Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Mike Huckabee and Jan Mickelson on Slavery

Some Religious Right voices, especially Christian Reconstructionist voices, have defended slavery as a Biblically-sanctioned practice. Religious Right figures such as R.J. Rushdoony, Doug Wilson and Joe Morecraft have come under fire for their comments about slavery. Now, a right-wing radio host and a Republican presidential candidate have defended slavery, which should disgust anyone with a conscience.

During the October 14th edition of Mickelson in the Morning, Jan Mickelson and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee defended slavery for criminals. (Hat tip to Freak Out Nation.) At the 19:26 mark, Mickelson criticized the "pagan" U.S. criminal justice system for incarcerating criminals instead of enslaving them. Citing Exodus, he advocated for the enslavement of criminals who cannot pay restitution for thefts.
"Slowly the pagans took over our criminal justice system and began making excuses for criminals, and we send people to jail to make them better, which it doesn't. The point of departure from our system to what real justice is is ancient. And let me read from you from the most ancient law about this. This is from the book of Exodus. It's an Old Testament book in the Torah, the part of the law of the Bible. Here's Exodus 22, direct quote. 'Anyone who steals must certainly make restitution.'

Now that is about as a blanket statement of a principled law as you're going to get under any circumstances. It doesn't take into account if they were rich and stealing or they're poor and stealing or if they're destitute and stealing,  they're homeless or a druggie or a newcomer or a refugee or somebody who works in Wall Street. Anybody who steals must certainly make restitution.

Well here's the anticipation here. 'Well, what if they don't have any money?' ... This law, Old Testament, Book of Exodus 22:2 says this ... 'But, if they have nothing--' And that's the case in many, many cases in the current situation. Somebody's a con artist or they're a thief or they're a druggie and they're living in a hovel or under a bridge but they steal to support their habits. They have nothing. So, what are you going to do with those people? Well, we just sweep them up, lock them up, put them in a jail, and bill the taxpayers for their keep.

But the Old Testament law says, 'But if they have nothing, they must be sold to pay for their theft.' What do you mean sold? ... If we had a truly functioning criminal justice system, [that person] would be taken to a slave market or a restitution market and her sorry keister would be sold to the highest bidder, where she would work for them, being productive and earning for productivity, and the cost and the money that is paid for her sorry keister would go to pay part of that restitution."
First, in his haste to subjugate thieves, Mickelson ignored other disturbing parts of the passage he quoted. Exodus 22 also commands capital punishment for witches and those who worship foreign gods. Does Mickelson want the U.S. to institute those practices too?

Second, Mickelson misrepresented slavery in the Bible, sugar-coating a brutal institution. Old Testament slavery was not a means of enforcing restitution for crime, but a cruel form of labor bondage and sexual servitude. Slave-owners purchased slaves as chattel (Leviticus 25:44-46) or captured them in war (I Chronicles 5:18-22; II Chronicles 28:6-8). Warriors captured foreign women and enslaved them for sexual use (Numbers 31:1-18). Even children were forced into bondage (Deuteronomy 20:13-14). Slave-owners could torture their slaves short of immediate death (Exodus 21:20-21) and hold a male slave's family hostage to coerce him to remain in bondage (Exodus 21:2-6). In short, Old Testament slavery was a violent and exploitative institution that has no place in the 21st century.

The New Testament paints an unpleasant picture of slavery as well. In Matthew 25:14-30, God's relationship to humans is likened to a master's relationship with slaves. In one parable, a slave refuses to invest his owner's money, paralyzed with fear of his "hard" master, only to be berated and thrown outside in the dark. 1 Peter 2:18-25 commands slaves to submit to harsh slave-owners and applauds slaves who persevere "under the pain of unjust suffering". Even in the New Testament, slavery was a oppressive institution, one that should not be replicated in a 21st century democracy.*

Mickelson insisted that he was not championing "chattel slavery", but rather a nicer form of slavery at the 23:15 mark. He mocked Media Matters for America for drawing attention to his defense of slavery earlier this year.
"Now before some idiot from Media Matters suggests I'm advocating slavery again, like they did before, like they totally misunderstood something I said and embellished the heck out of it ... This is the 13th Amendment. Slavery is immoral. Slavery is illegal. That is chattel slavery, putting to somebody to work for you simply by force, gun, is immoral and illegal. Making people and indenturing people who are criminals is not. Even you guys at Media Matters should be able to understand the difference. What I'm talking about and what the book of Exodus was talking about is not chattel slavery."
No sell, Jan. First, the Bible does condone chattel slavery, as shown by the Biblical passages quotes above. Second. by definition, slavery is the reduction of human beings to chattel. Because it reduces people to property, slavery is intrinsically dehumanizing and cannot be made ethical. Finally, if Mickelson thinks indentured servitude is kosher, he would do well to familiarize himself with the Peonage Act of 1867, which outlawed peonage.

