Racism Theology

Are Philemon and the White church “older brothers”? (Final reflections on Paul’s letter to Philemon)

During this series I have re-read Paul’s letter to Philemon in light of its often-overlooked protagonist Onesimus. In short, Onesimus’s life matters. But, as the social media interaction I have engaged with during the last couple of months shows, the details matter. Far from being an apology for slavery or even a tacitly pro-slavery letter based on the argument that first century slavery was somehow more ethically acceptable than 16th to 19th century North American slavery, Paul’s letter to Philemon serves to subvert all notions of slavery by exalting the Kingdom and by empowering Onesimus.

Continue reading

Racism Theology

No longer a slave – Reflections on Philemon (Part 5)

The letter to Philemon is about freedom. It is not about justifying slavery. However, despite my efforts to demonstrate that far from being a biblical rationale for slavery verse 12 of Paul’s letter (as well as the rest of it an many other Pauline, New Testament and other biblical passages) actually subverts and challenges such systems, I encountered opposition to such views online. These ranged from Islamic apologists to fundamentalist US Christians that appear to want to continue to justify slavery on biblical grounds. My hope is that Paul’s most overtly anti-slavery words in verses 15 and 16 further clarify the situation:

Continue reading

Racism Theology

Sending him back: empowered confrontation – Reflections on Philemon (Part 4)

Prior to these reflections, I knew Philemon could be read as meaning that Paul sent an errant Onesimus back to face his master and the consequences of his actions. But, the more you understand this letter, the less such readings make sense. And, while I was also aware that the letter to Philemon has historically been coopted as a justification for slavery, I wasn’t prepared for just how contemporary such views are.

Continue reading

Racism Theology

My very ‘heart’: Who Onesimus is in Christ – Reflections on Philemon (Part 3)

Philemon and his church were good believers. And they were kind. But they had a blindspot when it came to class and/or race. They didn’t know who Onesimus really was. They didn’t know a) how intrinsically valuable he is just because he was made in the image of God or b) who He had become in Christ. Now Paul begins to show them:

Continue reading