Poor Master

No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck…..
Fredrick Douglas

“I was always praying for poor ole master…Oh Lord, convert ole master. Oh dear Lord, change dat man’s heart and make him a Christian.” –Harriet Tubman.[1]  Harriet Tubman, like so many slaves, suffered terribly at the hands of cruel masters. A few slaves had kind masters and would have been happy to have remained slaves.[2] But these were the exception, not the rule, and kind masters did not make the institution of slavery any less heinous. “Good Masters” did not make slavery right:[3]Even kind masters who found themselves in financial straits chose their fortunes over whatever compassion they may have had for the slaves on their land, and these masters bought and sold those human beings as briskly as anyone else did, thereby breaking up families and subjecting black people to a most humiliating existence….”[4]

Former slave, Fredrick Douglas, observed that few if any masters were actually “good” and that even if they started out that way, owning other human beings took a devastating toll on the characters of both men and women. He wrote: “My new mistress proved to be all she appeared when I first met her at the door—a woman of the kindest heart and finest feelings. She had never had a slave under her control previously to myself, and prior to her marriage she had been dependent upon her own industry for a living…she had been in a good degree preserved from the blighting and dehumanizing effects of slavery. I was utterly astonished at her goodness…Her face was made of heavenly smiles, and her voice of tranquil music. But, alas! this kind heart had but a short time to remain such. The fatal poison of irresponsible power was already in her hands, and soon commenced its infernal work. That cheerful eye, under the influence of slavery, soon became red with rage; that voice, made all of sweet accord, changed to one of harsh and horrid discord; and that angelic face gave place to that of a demon… Slavery proved as injurious to her as it did to me (emphasis added).”[5]

It is no different today, among Christians, as church teachings place gender-based authority in the hands of all males over all females creating, essentially, a master/slave mentality. Boys raised from infancy to believe in the inherent superiority of males over females are firmly entrenched in their sense of lordship well before they reach adulthood. Shirley Taylor,[6] in a telephone interview with the author, expressed concern for young Christian males by asking, “How we can put this kind of power into the hands of a 17 year old boy and expect him to know how to handle it?” Along the same lines, Callie Smith Grant wrote of the deleterious toll of institutionalized slavery on the families of slaveholders.[7]

The evidence is mounting that young men and boys cannot handle it. Belief in rigidly defined gender roles results in deterioration of character and a propensity towards abuse or violence at younger ages than ever before.[8] College campuses have become hotbeds of domestic violence with one in five coeds experiencing abuse or violence at the hands of boyfriends. Research into the phenomenon reveals that power and control issues based on strongly held perceptions of rigid role distinctions are responsible for the problem.[9] 

Even if a young man never resorts to domestic violence, the damage done to the psyches of boys raised to believe in male authority is inestimable. How many of these young men, raised to be Lords, will never know the joy of true intimacy that can only come with profound respect based on practical equality with one’s spouse?[10]

The slave-holding spirit, manifested through complementarianism, cannot help but produce constant erosion on the characters of the slaveholders, callusing tender consciences and slowly turning caring hearts of flesh into dis-compassionate hearts of stone. And when does this stony heart become apparent, if not by adolescence or college age, perhaps on the honeymoon?

In “A Man’s Touch,” Charles Stanley described a scene from his own honeymoon, a scene which he was proud to relate as an example of good marital communication. In reality, it was far from it. Stanley proudly recounts, “It was during our honeymoon…she cooked our first meal, and we sat down to a delightful fried chicken dinner. I looked around and asked, “Where is the gravy? She said, “We never had gravy with chicken.” I said, “I never had chicken without gravy (emphasis in original).” She rose quietly from the table and made at least a gallon—not knowing how to make gravy, she kept adding too much of various ingredients! It was more like jello than gravy…but I spoke up and she responded….”[11]

He “spoke up and she responded?!” Complaining about your bride’s first home-cooked meal and comparing her meal planning and preparation to your mother’s on your honeymoon is an example of good communication? How humiliating it must have been for this newlywed to hear her groom criticize the first meal she had ever cooked for them as a married couple. There is only one first meal, and no doubt it was important to her that everything be perfect. Stanley ought to have been ashamed for letting his bride leave the “delightful” meal she had prepared, allowing it to grow cold while she catered to his self-centered fancy.

