Thursday, August 15, 2013

Christian Atrocities and the Book of Philemon

"Possibly anti-Judaism is too deeply embedded in the foundations of Christianity to be rooted out entirely without destroying the whole structure," --Rosemary Ruether

Christians have committed or allowed some of the worst atrocities in recent history:


The Christian Southern States authorized the institution of slavery, resulting in the degradation and deaths of countless African Americans.


Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk (the Dutch Reformed Church) was the official religion of the National Party during the apartheid era.


Christians in Rwanda committed genocide against the Tutsis.  I've listened to Tutsis talk about how the Hutu would be in church worshipping (Rwanda was the largest Christian nation in Africa at the time) and then they would come out of the church and resume mass killings in the name of Christ.


Christians in church would "sing a little louder" (LINK) whenever the trains came by outside filled with cart-fulls of screaming Jews on their way to death camps.


Christians point to the book of Philemon (v.12), where Paul sends the runaway slave Onesimus back to Onesimus' master (Philemon).  So Christians have historically argued that Paul thus advocated slavery (and, by extension, racial segregation, degradation, etc).

But did Paul really advocate slavery?


It seems Christians have overlooked the following passage in Philemon:

"15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother."

Paul wanted Philemon to manumit Onesimus voluntarily--Paul didn't want to have to force him to do this:

14 but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord

Now, lest you think that I'm just picking on Christians, let me say that these are my brothers and, more than that, they are literally my ancestors.  On my Italian side, to my shame, an ancestor of mine ran slave ships.  On my English side, my ancestors not only owned slaves but fought for the political institution that maintained slavery.  I do feel a sense of guilt for this because I am the indirect beneficiary of this evil.

How can Christianity be reformed?  We must consider the possibility that Ruether's premise is correct:  it may not be possible to remove the anti-Judaism from the Christian system without destroying the entire structure.

So should we, as Messianics, demand then that Christians eliminate all Christian institutions and erect, in their place, Messianic institutions?

How would Paul have handled it?

Perhaps we Messianics should reread Philemon a few times and see how Paul interacted with someone that practiced things that Paul found to be most offensive.


  1. Since you bring up the Epistle to Philemon here, I would like to ask a question which from time to time strikes my mind. As you said, Paul wanted Philemon to manumit Onesimus voluntarily. My question is: After Paul had asked him, how free was Philemon to refuse? A refusal would affront the Apostle and cause an embarrasment. And thus it seems Philemon was morally cornered by Paul and was not in a position to allow himself to disagree. So how 'voluntarily' was this manumission after all?

    1. How voluntary is it for a Messianic to follow the Torah when it is the Ruach who compels him to follow the Torah?

    2. Does the Ruach "compel" or force a man to submit to the Torah?

    3. It's one of the mysteries I suppose...