This is Faith in Play #43: Slavery, for June 2021.
On September 16, 2019, then five-year-old Dulce Maria Alavez was apparently kidnapped from a playground in Bridgeton, New Jersey. Ongoing investigations have revealed nothing but a sketch of one unidentified person in the area. A seventy-five thousand dollar reward has been offered for her return. Contact the FBI, New Jersey State Police, or Bridgeton police department with information.
I have opened with this because I often find myself arguing that slavery in Dungeons & Dragons™ alignment terms is a law/chaos issue, about how society is structured versus the rights and freedoms of individuals. The Bible gives us clear instructions for someone choosing to be a slave, and considers that a viable working system within the social structures of ancient Israel.
The Alavez case is, of course, different.
We don’t know what has happened to young Dulce. Investigators are fairly certain that she is still alive, and that she has not been taken by family despite the possibility of a custody dispute. She was left unattended at the park, with her younger brother, for what is thought to be a few minutes, and so the snatching is thought to have been a crime of opportunity, that someone who likes watching children became aware that the girl was unattended and rushed her into a vehicle (someone has said a red van, but that has not been confirmed) while the mother was helping another child with homework perhaps thirty yards away sitting in a car. However, whatever the circumstances, whatever the motivation, it appears that the kidnapper considers the child his property; she is effectively a slave, wherever she is.
In the Biblical model, slavery is permitted as a means of settling unpaid debt, the debtor being sentenced to a fixed period of years of service to the creditor. This is effectively the same as incarceration for theft (lest we somehow think it unfair by our modern standards), with the benefits that the government doesn’t have to pay to keep the prisoner and the one holding the prisoner gets compensated in the form of labor. The Biblical model then permits that if the person so enslaved decides that being the slave of this creditor is a better life than trying to make it on his own, he can choose to continue as a slave for the remainder of his life. It is in that sense voluntary servitude, chosen by the slave. The viability of that as a social system might not be obvious to us, but someone who cannot manage his own life could well discover that his life is better with someone else managing it.
Slavery in what we might call the modern world, from as far back as the Ivory Coast slave trade to Dulce Maria Alavez, is entirely different. Persons are taken from their homes, families, towns, lives, and forced into servitude.
Over the millennia, people have become slaves in many ways. Some were prisoners of war, prizes of conquest. Some were kidnapped and sold, as the East Africans did to the West Africans to provide slaves for the European and American markets. Some entered into servitude voluntarily.
We don’t know what has happened to Dulce Maria Alavez. We do know that she has been taken against her will, and against that of her family. We extrapolate that she has been enslaved, wherever she is, whoever has claimed ownership of her. That is the part of slavery that is wrong, the “up front” aspect that asks how this person came to be a slave. Good and evil are involved there. Good and evil also apply to the question of how slaves are treated, and Saint Paul accepted slavery as a legitimate part of the Roman social order in which Christians of the time lived—as long as masters and slaves treated each other well.
As you build your fictional social structures, bear in mind what makes slavery wrong and under what circumstances it might be morally acceptable. It was not always a violation of the rights of individuals; sometimes it was an option for a viable way of life. In our fictional worlds it can be that. In the real world, we are more likely to have cases like Dulce Maria Alavez.