We hear often that Christianity improved the lot of the slave, or, even more outrageously, that it did away with the institution altogether. Bryan Fischer is pushing this myth, including the claim that, made on Focal Point yesterday, that on the basis of Exodus 21:16 -“Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death” – the kind of slavery practiced in the United States is, according to the Bible, a capital crime.
Watch via AFRTALK (the relevant portion begins about 3 minutes in):
What Fischer does not tell you about Exodus is that it waxes poetic on the horrible things that may be done to a slave by a master:
Exodus 21:4 After six years a Hebrew slave shall go free but if he has a wife, she and her children remain slaves.
Exodus 21:5 If the slave refuses to go out alone on the basis that he loves his wife and children, the owner will bore his ear with an awl and the slave will remain a slave forever.
So much for family values.
Exodus 21:7 A man may sell his daughter as a slave and unlike a man, she does not get to go free after six years unless she has been found to be displeasing.
Ditto what I said about family values.
It is difficult to understand how Fischer misses these, when he has to read through them to get to the passage he wants to isolate and take out of context to make his dishonest point. As you can see from the photo above, he even has his Bible open at his desk and is reading from it.
Doesn’t it say in Proverbs 6:16-19, “There are six things that the LORD strongly dislikes, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers”?
I’m just sayin’.
What Fischer also doesn’t tell you, because it would complicate his assertion with facts, is that this whole “set you free after six years” deal doesn’t apply to non-Jews, who according to the Bible are slaves forever.
His “reflections” also failed to reveal that Deuteronomy 24:7 clarifies that the stealing of slaves talked about in Exodus 21 applies only to Israelites. It is perfectly legal to kidnap non-Jews, and therefore, perfectly legal to kidnap Africans, haul them to the New World, and put them to work on your plantations, all in the name of God.
In fact, Deuteronomy 20:14 specifically orders that,
the women and the little ones, the livestock, and everything else in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as plunder for yourselves. And you shall enjoy the spoil of your enemies, which the LORD your God has given you.
I don’t know how Fischer can reconcile this command to enslave people with the alleged law forbidding it, but then Bryan Fischer also thinks the First Amendment, which bans establishment of a state religion, somehow establishes Christianity as a state religion.
Fischer goes on to pretend that black slaves brought to the Americas were actually kidnapped by their fellow Africans and sold to white slavers and that all this was somehow anti-biblical, but this is all wishful thinking by Bryan Fischer, who does not know his history any better than he knows his Bible. Yes, blacks did sell blacks into slavery and whites kidnapped blacks, and none of this absolves the white people involved or the Church and Christianity itself.
Let me make a few points in this regard:
Muslim prisoners were regularly enslaved during the reconquest of Spain and this activity continued as Portugal began to operate militarily on the African continent (for example, Cueta in 1415 and Tangier in 1437). And of course, in the 15th century, not much later, began the African slave trade, in 1441 to be precise, when two Portuguese captains, Antão Gonçalves and Nuno Tristão, captured a dozen unfortunate Mauretanians and returned home with the new slaves. Notice these are whites enslaving blacks directly, not through African intermediaries.
The whole black slavery craze caught on quickly, as you can imagine. On August 8, 1444, six caravels were sent to capture “black Moors” and subsequently unloaded 235 slaves at Portuguese-controlled Lagos. Castile and the Italian city state of Genoa were also early participants in this lucrative enterprise. It cannot be argued either that this was simply a bit of secular economics or capitalism run amok, because on 18 June 1452 Pope Nicholas V issues a Papal bull, the infamous Dum Diversas, which authorized the Portuguese to reduce “Saracens [Muslims] and pagans and any other unbelievers.”
In other words, if you are not a Christian, you are a slave, pure and simple.
Much is made of the numbers of slaves in Roman cities and as a percentage of the empire’s population as a whole, but there were so many slaves in Spain that by 1565 one tenth of the population of Seville – six thousand people – were slaves. The same figure holds true for Portugal’s capital, Lisbon in 1527 – some five to six thousand all told – and by 1573 there were some forty thousand slaves in Portugal. It was from this beginning that America was populated with black slaves, and it is to Christian thought, to attitudes established before the first European settled in North America, that racism owes its origins.