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee was a guest on Mickelson's radio show that day, and he agreed with Mickelson's slavery comments. At the 43:45 mark, the two men discussed criminal justice, restitution, and slavery.
MICKELSON: Our criminal justice system has been taken over by progressives, just like our failed government education system has been, and they've turned it into sort of a combination criminal store, where we store people we don't want around us for years, then we bill the taxpayers for that ... I'm thinking that jails are a pagan invention. I was reading from Exodus to listeners during the last segment. It said if a person steals, they have to pay it back, maybe two-fold, four-fold. If they don't have anything, we're supposed to take them down and sell them.

HUCKABEE: [Laughs]

MICKELSON: That's what it says in Exodus. We sell them and they are indentured. That's what the 13th Amendment says for criminal restitution. We indenture them and they have to spend their time not sitting on their stump in a jail cell. They're supposed to be working off the debt. Wouldn't that be a better choice?

HUCKABEE: Well, it really would be. Look, my prison director in Arkansas used to say, and I quote him often, 'We lock a lot of people up because we're mad at them, not because we're afraid of them.' And we need to lock people up we're afraid of, but sometimes the best way to deal with a nonviolent criminal behavior is what you just suggested. Make them pay back, pay back more than they stole. Let it be an example.
The men's flippant discussion of slavery disgusted me. Yes, the U.S. criminal justice system is flawed, with inefficient courts, brutal prisons, and insufficient strategies for reforming criminals. However, Americans can only rectifying the problem by reforming the criminal justice system, not by replacing it with an even crueler institution. Unjust practices will not bring us justice.

We should be horrified by the Religious Right's contempt for human rights, as evidenced by figures such as Huckabee and Mickelson who defend slavery. Have Mickelson and Huckabee learned nothing from the ugly history of slavery in the U.S., to say nothing of slavery in world history?

I suspect that these attitudes are rooted in self-righteous contempt for supposedly "lesser" members of society, whose humanity the Religious Right is loathe to recognize. Slavery apologists see themselves as better than those whom they would enslave (criminals, addicts, undocumented immigrants, etc.), and thus do not recognize them as fellow human beings with the same rights. Disturbing attitudes such as these spring from the Religious Right's contempt for "sinners", belief in Biblical inerrancy, and obsession with rigid hierarchy.

Remember, these comments were uttered by a man who is running for the presidency of the United States. Even if Huckabee's chances of winning are slim, we should still pay attention when his ilk seek political power. We simply cannot allow figures with such low opinions of human rights to gain power.

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

Think Progress: Huckabee Suggests Poor People Should Be Sold Into Slavery For Stealing

Raw Story: Huckabee agrees with pro-slavery radio host: Sell poor criminals as property instead of jailing them

The Frisky: Mike Huckabee Thinks Replacing Prison With Slavery Is A Swell Idea

* I recommend the book Slavery in Early Christianity for those who want to learn more about slavery in the New Testament and the early Christian community.


  1. "We should be horrified by the Religious Right's contempt for human rights, as evidenced by figures such as Huckabee and Mickelson who defend slavery."

    It is horrifying. But unfortunately, it is not even a little surprising anymore.

    1. Agi Tater -- True. It's disturbing, but not really surprising. People like this remind us that hatred is at the core of Religious Right ideology.

      Speaking of contempt for human rights, have you been following the Freedom 2015 conference and its organizer, Kevin Swanson?



    2. Ahab, it is strange and incredibly disturbing that some of our most prominent political characters associate themselves with such extreme and clearly unhinged characters as Swanson. How in the world did people become so polarized and hateful?

    3. Agi Tater -- I could give you the usual answer -- fear of modernity, anger at loss of right-wing hegemony, etc. -- but to be honest, I'm just as baffled as you are.


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