#TreasuresofDarkness, Day 22: Ephesians 6:5. Twisted Words against a Beloved People
I. My first attempt at writing on this scripture: “I can’t even.”
II. My second attempt involves imagining a small bible study group reading this passage.
There is palpable group anxiety about the word “slave.”
Someone says, “Well, slavery back then was different than today; like, it doesn’t mean now what it meant back then.” This is meant to be helpful, to diffuse the anxiety by explaining away the cause of discomfort.
The original Greek word is doulos — which, depending on context (including social anxiety), has been translated as slave or servant in most popular English bible versions.
The fact that slavery meant something different in biblical times than it does now should be a cause for anxiety, not a relief to anxiety.
Yes, the meaning has changed with the times. And this nation is the source of the meaning we want to shove away as shameful and distasteful.
We can all agree that it is abhorrent to own another human being.
The American institution of slavery took that abhorrent act to a genocidal, demonic extreme.
IV. The meaning that we want to ignore in Paul’s  words is the meaning on which the American economy (and, arguably, the European economy) exists today.
I learned recently that two friends are just 3 to 4 generations removed from slavery. I do not know how many generations removed I am. But I remember my mother always using the modifier “cotton-pickin’” as a cuss word (“That cotton-pickin’ washer is broken again”).
Maybe you have seen grainy black and white photographs of women and men bent over in cotton fields.
Maybe you’ve stuck the label “indentured servant” on those people to avoid your own anxiety about the American institution of slavery.
Where did all that cotton go? All of that cotton. So much cotton. For what? To feed the textile mills of America and Europe.
How did it all get picked? By enslaved people — or, more specifically, “the whipping machine” , Edward Baptist’s way of tracing how the inputs of slave labor and enslaved brutality led to the economic growth of America and Europe.
V. It’s my sincere prayer that this scripture produces anxiety — anxiety about how easy it is to acquiesce to empire. It is faithful for us to wrestle together about the God is reflected through imperfect human hands. The writers of Biblical texts have envisioned a god who commits genocide. A god who enslaves. A god under whose eye women are raped and abandoned.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus leaves us the Holy Spirit to draw us into community, to advocate for us (and for those not at the table or in the pew), and to constantly reveal God’s love, grace, and openness.
Because we forget.
When we see the punitive, racist, misogynist god portrayed in scripture, it is a mirror for the worst tendencies of the human soul. We need to look into that mirror.
Because we forget.
We forget our sin.
We need to see it clearly,
and we need to see the God who died for us anyway.
May anxiety lead us to faithful struggle and remembrance. Amen.
 Paul’s authorship of the letter to the Ephesians is contested by some scholars.
,  The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, Edward Baptist.