Last week was the 4th of July.

On social media, holiday wishes were mixed up with Independence Day denunciations. The complaint was independence was declared for a new nation while it practiced slavery and that made slavery America’s “original sin.”

I empathize with the sentiment, but is it accurate?

If you separate the phrase and define the two terms the inaccuracy is apparent. “Original” is rooted in the word origin, where something begins, and “sin” is a transgression against Divine law. Slavery didn’t originate in America and there is no Divine commandment against the practice.

That’s a logical dismissal, but it’s deceptive.

By separating the words, I deluded the phrase from its theological depth. For semi-religious people that repeat the charge against America, the phrase “original sin” is interchangeable with evil.

Now, there’s a biblical story about a boy named Joseph that was sold into slavery by his older brothers. Joseph rose to prominence by saving Egypt and his brothers from a famine. At the end of the story the brothers sought forgiveness and Joseph forgave their treachery in this popular passage: You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. (ESV)

Here, evil is associated with the brother’s motive and not the institution of slavery. It was human beings that declared slavery evil after morality evolved over millenniums. By this time evil was defined as profoundly immoral or malevolent, and slavery was associated with evil because it was a transgression against humanity not Divine law.

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