So much for the much vaunted Christian brotherhood of all men, both slave and free, united and equal in Christ!
Yet Jean-Pierre Devroey asserts, “The triumph of Christianity constituted a major challenge to the ideology of slavery.” This is not even remotely true, as a even a cursory reading of the New Testament will reveal, and even noted Church historian W.H.C. Frend is forced to admit that there was no Christian drive to abolish slavery. 
Ramsay MacMullen challenges the standard model of Christian social egalitarianism, pointing out that, “Christian leaders once they emerged anywhere at or near the top of the social pyramid looked down on those beneath them with just the same hauteur as their non-Christian equivalents” Welcome to the good word, folks. Nothing revolutionary here. Move along.
But this is not just the example of an established church reacting to slavery. Even before Christians reached the top of the social pyramid, they showed remarkably little concern for slaves or opposition to the institution of slavery. Paul for example, while urging slave masters to be just and fair to their slaves (Col. 4.1), Ephesians has him saying (Eph. 6.5-8),
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, single-mindedly, as serving Christ. Do not offer merely the outward show of service, to curry favor with men, but as slaves of Christ, do whole-heartedly the will of God. Give the cheerful service of those who serve the Lord, not men. For you know that whatever good each man may do, slave or free, will be repaid by the Lord.
This admonition is repeated in Colossians 3.22-24. 1 Timothy, one of the epistles written later and not by Paul himself says that “All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered” and further reminds slaves that those whose masters are like them, Christian are no less deserving of respect because they are brothers. In other words, don’t take advantage or expect special privilege. You’re still a slave. Act like it (1 Tim. 6.1-2).
Titus echoes these sentiments:
Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive (Titus 2.9-10).
What we find when we examine the relationship of Christianity to slavery is that Paul’s view is not unique: A reading of Polycarp or Ignatius shows that slavery was not, as Christians would make it, a Pagan vice. Ignatius goes so far as to say that slaves should not be “puffed up” and not desire their freedom “at the Church’s expense…” (Ign. Pol. 4.3) and Ignatius’ letters to Christian households, such as Tavia’s with slaves.
Contra the idea that Christianity was a revolutionary movement, John Chrysostom argued that Christianity did not enter the world to overturn everything and require masters to free their slaves (Argumentum ad Philemon PG 62).
Church father Tertullian (Apology 27.5) was just nasty when he said “rascal slaves…mingle insolence with fear.” He believed “resisting or rebelling slaves” were to be equated with demons and believed they should be confined to work houses or sent to the mines. Under Christianity slaves were forbidden to be priests “not out of fear of complications with a runaway, but because of such candidates’ sheer vileness, by which ecclesiastical office would be ‘polluted.’
I have to point out here that this amounted to a serious devaluation of slaves’ rights (if such a thing can be spoken of) in comparison to paganism’s auspices: “Slaves under paganism had free access to almost all cults and temples, they mixed promiscuously among most cult groups, and commonly formed their own cult groups with their own priests and officials.”
In contrast to those earlier Christian apologists mentioned above, Augustine is often held to have disapproved of slavery, but he did not advocate the abolition of the institution itself. His contribution was to hold slaves to be human, and to urge their fair treatment by masters. It is a shame he did not hold women in equally high regard, or Pagans, or Donatists, or other so-called heretics.
An appeal to Augustine then does not much advance the Christian claim of social egalitarianism. In conclusion, MacMullen’s judgment seems sound: “If we ask, in summary, whether life was on the whole easier for slaves in Christian times than in pagan, the answer is probably No. 
Slavery continued in Western Europe as well, and it continued for a long time. Susan Mosher Stuard draws our attention to the fact that even the Latin terms, ancilla for females, servus for males, were retained, and that “medieval custom never jettisoned the Roman notion that women passed on their servile condition to the heirs of their body.”
