Friday, July 3, 2015

What's with the Church's record on slavery?

Dear Rev. Know-it-all, 

A while back I read an article by John Blake of CNN claiming that, “Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of Christian America, ” and quotes Kevin Dougherty, a sociology professor at Baylor University in Texas and co-author of the article, as saying, “Churches haven't kept pace with other institutions… Socially, we’ve become much more integrated in schools, the military and businesses. But in the places where we worship, segregation still seems to be the norm.” Why does the Catholic Church and even the Bible have such a poor record regarding racism, and even condoned slavery?         
Yours sincerely,

Raymond “Ray” Sizehm

 Dear Ray, 

That statement about Sunday morning has always confused me. I’ve never been a member of a racist congregation in a Catholic Church. I have always served in large urban areas where there is a mixed population and the one place that people of different skin shades and ethnic backgrounds sit together as true equals and true friends is an urban Catholic church. My current congregation is made up of Asians, European Americans, Africans, Caribbean, African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Arabs, Assyrians and a few Jewish people. Where else are you going to get a crowd like that together for an hour followed by coffee and pastry? I think that whoever said that never actually entered a Catholic church in an urban setting.

That just isn’t true in this modern enlightened age. I grew up in the whitest of white suburbs. The place was run by Presbyterians who doubted that Catholics were really white. They were correct. We weren’t white. We were Catholic. The head usher, a prestigious position in any church, was an African American lawyer. I have to admit that I didn’t really hang around with the African Americans in our church. They were of a better social class than I was. 

Slavery? Well you’re right. The Catholic Church has strongly discouraged but never absolutely condemned slavery as far as I know, and neither does the Bible. In fact the code of Canon Law under Pope Gregory IX around 1230 AD expressly condones certain types of slavery. Canon Law at that time allowed what was called “four just titles” for holding slaves: slaves captured in war, persons condemned to slavery for a crime; persons selling themselves or their children into slavery and children of a mother who is a slave. 

How could the Church possibly have allowed this? They did so because Roman law allowed it.  Modern American law also encourages slavery. And I bet you are slave too! Have you ever heard of Tax Freedom Day?  Tax Freedom Day is the day on which you begin to keep the money you make at your job. Until that day all the work you do goes to pay for things that the governing class thinks important.  

The elected nobility is spending $750,000 on a new soccer field for prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. The current administration plans to spend between 16 and 20 million dollars helping graduate students from Indonesia get master’s degrees. (Coincidentally Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim country where the current president lived for part of his youth.) This is not to be confused with 30 million dollars once spent on a program to help Pakistani farmers produce more mangos. Here’s a good one.  

The government spent $175,587 “…to determine if cocaine makes Japanese quail engage in sexually risky behavior.” Do not confuse money spent on Japanese quail with the 2.6 million dollars once spent to teach Chinese prostitutes to drink responsibly. Heaven forefend that we have irresponsible prostitutes on the other side of the world threatened by drug-crazed quail.  Myself, I think the only decent thing to do is to spend money on teaching Japanese quail how to use cocaine responsibly.

I wish I were making all this up. Perhaps this tops the list of lunacy: U.S. District Court Judge Jon Tigar in San Francisco ruled that denying sex reassignment surgery to 51-year-old Michelle-Lael Norsworthy violates his constitutional rights. His birth name is Jeffrey Bryan Norsworthy. He was convicted of second-degree murder in 1986 for fatally shooting a friend during an altercation outside a Southern California bar. He/she/it has lived as a woman since the 1990s. If the legal appeals to Judge Tigar’s edict fail, you will be paying for the operation as you have already paid for the hormone shots, counseling and court costs.   

My point here is that you worked until April 24, 114 days into the year, to pay for these important projects. That’s 82 work days for the average American wage earner... Did anyone ask you if you were curious about drug-crazed quail and their amatory habits. No, they just told you to keep working and they would tell you when they had taken enough money from you.  That’s 82 days; that’s 676 hours. Add to that the average hourly commute and you 93 days or 755 hours, 82 of which his majesty the government bureaucrat lightens the heavy load in your wallet by means of red light cameras and speed traps.  

If in addition you owe a mortgage, student loans and credit card debt part of you is owned by the banks to the tune of around $200,000 for the average American. Servicing that debt at a generous 8 percent comes to around $16,000 a year, about 160 days at an average US salary. This is all quite variable, but the taking into account the fact that with two days off a week, and two weeks of vacation, we work a total of 251 days a year. If it’s true that we work 82 days for the government and 100 for the banks, then we actually get to work for ourselves for 89 days a year. This would explain why you are always broke and have to take a second job at the K-Mart on the weekends just to make ends meet. It would explain why our spouses must work and our children are in day care as soon as possible, tended by underpaid people more enslaved than we are.   

The insatiable appetite of M’Lord the politician has bought you at a very reasonable price. At least you own your own home (or farm)! Not even! You rent your real estate from the elected aristocracy.  Just try to default in your mortgage payment or you real estate tax and you will be moving in with your aged parents once again. The government allows you to live there as long as you pay the rent, I mean the tax, and on the property you call your own. You really think slavery is over?  

Are you opposed to slavery? Read the labels of the clothes you are wearing and the electronics that amuse you. Chances are they are made in China by slaves. Remember Gregory IX? One of the four just slaveries was that of persons condemned to slavery for a crime. Chinese criminals are commonly used as slave laborers and in other third-world countries, there is de facto slavery that provides our expensive tennis shoes, our cheap clothing and our “some assembly required” furniture. If you are really opposed to slavery, dump the cheap consumer goods that fill your life and learn carpentry and weaving. I am afraid that slavery is the usual condition of humanity, no matter how much the Church condemns it.  

A side note: The word serf comes from, the Latin word “servus”, which meant slave. Serfs in medieval Europe worked about 50 or 60 days for the lord of the manor, and they had Saints days and religious feasts off, two weeks of vacation at Christmas and two weeks at Easter.  The serf was provided housing as part of the deal. Admittedly it was lousy housing, but the Lord’s manor house wasn’t much better. Everyone had fleas and everyone died young, gentry and peasant alike. So, all in all, the case can be made that the medieval serf got a better deal than the modern wage slave, though I would not change places. I like indoor plumbing and dislike fleas.

Remember Gregory IX and the four just reasons for slavery? The principle reason for enslavement was debt. You put yourself and your family down as collateral. It was the social contract. Perhaps the future will look at our era as one of horrible injustice and wonder why the Church didn’t condemn credit card companies. The Church and the scriptures have always said that, though people are not economically equal, they are equal in their dignity as children of God. It has always been a virtuous act to set the captive free and to ransom the slave. Where Christianity has flourished slavery has diminished.  

To be continued: the Kind of Slavery that the Church Has Always Condemned

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