A Divinely Sanctioned Mess

Norm R. Allen Jr.

Bondage and the Bible, written and directed by D. Eric Harmon. DVD distributed by Raitan Multi-Media at www.bondageandthebible.com. 2008. 55 minutes. $19.95 for individuals; $250.00 for institutions.


D. Eric Harmon is an African-American freethinker from Los Angeles, California. In Bondage and the Bible, he poses the question: does the Bible justify slavery? Just a cursory reading of the so-called good book by anyone with a grade-school education reveals that it obviously does.

However, Harmon is not interested in bashing religion. He interviews a good cross-section of mostly African Americans to get to the bottom of the question. He speaks with ministers, college students, activists, professors, men, women, journalists, humanists, religionists, and others.

Harmon is primarily concerned with whether biblical teachings have had a profoundly oppressive impact upon Black people, particularly those in the United States. He identifies numerous biblical passages that clearly condone slavery. However, some of those interviewed do not seem to wholeheartedly agree with this conclusion.

Pastor J.E. Mae Beecham says that one needs “a spiritual mind” to understand the Bible and seems to imply that a person in possession of such a mind would come to the conclusion that the Bible does not condone slavery. Others agreed that any Christians embracing slavery could not be practicing “authentic” Christianity. They further claimed that any Christian advocating slavery must be quoting the Bible out of context.

There are problems with all of these standard defenses of the Bible. First of all, what is a spiritual mind, and why shouldn’t a human mind be sufficient to understand the Bible? Similarly, many religionists claim that people wishing to better understand God must be able to see with their spiritual eyes. However, is there really any strong evidence for the existence of the spiritual equivalent of an eye, ear, pinky, toenail, tongue, thumb, shoulder, knuckle, tooth, elbow, breast, or any other body part? What is implicit in these ideas is the notion that good, true Christians must read the Bible closely and conclude that slavery is immoral. Yet the Bible condones it.

Christian apologists routinely talk about the importance of context. However, the context—whether it be biblical, historical, or social—is one in which slavery is regarded as part of the natural order. The writers of the Bible, like most people of their time, did not consider slavery to be immoral. Therefore, ironically, those that oppose slavery must quote the Bible out of context or suffer unbearable cognitive dissonance.

When the question regarding the color of Jesus arises, all those addressing the question agree that a White Jesus has a devastatingly negative effect upon the collective psyche of Black people. They are in esteemed company. At a national convention in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, in 1980, the Association of Black Psychologists passed a resolution calling for the removal of White “Divine Figures . . . from public display and from places of worship.” The resolution stated that a White image of a divine figure “insidiously advocates white [sic] supremacy and implicates Black inferiority.”

In 2001, educator and African Americans for Humanism member Christopher C. Bell Jr. of Clinton, Maryland, wrote a book on the topic titled The Belief Factor and the White Superiority Syndrome. He drew upon numerous scholarly studies to argue that images of a White Christ have a negative effect upon the collective mindset of Black people, especially Black children, endowing them with a sense of inferiority. Conversely, he argued that White Christ figures promote feelings of racial superiority among Whites. Moreover, he drew upon studies linking poor academic performance among African-American children to fundamentalist Christianity.

Some of those interviewed in Bondage and the Bible say that many Black ministers simply say the color of Jesus does not matter. Yet, these ministers have images of White Christ figures in their churches and Bibles and will not even seriously consider embracing Black Christ figures. Other interviewees noted that some Black ministers believe White Christ figures are harmful to Blacks, yet they promote them anyway.

Black religion is taken to task in Bondage and the Bible. Black religious studies scholar and AAH member Anthony Pinn makes several appearances in the film. He discusses the Black prosperity preachers such as T.D. Jakes and Creflo Dollar. Pinn believes this brand of Christianity often promotes crass materialism at the expense of genuine human progress and empowerment.

Pinn and others discuss the homophobia that is promoted in many Black churches. Even many of those churches that do not condemn homosexuality do not discuss it, let alone make serious attempts to combat homophobia. Yet there seem to be known homosexuals in most Black churches. Some of the ministers in Bondage and the Bible acknowledged that the Bible condemns homosexuality, and they seem to be uncomfortable discussing the subject of homophobia in Black churches.

Some of those interviewed discussed women in Black churches. Women constitute 70 percent of Black church members, but they have little if any power, even though they are often responsible for the churches’ success. Furthermore, some of the men in positions of authority in Black churches sexually abuse their female members.

Christianity is a mixed bag. It has helped Black people in many ways, especially in the area of civil rights. However, if not for Christian-based slavery and segregation, there would have been no need for Christian churches to become involved in a civil rights movement. Moreover, there is no strong evidence that divine inspiration had anything to do with the success of the civil rights movement. After all is said and done, it was a movement organized and led by human beings, most of whom probably happened to be Christians.

Still, Harmon does an excellent job of showing that non-Christians played a major role in African-American history. Pinn argues this point well, and Harmon displays photos of Malcolm X, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Asa Philip Randolph, and other non-Christians who have played vital roles in the Black liberation struggle.

In Bondage and the Bible, Harmon does not seek to get people to abandon their faith. He merely asks probing questions and tries to get the viewers to think critically. He ends the film with the words “Remember . . . think for yourself.” This excellent DVD could encourage more African Americans to do just that.

Norm R. Allen Jr.

Norm Allen is a lecturer and freelance writer. In 1984, he and his brother, Jay Allen, formed the Eagle Publishing Company, which disseminates art and literature by and for black people.


Bondage and the Bible, written and directed by D. Eric Harmon. DVD distributed by Raitan Multi-Media at www.bondageandthebible.com. 2008. 55 minutes. $19.95 for individuals; $250.00 for institutions. D. Eric Harmon is an African-American freethinker from Los Angeles, California. In Bondage and the Bible, he poses the question: does the Bible justify slavery? Just a cursory …

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