CHAPTER 1

Introduction

This book is about slavery and Jesus’ gospel of liberation. Both topics have an enduring relevance. Slavery is a theme that runs throughout history – a fact that is worth paying attention to. When examining the issue of slavery today, the focus will be on “the state” and its role in “penal slavery.” The particular state this book focuses on is the United States of America.

“The state” is short for “the nation-state.” Since the U.S.A. consists of a union of fifty individual states there are a few times in this book when “the state” (or “states”) will mean one (or more) of the fifty individual states. The context of its usage should make it clear when it refers to individual states in the U.S.A.

In this book “the state” basically means “the government” (which includes all levels of government in a nation). It means the government, all its agencies, and all its employees (or agents). The state is a human-devised political organization. The state is a power structure that rules over the population in a well-defined territory. The world is divided up into many nation-states. In different states the government takes different forms. But all states are human-devised, human-operated, political organizations.

In this book the state will be viewed critically. Despite its many valuable social services the state will be viewed as an oppressive institution. This book presents the view that the oppressive nature of the state transcends social services, individual politicians, political parties, or any particular administration. The state is essentially an oppressive organization regardless of who is in office, who are the state’s employees, and how many valuable social services it provides.

This oppressive nature of the state will be developed in each chapter and will be related to the theme of slavery.

There are less critical and more positive ways to view the state. One understanding of “the state” believes that all the people that the state designates as “citizens” are also part of the state. In this view, the state consists not only of government institutions and employees – but also includes all its non- governmental “citizens.” A common view of a so-called “democratic state” is that the state is relatively progressive, beneficial, and participatory – and should represent all citizens. It is believed that all citizens have some “ownership” in the state. It is believed that there are many meaningful ways for citizens to “plug-in” and participate in the state. In fact, some people believe that citizens have a moral responsibility to actively participate in the state. The state is viewed as inclusive, encompassing all citizens, and integral to one’s identity.

Another positive understanding of “the state” believes that the land mass is part of “the state.” The boundaries of the land claimed by the state are believed to be real and legitimate (rather than artificial and illegitimate). The claimed territory of the state is believed to be part of the state, i.e., the government along with its claimed territory is believed to be one entity – unified and indivisible. Patriotism, under this view, is loyalty and allegiance to both country (land mass) and government. In some places the state may be viewed emotionally as “the motherland” or “the fatherland.” The state is viewed as physically all-encompassing, long-lasting, and integral to one’s identity.

The viewpoint presented in this book does not include all citizens or land mass as integral parts of “the state.” *1 The state projects its authority over its claimed land mass and over its defined citizens. But it essentially consists of government structures, agencies, and employees. This chapter and chapter two will develop a Christian perspective of the state in which the state tries to supercede God’s position and to co-opt a Christian’s identity.

Let us look next at some of the context for the state’s role in “penal slavery.”

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