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Domestic Slavery Considered as a Scriptural Institution.

Domestic Slavery Considered as a Scriptural Institution. By Richard Fuller and Francis Wayland. Edited by Nathan A. Finn and Keith Harper. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2008. 203 pp.

An initial reaction to this title could be, "Ooh, let's not go there. Isn't the argument over 'slavery is biblical' an embarrassing relic of the history U.S. race relations?" This reaction assumes an optimistic view of current race relationships in this country: they are settled, at best, or almost so, at worst. In February 2009, however, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder noted: "Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be . . . essentially a nation of cowards." The quote and its firestorm of response illustrate that the story of race relations is far from resolved.

The first edition of Domestic Slavery was published in 1846. It is a monograph compilation of correspondence, presented initially in serial format, between two significant Baptist leaders, Francis Wayland and Richard Fuller. Wayland, president of Brown University, argued against the biblical validity of slavery, and Fuller, Baptist pastor and South Carolina native, argued that slavery was indeed biblically valid.

The content of the arguments is not what makes this book fascinating. Wayland argued against slavery on the grounds of biblical principles, not precepts. Fuller based his argument-and capitalized it no less-"WHAT GOD SANCTIONED IN THE OLD TESTAMENT, AND PERMITTED IN THE NEW, CANNOT BE SIN" (126). Both authors clarified terms and debated analogies. Their arguments were impassioned and well-reasoned, but predictable.

What makes the book fascinating is that the arguments were grounded in their context. The letters and articles first appeared from May 1844 to February 1845 in the Christian Reflector, a Baptist newspaper. Within three months of the last letter's publication, Baptists in the South formed their own convention, splitting formally from their northern brothers and sisters. The entire nation followed suit in relatively short order, convulsing in civil war. Thus, Wayland and Fuller wrote in the midst of a moral and political storm that overspread church and country. This context infuses fresh significance into the contours of arguments now deemed relics.

Both men decried the extremism of abolitionists and abusive slaveholders and pressed for peace and "Christian charity" (2), while struggling to locate truth about slavery that seems so obvious today. Both men treated each other with great respect, sought some degree of moderate consensus for their respective Baptist groups, and possessed deep convictions about Scripture's value. The reader of Domestic Slavery will be well-served by projecting himself or herself into the arguments' context, then applying the lessons learned about public discourse, frustrating realities of cultural myopia, and dangers of biblical eisegesis.

This new reprint keeps the original content intact and provides a helpful introduction, some clarifying notes, and several contributing letters and articles. It provides a surprisingly cogent starting point for a conversation about the fountainhead of racial issues, addressing Attorney General Holder's further lament that "we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race."--Reviewed by Earl Waggoner, associate professor of theology and church history, Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, Rocky Mountain Campus, Centennial, Colorado.
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Author:Waggoner, Earl
Publication:Baptist History and Heritage
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2009
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