Bryan Fischer Blames Islam for the Christian Addiction to Slavery

Oct 14 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Christianity itself, and Pope Nicholas V, not an Imam, is to blame

We’ve watched Republicans step in the mire of the slavery issue again and again. You’d think they’d have learned a thing or two in the process but learning does not seem to be in the cards. Bryan Fischer is the latest offender but most certainly will not be the last. What, you ask, has Bryan Fischer said this time? Well, he says African slavery is the fault of Muslims.

In an article titled, “Our First Concession to Sharia Law: Slavery” noted bigot and hate-monger Bryan Fischer advances the claim that Islam is to blame for America’s – and Christianity’s – addiction to slavery. Never mind that Christians had been owning slaves – and endorsing the institution of slavery –for many centuries before Mohammed was born, or that appeal to the Bible – not submission to the Qur’an – was slavery’s first line of defense in America.

Fischer says,

 [M]aking concessions to Sharia law over against the moral code of the Judeo-Christian tradition is nothing new for America. We started doing it in 1619 when we began to tolerate the slave trade, as the first shipment of 30 African slaves arrived on the shores of Virginia.

That’s an interesting claim. Perhaps Bryan Fischer should look beyond the David Barton School of Disinformation and even take a glance at his own Bible.

We hear often that Christianity improved the lot of the slave, though the implication is that it did away with the institution altogether, along with its many other alleged social reforms. Jean-Pierre Devroey asserts that “The triumph of Christianity constituted a major challenge to the ideology of slavery.”[1] But did it? Even noted ecclesiastical historian W.H.C. Frend is forced to admit that there was no Christian drive to abolish slavery.[2]

Classical historian Ramsay MacMullen challenges the standard model of Christian social egalitarianism: “Christian leaders once they emerged anywhere at or near the top of the social pyramid looked down on those beneath them with just the same hauteur as their non-Christian equivalents”[3]

The early Christians, it may surprise some, showed remarkably little concern for slaves or opposition to the institution of slavery. Paul for instance, while urging slave masters to be just and fair to their slaves (Col. 4.1), Ephesians has him saying (Eph. 6.5-8):

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, single-mindedly, as serving Christ. Do not offer merely the outward show of service, to curry favor with men, but as slaves of Christ, do whole-heartedly the will of God. Give the cheerful service of those who serve the Lord, not men. For you know that whatever good each man may do, slave or free, will be repaid by the Lord.

This admonition is repeated in Colossians 3.22-24. 1 Timothy, one of the epistles written later and not by Paul himself says that “All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered” and further reminds slaves that those whose masters are like them, Christian are no less deserving of respect because they are brothers. In other words, don’t take advantage or expect special privilege. You’re still a slave. Act like it (1 Tim. 6.1-2). Titus echoes these sentiments:

Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive (Titus 2.9-10).

Here it is all about making a good impression on the Pagans. After all, who is likely to convert if they see that slaves behave like rascals and without respect towards their masters who share the same faith? Practical, but hardly the stuff of social egalitarianism! This is the end justifying the means. Rhetoric aside, the bottom line was as important to Christians as to Pagans.

Fischer advances this interesting claim:

Now, in contrast to Islam and Sharia, the Judeo-Christian tradition from day one has been adamantly opposed to the slave trade … Moses flatly prohibited the slave trade under penalty of death. “Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death” (Exodus 21:16). In other words, if a strictly biblical code had been followed in 1619, the slave trader who brought that ship to Virginia would have been arrested the moment he landed, prosecuted and hung by the neck until dead. The slaves on board would have been returned to their families and their homelands, and slavery would never have gained a foothold in the United States.

But despite Christianity’s much vaunted claim to moral superiority over other religions (which Fischer appeals to here), the Essenes, according to the first century Jewish historian Josephus,[4] kept no slaves while Gentile Christians did. This is just one of the many ways in which Christianity has tried to ride the coattails of Judaism through the manufactured and very false category of “Judeo-Christian”.

As it turns out, Christians were very much in support of slavery and the slave trade. Even Devroey admits that there were some instances in which Pagan practice was superior to what came after. A first century Roman master who killed a slave without just cause might find himself punished, and ill treatment might result in his being required to sell the slave, while the Lex Burgundionem of the Christian post-Roman era does not recognize the death of a servus (male slave) to be homicide until Chindasvinth’s reform (642-653).[5]

What we find when we examine the relationship of Christianity to slavery is that Paul’s view is not unique: A reading of Polycarp or Ignatius shows that slavery was not, as Christians would make it, a Pagan vice.  Ignatius goes so far as to say that slaves should not be “puffed up” and not desire their freedom “at the Church’s expense…” (Ign. Pol. 4.3) and Ignatius’ letters to Christian households, such as Tavia’s with slaves. John Chrysostom argued that Christianity did not enter the world to overturn everything and require masters to free their slaves (Argumentum ad Philemon PG 62). Tertullian (Apology 27.5) said “rascal slaves…mingle insolence with fear.” He believed “resisting or rebelling slaves” were to be equated with demons and believed they should be confined to work houses or sent to the mines.

Under Christianity slaves were forbidden to be priests “not out of fear of complications with a runaway, but because of such candidates’ sheer vileness, by which ecclesiastical office would be ‘polluted.’ This amounted to a serious devaluation in comparison to Paganism’s auspices: “Slaves under paganism had free access to almost all cults and temples, they mixed promiscuously among most cult groups, and commonly formed their own cult groups with their own priests and officials.”[6]

Slavery continued in Western Europe as well, and it continued for a long time. Susan Mosher Stuard draws our attention to the fact that even the Latin terms, ancilla for females, servus for males, were retained, and that “medieval custom never jettisoned the Roman notion that women passed on their servile condition to the heirs of their body.”[7]

Rouen in Duke William’s day (the eleventh century) was a flourishing trade center, including among its other goods slaves from Ireland.[8] Slaves were bought and sold openly in many cities, including Dublin (the other end of the Rouen axis), but also in Marseille and Prague. Many slaves came from Russia and Kaffa on the Black Sea, an old Greek colony and alternately Genoan and Venetian outpost during the 13th century was a huge emporium in the trade – Europe’s largest, in fact. Many among this human cargo were Pagan Slavs from the interior, captured and sold by the nomadic peoples who dominated the Ukrainian steppes.[9] But it doesn’t matter who is capturing and selling them if it is Christians who are buying them, breeding them, and inevitably, re-selling them.

