The Bible does not explicitly say we should oppose slavery. In fact, several Bible texts command slaves to obey their owners.
The leader of the campaign to abolish slavery in the British Empire was William Wilberforce, an evangelical Christian. A prominent pioneer in the anti slavery movement in the USA was Charles Finney, the Billy Graham of his day. However, the slave owners righteously stood on the Word of God and accused the abolitionists of rebelling against Holy Scripture which they fervently quoted.
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Ephesians 6:5 (NIV)
If you study the spiritual principles of the Bible, it should become apparent that God intensely dislikes slavery.
“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, Because the LORD has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound; Isaiah 61:1 (NKJV)
When the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt, God heard their cries and sent Moses to deliver them. In the New Testament, Paul said slave traders would not be accepted in heaven.
…fornicators, sodomites, slave traders, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching. 1 Timothy 1:10 (NRSV)
Why then, did Paul tell Christians to treat their slaves kindly but not necessarily to give them freedom?
The New Testament is God’s manifesto for the restoration of God’s glory but also human freedom, equality and dignity.
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28 (NRSV)
So does Paul not order all slaves to go free immediately? In the Old Testament and the New Testament God makes rules to make a bad society more equitable and humane but He does not step in personally and take over everything. That will happen in the future when Jesus returns to Jerusalem and rules the nations with a rod of iron.
In the Old Testament there are rules which are not nice at all.
No one whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the LORD. Deuteronomy 23:1 (NRSV)
Surely God Himself is authorising cruel discrimination against victims of abuse. However, God’s purpose was to prevent this abuse happening in the first place. In the pagan nations surrounding Israel, people would castrate boys, because eunuchs could be promoted to prominent positions as pagan priests or government officials.
God’s laws were made to regulate a bad world to make it less bad but they often do not reflect the ideal will of God.
When the Jews were invaded and taken into captivity in Babylon, the ablest noble born Jews were enlisted to become government officials in the Babylonian Empire, however this involved compulsory castration. It is probable that the great prophet Daniel was a eunuch but he was blessed and honoured by God.
Isaiah 39:5-7 (NRSV) 5 Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the LORD of hosts: 6 Days are coming when all that is in your house, and that which your ancestors have stored up until this day, shall be carried to Babylon; nothing shall be left, says the LORD. 7 Some of your own sons who are born to you shall be taken away; they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”
When God says: “Love one another” he is giving instructions now and for ever. When God says castrated males may not attend worship, he is giving a temporary injunction to prevent abuse. When God says: “Slaves obey your masters,” he was not permanently endorsing slavery.
When Paul says, “And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.” 1 Timothy 2:12 (NKJV)
…why should we assume this must be a command expressing God’s permanent judgement and eternal will?
Charles Finney was the first evangelical leader in America to campaign against slavery and also to promote women as full partners in preaching, ministry and Christian leadership. God’s agenda of restoring men and women it still a work in progress.