The pandemic and confronting racism were major themes of 2020, so its no surprise that posts focusing on these topics were amongst the most popular at OneWayPublishing.co.uk. It was also a record year for readers, so here’s a list of what people looked at most:
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.
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:
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.
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:
Having begun by re-reading Philemon in light of its protagonist Onesimus, the reflections continue using the three sons typology of Luke 15 as an interpretative tool.
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.
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.
Contrary to the belief of some, taking a knee is not idolatry and is not in contradiction to any teaching of Christ. Indeed, taking a knee is a more Christian statement than refusing to. For all my misguided White and/or Christian brothers and sisters, here’s why:
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.