Christianity can claim that it was under their auspices that European slavery finally disappeared but slaves were not really all that critical to the economy when one of the fruits of feudalism was an every growing body of cheap labor – Medieval Europe’s disenfranchised rustics – the serfs, to do all the hard work. Though serfs could not be bought or sold, their condition was not much better. It is true that over time, conditions for slaves improved but conditions varied widely.

Marc Bloch asserts that slavery disappeared from France in the 11th century,[10] but Ruth Karras argues that slavery did not disappear from Sweden until the 14th century.[11] Stuard notes that “In Scandinavia, as in England and France, the domiciled slave remained a feature of rural life even after the disappearance of the unfree agricultural worker,” and furthermore points out that, “As for the Balkans and the Adriatic region, there appears never to have been a time when the slave-trade died down or slavery fell into disuse.” And much of this human traffic was in children, especially young females, who formed a special market niche. Female slaves had certain advantages over male; they were considered “more tractable” than males, who tended to run away more often.[12]

And even when slavery itself had been left aside in Europe, Europeans continued to traffic them to the Islamic powers on the Mediterranean’s periphery.

These facts aside, Fischer goes on to argue:

The slaves who were brought here in chains in 1619 were Africans who had been kidnapped by other Africans and sold to slave traders who in turn brought them to America. The kidnappers, the ones who went into the interior of Africa to capture their fellow Africans to sell them into bondage, were predominantly Muslims.

Au contraire…As we have just seen, Christians sold slaves from Northern and Eastern Europe to Muslims. And it gets worse.

Slavery lasted much longer in the Iberian Peninsula with its long history of warfare against the Islamic powers controlling the south. Muslim prisoners were regularly enslaved and this activity continued as Portugal began to operate militarily on the African continent (for example, Cueta in 1415 and Tangier in 1437). And of course, in the 15th century, not much later, began the African slave trade, in 1441 to be precise, when two Portuguese captains, Antão Gonçalves and Nuno Tristão, captured a dozen unfortunate Mauretanians and returned home with the new slaves.

Yes, European Christians not only sold other Europeans to Muslims as slaves, but went out on their own and captured them. Let me emphasize:

Black slavery caught on quickly – black slavery by and for Europeans. On August 8, 1444, six caravels sent to capture “black Moors” unloaded 235 slaves at Portuguese-controlled Lagos.  Castile and Genoa were also early participants in this lucrative enterprise.It cannot be argued that this was simply a bit of secular economics.

Did I say it gets worse? On18 June 1452 Pope Nicholas V issues a Papal bull, the infamous Dum Diversas,  which authorized the Portuguese to reduce “Saracens [Muslims] and pagans and any other unbelievers.”

Much is made of the numbers of slaves in Roman cities and as a percentage of the empire’s population as a whole, but there were so many slaves in Spain that by 1565 one tenth of the population of Seville – six thousand people – were slaves. The same figure holds true for Portugal’s capital, Lisbon in 1527 – some five to six thousand all told – and by 1573 there were some forty thousand slaves in Portugal. [13]

It was from this beginning that America was populated with black slaves, and it is to Christian thought, to attitudes established before the first European settled in North America, that racism owes its origins – not, as should be obvious – to Islam, Paganism, or any other cause.[14]


[1] Jean-Pierre Devroey, “Men and Women in Early Medieval Serfdom: The Ninth Century North Frankish Evidence,” Past and Present 66 (2000), 7.

[2] W.H.C. Frend, The Rise of Christianity (Philadelphia, 1984), 133.

[3] MacMullen, Christianity & Paganism, 7 cf. MacMullen (1990), 264 f. and n. 29

[4] Josephus, Ant. 18.1.5, the reason given being that “the latter tempts men to be unjust.”

[5] Devroey, 7, n. 13. For slavery in the ancient world see Moses Finley, Ancient Slavery and Modern Ideology (NY, 1980), 93-122 and Keith Hopkins, Conquerors and Slaves (Cambridge, 1978). Also A.H.M. Jones, “Slavery in the Ancient World,” The Economic History Review 9 (1956), 185-199.

[6] MacMullen (1997), 7.

[7] Susan Mosher Stuard, “Ancillary Evidence for the Decline of Medieval Slavery,” Past and Present 149 (1995), 7.

[8] McLynn (1999), 94.

[9] Perhaps, appropriately, given its reputation, Kaffa is believed to have been the city from which the Black Death spread to Europe in the 14th century.

[10] Marc Bloch, “Personal Liberty and Servitude,” in Slavery and Serfdom in the Middle Ages: Selected Essays (University of California Press, 1975), 33-92.

[11] Ruth Mazo Karras, Slavery and Society in Medieval Scandinavia (New Haven, 1988), 138-140.

[12] Stuard, 16-20.

[13] A.J.R. Russell-Wood, “Iberian Expansion and the Issue of Black Slavery: Changing Portuguese Attitudes, 1440-1770,” The American Historical Review 83 (1978), 16-27.

[14] James H. Sweet, “The Iberian Roots of American Racist Thought,” The William and Mary Quarterly 54 (1997), 143-166.











25 responses so far