How wounded her heart must have been. And did he even care?  Selfless love, on his part, would have recoiled at the thought of his bride returning to the stove instead of remaining at the table with him and enjoying the “delightful”—though gravy-less—dinner together. Instead of allowing his new wife to struggle through the humiliating gravy debacle while he mentally congratulated himself on his communication skills, why couldn’t Stanley, instead, have complemented her on the “delightful” meal she had prepared and simply enjoyed it without complaining about what she had not prepared?

He could just as easily, and without hurting his wife, have requested gravy with his chicken at a later date before the next chicken dinner. But that option would obviously have been too much of an assault upon his “masculine person-hood.” The way Stanley tells it, his only other option, besides wounding his wife on her honeymoon, would have been to sulk and wonder when she would ever “learn how to fix a real meal?” (Emphasis added)

Where was compassion for his bride as he watched her make that fried egg sandwich (see chapter one) in the form of a pitiful bowl of jello-gravy? Did it lay buried in the same grave with her hope for a marriage based on equality and mutual respect?  We may never know the answer to that and other questions. But we do know that Anna Stanley, after 44 years of marriage, quietly divorced Charles in May of the year 2000.[12]

Jesus said it is better that a millstone be hanged around our necks than to offend one of these little ones that believe in Him. Teaching little boys that they are destined to rule over women and teaching little girls that they are deserving of servitude is worse than offending them, it is crippling them. It is thievery and larceny. It is stealing a precious part of the future from children—the hope of a family of their own based solely on love and mutual respect rather than on authoritarian chain of command

This article is an excerpt from the book, Woman this is War! Gender, Slavery and the Evangelical Caste System, chapter 25.

[1] Harriet Tubman quoted by Sarah H. Bradford in, Harriet, The Moses of Her People, 1886

[2] “Lawdy! I sho' was happy when I was a slave. "De N* today is de same as dey always was, 'ceptin' dey's gittin' more money to spen'. Dey aint got nobody to make' em' 'have deyse'ves an' keep 'em out o' trouble, now.” Gabe Emanuel,  extracted from Mississippi Slave Narratives, 1941

[3]There is nothing picturesque or beautiful, in the family attachment of old servants, which is not to be found in countries where these servants are legally free. The tenants on an English estate are often more fond and faithful than if they were slaves. Slavery, therefore, is not the element which forms the picturesque and beautiful of Southern life. What is peculiar to slavery, and distinguishes it from free servitude, is evil, and only evil, and that continually.” Harriet Beecher Stowe, A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin: Presenting The Original Facts And Documents Upon Which The Story Is Founded Together with Corroborative Statements to the Truth of The Work, 1853.

[4] Callie Smith Grant, Free Indeed: African American Christians and the struggle for equality, Barbour Books, 2003

“…she is still held as a slave. I well remember what a heart-rending scene there was in the family when my father sold her husband…And yet my father was considered one of the best of masters. I know of few who were better...” Letter from former slave owner to Harriet Beecher Stowe, A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin: Presenting The Original Facts And Documents Upon Which The Story Is Founded Together with Corroborative Statements to the Truth of The Work, 1853.

African American author, Karen Arnett Spaulding, skillfully portrayed the realities slaves dealt with when running for freedom was contemplated.  “Even the relative security of living on a plantation where slaves were rarely sold did not change the feelings of a slave who yearned to be free…She did not want to think about sleeping in the woods by day and running by night, hoping to get to the north and freedom. And if and when they did arrive, what would they do? How would they live?” Karen Arnett Spaulding, Running For Their Lives, Authorhouse, 2007 

[5] Fredrick Douglass, A Narrative on the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, 1845

[7] “Another unavoidable result of slavery James (James W. C. Pennington) wrote about was how slaveholder’s families deteriorated over time. James wrote, ‘There is no one feature of slavery to which the mind recurs with more gloomy impressions than to its disastrous influence upon the families of the masters…’ Slaves had always observed this phenomenon—that each generation of slaveholders in a family was more inferior than the one before, as if a family business of investing in slave labor simply could not survive morally or physically.” Callie Smith Grant, Free Indeed: African American Christians and the struggle for equality, Barbour Books, 2003

[8] “…traditional gender role attitudes in a sample of adolescents were also associated with less perceived seriousness of scenarios depicting interpersonal aggression.” (Hilton, Harris, & Rice, 2003).

