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.

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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:

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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.

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Racism Theology

Onesimus’ life matters – reflections on Philemon (Part 1)

These reflections on Onesimus and the letter to Philemon came about after I was asked to speak on the subject as part of a discipleship and outreach series. After an initial reading, I had a sense of what God wanted to say through the text. But in order to be prepared, I read the short letter to Philemon in German, Greek and eight different English translations. Several things struck me while reading and re-reading the text – not least that Paul and Philemon get most of the attention when actually Onesimus should be at the centre.

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Racism Theology

Black lives matter: why ‘colourblindness’ is theologically problematic

I don’t consider myself pedantic, but I want to take issue with overly simplistic readings of a very simple phrase. Many White Christians have taken a particularly keen interest in the statement “black lives matter”. More often than not this is to distinguish themselves from the Black Lives Matter organisations and its alleged Marxists beliefs. Regularly such wariness is accompanied by statements like “all lives matter” and “white lives matter”. Other accompanying statements include the refusal to “bow the knee to anyone but Christ”, a misguided notion which deserves its own post.

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Theology

Vashti was a queen…

With hindsight, I can see the subtle ways in which Vashti has been downtrodden in common readings of scripture. However, I have also read some shockingly ill-considered views from both men and women. What both the subtle and the blatant have in common is that they seek to pitch Vashti against Esther as if the point of the book is to correct all the women inside and outside the text. This kind of approach is hugely problematic (and sexist), but arguably its worst fruit is when it is repeated in the pulpit and propagated by preachers, continuing the diffusion of these errors into the wider consciousness. That’s why I have become less and less tolerant of such views.

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