My old Reformed Baptist pastor once said that if the Bible is really the inerrant Word of God, then slavery is not morally wrong in and of itself. If that sounds outlandish, consider that well known confederate/slavery apologists like Douglas Wilson do exist in mainstream conservative Christianity. They very honestly acknowledge that in both Old and New Testaments there are no explicit denunciations of slavery as an institution, and there seem to be repeated affirmations of it. So, if every word of scripture is God-breathed, then owning other human beings as property and forcing them to perform hard labor and menial tasks is fundamentally OK (as long as you don’t overtly abuse them).
This only serves to highlight the fact that upholding the inerrancy of scripture often leads to a hermeneutic of oppression.
But what about the other side of the coin? How does the Bible, when in the hands of the oppressed, become an authoritative word of liberation? It occurs to me that the Southern slaves, as forcibly undereducated as so many of them were, intuitively sensed what can only be described as the true trajectory of scripture. In the powerful, persistent themes of liberation from oppression, this community saw the essence of the gospel itself – it is always, in ever-unfolding glory, leading to more and more freedom for human beings and for God’s creation itself. And it is never, ever, a tool for defending or further ingraining the systems of oppression devised by human empires.
It is strange to me that even today, defenders of biblical inerrancy seem to always push back on liberation theology as somehow playing fast and loose with the text. But anyone who’s honest – perhaps folks like my old pastor or Doug Wilson – will acknowledge that a hermeneutical choice has to be made. Will texts that affirm oppression be held as God-breathed, forcing the ones that demand liberation to be somehow synthesized, spiritualized, and rationalized away? Or will the trajectory of liberation be seen as the Word of God that is speaking loudest in the scriptures, most clearly incarnated in the person and work of Jesus?
A hermeneutic of liberation requires a choice.
And I think it’s a choice to listen to the Spirit herself and not impose dry intellectual theories (like inerrancy) onto the living, Liberating King and his gospel.