[9]Dating and courtship violence on college campuses is a ‘major hidden social problem;" (Makepeace, 1981, p. 100) that can affect 1 in 5 college students directly and can indirectly affect an even greater number. Gender Role Attitudes, Religion, and Spirituality as Predictors of Domestic Violence Attitudes in White College Students, Journal of College Student Development, Mar/Apr 2004, by Berkel, LaVerne A, Vandiver, Beverly J, Bahner, Angela D 

“Studies have shown that about 20% of college men and women reported being involved in a physically violent intimate relationship.” (Luthra & Gidyez, 2001; Makepeace, 1986; Silverman & Williamson, 1997)

“Besides sex (Finn, 1986; Saunders, Lynch, Grayson, & Linz, 1987), the most consistent predictor of attitudes that support the use of violence against women among college students or any other group is gender role attitudes, defined as beliefs about appropriate roles for men and women (McHugh & Frieze, 1997). Gender role attitudes are best conceptualized as falling on a continuum, ranging from traditional to egalitarian. Individuals with traditional attitudes are characterized as responding to others based on stereotypical characteristics associated with their sex, whereas individuals with egalitarian attitudes respond to others independent of their sex.” (King, Beere, King, & Beere, 1981). Gender Role Attitudes, Religion, and Spirituality as Predictors of Domestic Violence Attitudes in White College Students, Journal of College Student Development, Mar/Apr 2004, by Berkel, LaVerne A, Vandiver, Beverly J, Bahner, Angela D  

“Men who believe in strong traditional family values are more abusive to their partners and family members. This behavior is fortified by preaching that accepts all sorts of cultural assumptions about what "headship" means.” Barrington H. Brennen, Why Do Christian Husbands Abuse Their Wives, Barrington H. Brennen, Counseling Psychologist, Marriage & Family Therapist,

[10] “Black Americans knew that freedom and basic rights as human beings were God-given and that no other human being should tamper with that. They knew they were made in the image of God, and that to do God’s work, they needed to be free.” Callie Smith Grant, Free Indeed: African American Christians and the struggle for equality, Barbour Books, 2003

[11] Stanley, Charles, A Man’s Touch, Victor Books, Wheaton, ILL, 1988

[12] “I have never met a woman who wanted to leave a husband who was a Christlike head of the home…Women who want “freedom” or to “do as they please” have a basic problem of resistance to God…This attitude breeds frustration, anxiety, and an empty search for meaning in a wife who is confused about her proper role in the family.”  Charles Stanley, A Man’s Touch, Victor Books, Wheaton, ILL, 1988


Woman this is WAR! Gender Slavery and the Evangelical Caste System examines Bible commentary and translation practices which have historically been androcentric (male centered) and even misogynistic (anti-woman). These have adversely effected understanding of the scriptures, relations between women and men, the happiness of men and women, and, in general, has hindered the work of the gospel, by forbidding women to preach, pastor, or serve as elders or deacons. The book chronicles the early history of the women's rights movements, as well as the role of church leadership in aggressively suppressing both women's rights and the historical record of Christian initiatives within the movements. Through the complementarian movement, many of the same arguments used to support the institution of slavery, are still used today in suppressing the rights of Christian women. This book documents identical arguments used by Christian leaders against both movements and is an unparalleled resource for all who desire an in-depth study of gender equality from a Christian perspective. The history of women’s rights is traced back [much further than usual] to the very first feminists…who were Christians—godly women, who brought the issue of women's rights to the forefront as they struggled to alleviate the suffering of others, and found they were hindered in doing so for no other reason than the fact of their sex. This work, provides valuable historical insight into Christian initiatives in the movements for women’s rights, that are rarely included in Christian literature. Visit this link for more information or to buy the book:  Woman this is WAR! Gender Slavery and the Evangelical Caste System

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