaps this is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back for ever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, write this with my own hand, I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. (Phm 15–21).

But critics are dismissive of the “apostle’s” touchy-feely approach.

“He’s just so unclear.  That could mean anything.  At a time when slavery is rampant in the world, we get this sort of milquetoast appeal to “conscience” instead of a direct, hard-line challenge to slaveowners to repent or be kicked out of the Church.  Calling such people “brothers” and truckling to their vanity is just feeding their dissent.  What Paul should have done is issue an ultimatum.  It was a tragic missed opportunity,” declared still another anonymous combox expert on church discipline.

In addition, critics note that Paul has found time to write numerous letters to the Churches all over the Mediterranean, but has never once found time to mention the sins of abortion, infanticide, or the gladiatorial blood sport that has claimed the lives of numerous Christians.

“He just seems soft and weak on the life issues to me,” said yet another anonymous commenter. “And he doesn’t seem to care about Christian persecution but has no problem cozying up to pagans.  Why won’t he tackle these things?  And why does he pal around with those, like Philemon or his friends in the notoriously dissenting Corinthian Church, while not addressing these matters? It just sends the wrong message, you know?”

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  • Pat

    Thanks Mark! I knew I could count on you to write what I don’t have the time or skill to write to those like Mundabor.

    PS- Can you believe our teacher eats with tax collectors and sinners? What has become of our great ancient religion?

  • Dave G.

    On the other hand, slave owners for centuries used that omission for the defense of human slavery. So there you go.

    • Matt Talbot

      As the kids today might say, “Sinners gonna sin.”

      • Dave G.

        Then why mention anything, If you think about it.

        • David

          The Church does do that, Dave. The Church isn’t a laundry list of don’ts; it’s a endless deposit of faith and reason *from which the don’ts follow*. That’s why one can understand what is sinful even if that sin is not explicitly named. I said this elsewhere, but you’re giving plenty of credit to the willfully ignorant.

  • Jared B.

    And anti-Christians and other non-believers to this day use that omission as a kind of prooftext that Christianity is actually pro-slavery / racist. So the “Pope Francis is being just like St. Paul” defense isn’t much of a defense, if St. Paul himself needs to be defended. Catholic apologists had their work cut out for them already, and Pope Francis is calling in overtime hours.

    • chezami

      http://www.ncregister.com/blog/mark-shea/new-atheist-magical-thinking Anybody who is bound and determined to find fault–atheist or Reactionary Catholic–can always do so. That doesn’t really mean they have a point. It merely means they are bound and determined to see evil, even when it is not there.

      • Marthe Lépine

        And sometimes, whatever fault they claimed to have found reveals more about them than about whoever has been making a speech that they don’t like.

    • chezami

      PS. It is a mark of American vanity to conflate ancient slavery with racism. Ancient slavery had nothing to do with race, except by accident. Slaves could come from any ethnicity, and modern conceptions of race do not map well to ancients who were often all dark skinned Mediterranean types. Paul main remarks about racial difference are emphatic declarations that they don’t matter: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, Parthian, Scythian, male nor female”. It is as radical a statement against racism as you could possibly ask for.

  • One thing Pope Francis doesn’t appear to do is to make fun of people as you are doing.

    • chezami

      I do not contest the proposition that he is a better man than I am.

      • Captain_America

        On the other hand, it is fun.

        (It is said the Devil, that proud spirit, cannot stand to be mocked…)

        (But, is Schadenfreude a sin, when its object are the eminently and pugnaciously self-righteous?)

    • Marthe Lépine

      A lot of people make good money making fun of people…

  • KM

    I appreciate this, Mark, because it reminds me of Matthew 22:36-40 when a Pharisee asks Jesus which commandment is the greatest. Jesus’ response is that all the commandments depend on the first two commandments of loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself.

    36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”

    37 He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.

    38 This is the greatest and the first commandment.

    39 The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

    40 The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

  • KM

    While some people are busy condemning Pope Francis for his speech to Congress — a speech where he reminded our elected officials of their duty to the common good, and chastised them for helping to sell weapons of war for profit — they missed his remarks today at Ground Zero which are well worth everyone’s consideration.

    The whole speech is at:


    “…Here we mourn the wrongful and senseless loss of innocent lives because of the inability to find solutions which respect the common good. This flowing water reminds us of yesterday’s tears, but also of all the tears still being shed today.”

    “…This place of death became a place of life too, a place of saved lives, a hymn to the triumph of life over the prophets of destruction and death, to goodness over evil, to reconciliation and unity over hatred and division…

    “This can only happen if we uproot from our hearts all feelings of hatred, vengeance and resentment. We know that that is only possible as a gift from heaven…”

  • Marthe Lépine

    You forgot the part where several commenters claimed that it was necessary to pray to God to protect the Church from Paul…

  • Gunnar Thalweg

    I like this one — a lot. The reason is it’s fair. It’s not political and doesn’t make fun of one group at the expense of another.

    The other guys actually have a point. Paul did not directly challenge slavery. He did not say, “Philemon, you have heard it said, ‘Thou shall not steal’ and that one of the four sins that cries to heaven for vengeance are denying a worker his pay. You must pay for his labor or you are forcefully stealing it, to the death of your soul.”

  • Dan13

    I agree with your points in your recent posts. But isn’t this the time to be happy? The Pope’s visit has brought a great amount of focus on Catholic teaching, and the Church in America is getting its best press since, at the very least, 2002. Maybe it is time to back off the snark for a bit and just enjoy the rest of the Pope’s visit (and hope that it has a knock-on effect)?