And it was not only a Roman notion, as we have seen, but a biblical.
Rouen in Duke William’s day was a flourishing trade center, including among its other goods slaves from Ireland. Slaves were bought and sold openly, in many cities, including Dublin (the other end of the Rouen axis), but also in Marseille and Prague. Many slaves came from Russia and Kaffa on the Black Sea, an old Greek colony and alternately Genoan and Venetian outpost during the 13th century was a huge emporium in the trade – Europe’s largest, in fact. Many among this human cargo were Pagan slavs from the interior, captured and sold by the nomadic peoples who dominated the Ukrainian steppes.
No one considered any of these activities to be in contradiction of the Bible.
Christianity can claim that it was under their auspices that European slavery finally disappeared but this argument is disingenuous at best: slaves were not really all that critical to the economy when one of the fruits of feudalism was an every growing body of cheap labor – Medieval Europe’s disenfranchised rustics – the serfs, to do all the hard work.
Though serfs could not be bought or sold, their condition was not much better than that of the slaves they replaced in that market niche. It is true that over time, conditions for slaves improved but conditions varied widely. Marc Bloch asserts that slavery disappeared from France in the 11th century, but Ruth Karras argues that slavery did not disappear from Sweden until the 14th century. Stuard notes that “In Scandinavia, as in England and France, the domiciled slave remained a feature of rural life even after the disappearance of the unfree agricultural worker,” and furthermore points out that “As for the Balkans and the Adriatic region, there appears never to have been a time when the slave-trade died down or slavery fell into disuse.”
And much of this human traffic was in children, especially young females, who formed a special market niche. Female slaves had certain advantages over male; they were considered “more tractable” than males, who tended to run away more often.
Bryan Fischer won’t tell you this, because for him it was the “evil” Muslims who sold slaves, but Christians sold slaves to Muslims as well, with Europeans continuing to traffic white slaves to Islamic powers on the Mediterranean’s periphery, and of course, black slaves to their colonies in the New World. And when he says the Bible forbids stealing people and enslaving them, he is lying. Not only does it not forbid such practices, it makes them holy.
 A.J.R. Russell-Wood, “Iberian Expansion and the Issue of Black Slavery: Changing Portuguese Attitudes, 1440-1770,” The American Historical Review 83 (1978), 16-27.
 James H. Sweet, “The Iberian Roots of American Racist Thought,” The William and Mary Quarterly 54 (1997), 143-166.
 Jean-Pierre Devroey, “Men and Women in Early Medieval Serfdom: The Ninth Century North Frankish Evidence,” Past and Present 66 (2000), 7.
 W.H.C. Frend, The Rise of Christianity (Philadelphia, 1984), 133.
 MacMullen, Christianity & Paganism, 7 cf. MacMullen (1990), 264 f. and n. 29
 MacMullen (1997), 7.
 Augustine did not write a tract on slavery so it is no easy task to ascertain what his views on the matter were. For an examination of these attitudes see Margaret Mary, “Slavery in the Writings of St. Augustine,” The Classical Journal 49 (1954), 363-368. For Seneca’s views on slavery see Epistle 47. For earlier Roman attitudes towards slaves as humans see Juvenal, 14.16-17.
 Ramsay MacMullen, “What Difference Did Christianity Make?” Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte 35 (1986), 325.
 Susan Mosher Stuard, “Ancillary Evidence for the Decline of Medieval Slavery,” Past and Present 149 (1995), 7.
 McLynn (1999), 94.
 Perhaps, appropriately, given its reputation, Kaffa is believed to have been the city from which the Black Death spread to Europe in the 14th century.
 Marc Bloch, “Personal Liberty and Servitude,” in Slavery and Serfdom in the Middle Ages: Selected Essays (University of California Press, 1975), 33-92.
 Ruth Mazo Karras, Slavery and Society in Medieval Scandinavia (New Haven, 1988), 138-140.
14] Stuard, 16-20.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.