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

Which inheritance?

In the first post, I introduced the reasons why British people in general (which includes me in particular) cannot be passive in the face of racism and the systemic effects of racism. For me, the fact that a distant relative was directly involved in the slave trade and went as far as claiming compensation for the slaves he “lost” when liberation was forced upon him by a change in the law, means confrontation is unavoidable. Because this compensation scheme was paid for by all our taxes until 2015 means none of us can avoid this.

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Racism

Racism, compensation and me

The above image is a 19th-century map of Jamaica superimposed onto google maps. The dots are slave-holding estates. One was owned by Abraham Anthony who kept between four and 16 slaves on his unnamed estate in St Catherines, Jamaica. Someone who shared my surname, and is therefore a very distant relative, profited from racism. Any latent hopes that I could separate myself from the wrongs of our colonial past evaporated with that fact. But to what extent can any British people avoid responsibility for such crimes?

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