John MacArthur claims (here, around minute 24*) that slavery isn’t bad. It isn’t necessarily good, he notes – just neutral; just is. Slavery as an institution isn’t bad, he says – only individual slave “owners” can be. Throughout, he makes it clear that slavery is a biblical concept and the word “slave” – not any substitute – is the appropriate biblical word for any person who is in Christ. Not “bondsman.” Not “servant.” “Slave,” meaning, he argues, a person owned by another and who obeys every whim of the owner. The phrases “owner” and “obeys” are both key to MacArthur’s theology and worldview, and we’ll get to those in a bit.
We can consider that this isn’t just the talk of a typical Neo-Confederate pining for the days on ol’ Swannee River – at least not in the usual manner we recognize in a Southern Apologist (but then again, I did not make it to the halfway point of this sermon – he could’ve unfurled a Confederate battle flag and reminded his Texan audience [note: though MacArthur’s from California, this sermon was delivered in Texas] that the South shall rise again while plucking a banjo). But like his sarcastic Slavery Apologist doppelgänger, Douglas Wilson, MacArthur is intent that the lowers need to listen to and obey their superiors*. In this conversation with John Piper, Wilson confides that he’s not racist (Really! He swears it!!) and then tells black people they need to listen to him, that they’re lazy and are too dependent on welfare, that they vote for the devil… (if you can’t stomach listening to Doug Wilson and John Piper practicing 80 kinds of mental abuse and cognitive dissonance, my friend Sarah Moon storified her tweets on the conference. Still, major trigger warnings abound).
But it’s not just black people that are lower (or, as MacArthur puts it, Africans are genetically “servile”) and need to subjugated to white people . Women also need to be subservient to men. Non-Christians and the gays and the libruls, etc, are less than their more godly superiors. If you don’t think this is absolutely the core of what Wilson teaches, that this is the theme of all of his writing – whether rape apologism, slavery apologism, or just putting women in their freaking place – then you’ve never heard anything by him. And you’re lucky. This man wrote a book on the greatness of slavery as an institution. This key of subjugation is also central to MacArthur’s theology. Both of them practice their proto-conservatism in different moods, but both viciously defend the idea that certain people should be on top, and most people should be unquestionably and devotedly below them.
MacArthur makes his proto-conservative side clear in other sermons, for instance this infamous one from 1997 (no, he has not changed; not recanted. This is, after all, a model for him):
What is our duty? We may be hurt. We may be disappointed. We may be angry as we watch the vestiges of Christian influence die. We may be angry at what we see happening in the courts and in the congresses and the executive offices of our land. What is our response? We may not agree with the decisions that they are making. Here’s what he says. “Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be uncontentious, gentle, showing every consideration for all men.” Seven virtues are listed there. Seven virtues. Now listen to this. It doesn’t matter whether your ruler is Caesar, Herod, Pilate, Felix, Fetus, Agrippa, Stalin, Hitler, Winston Churchill, Bill Clinton, it doesn’t matter who it is, he says be subject, you teach them to be subject.
So, submit to the government. Why? It is designed by God, resisting is resisting God. Resisters will be punished. Government is designed to restrain evil and promote good. Rulers are empowered to punish and do it for conscience’s sake. Then the sum of it, verses 6 and 7, “So pay your taxes,” verse 6 says, “for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing.” And then verse 7, “Render to all what is due, tax to whom tax is due, custom to whom custom, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.” The whole point is God has put government in place and you are to submit to it.
The only exception he makes is for when the government tells people not to preach (as in Acts 4) about Jesus and eternal life.
This is a serious, highly abusive misreading of the Gospels. Misinterpretation of Christ and the prophets. Maligning the Pardoxical Kingdom.
If, as MacArthur claims in his sermons, God isn’t concerned about slavery, then why Exodus? If God doesn’t want us talking back to political rulers, then why the prophets? If God thinks one should be above the other, then why Galatians 3?
Why have an embodied resurrection, if it’s just more of the same? Why would Jesus call the religious and cultural leaders of his day into question and then force us to not follow his footsteps – even though we’re supposed to follow him? What kind of a kingdom and a life is God calling us to if it’s just to continue the fallacies of institutional evil? What good can a whole group of Christians hope to change if not a one is allowed to question or change institutional evil?
The entire South was full of “good” Christians, many of whom had the same theology MacArthur and Wilson espouse. It didn’t make it gentler, but that theology was a perfect cover for their evil. And it’s a perfect cover for domestic and emotional and psychological and spiritual and sexual abuse and transgressions.
*Not quite halfway through his sermon, which is ordinary in conservative evangelical and fundamentalist churches. Also, H/T to my friend Hoodie_R at Political Jesus
**This is also the theme of another influential megachurch pastor, Mark Driscoll. Is it at all surprising that they would come to a head this past week?