James Allen Walker for WORLD

The life of a slave

Q&A | Only with Jesus as his Master, writes Michael Card in his new book, can a person find true freedom

Issue: "The Haiti quake," Feb. 13, 2010

Singer-songwriter and author Michael Card has been a slave for Christ since he was 8 years old, but attending an African-American church helped teach him what that really means. His latest book, A Better Freedom, explores that theme.

Q: Why did you write your new book, A Better Freedom: Finding Life as Slaves of Christ? I was discipled in an African-American church. When we prayed we would always call Jesus "Master." I had not experienced that in the white, Southern Baptist culture-in fact, my first experience with church was looking down the aisle to see a line of deacons blocking the door in front of a black family that was trying to visit our church. Wendell Berry talks about the "hidden wound," and that was kind of a hidden wound experience for me.

Q: And calling Jesus "Master" signified . . .? My pastor said it was a hold-over from slavery: Slaves called Jesus "Master." When I read it in the Bible, curios originally meant "owner." Mary says, "Behold the slave of the Master." Paul talks a lot about it. You've got the Philemon issue: Why does Paul send Onesimus back? Why wasn't Paul a William Wilberforce?

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Q: According to church tradition, Onesimus later became a bishop. Yes, I believe he did. Some people say I can't say that, but I think he did. That's why Philemon is in the Bible; Onesimus becomes a leader of the church. Paul must have written other letters like that, and they didn't make it in there.

Q: You mention four different types of slavery in your book. The first is slavery in Old Testament times for the Israelites: What was that like? The first block of commandments after the Ten Commandments is laws to protect slaves. Slavery in Israel was very limited-households had slaves, it wasn't part of the economy-but we still see abuses: Sarah abused Hagar. Any time you own somebody there are abuses, but in general Old Testament slavery was pretty benign, so Moses or David would say, "I'm a slave of Yahweh," and that was a good and positive thing to say: God says, "My slaves, the prophets."

Q: Then we move to the Greco-Roman world: The "glory that was Greece" wasn't particularly glorious. Greco-Roman slavery is a completely different world in terms of abuse. Not until later were there any protections for slaves. Chattel slavery: You would die in slavery; your situation was hopeless. Sexual abuse was just part of it.

Q: Similarities between New Testament slavery and African-American slavery? Very important, very direct. Some people say that it's not valid to make applications from one to the other, but they are much more similar than they are dissimilar: It's chattel slavery, you're going to die in your chains. Similarities: In both cultures, when you're bought your name is changed, so whenever you're bought or sold you lose just a little more of your identity. Even the instructions on feeding and caring for slaves were a one-shirt-a-year kind of thing. It was just almost exactly the same as African-American slavery.

Q: Jesus entered a brutal era . . . The more I study Rome I see that: It was a monstrous age. And yet there are people in the midst of that who stand up for principles and what's right. That's another connection between African-American slavery and Roman slavery, because where I'm from there are a lot of Southerners who say, "Well, African slavery, that was just part of the time; everybody accepted it." No! There were people who stood up where it was accepted, in the South, and said it was wrong.

Q: So after the Old Testament and Roman varieties of slavery came African-American slavery, and we're still very much paying the cost. We will go on paying the cost.

Q: And the fourth slavery you describe is the current variety, which includes sex trafficking. There are more slaves now than at any other time in history: Last year more people became slaves than in the entire 300 years of African-American slavery. It's horrible to think of it.

Q: You have Bible teaching and music in your DNA. Your grandfather was a Baptist preacher? Yes, both grandfathers. One was a Southern Baptist preacher as part of the Southern Baptist Convention. The other did the Baptist Hymnal, so I've got serious Southern Baptist credentials.

Q: Both your mom and dad were musicians. What kind? My dad was a big-band jazz trombonist. I call big band jazz "let's forget about World War II music," and we had a big fight because my mom was an excellent classical musician who played violin and string quartet. My brother and sister are both musicians-it's something you couldn't get away from in our house.


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