The whole issue of blame and judgment is not for us to decide.
Whether the slave owners were sinning is a non-issue for anybody but those doing it and God. It is an issue for the Church which attempts to come up with a checklist of what is “right” and “wrong.” It would be an issue for us if we were in the position of having a legal option to own one. In a political sense but not moral sense, it is important because possible redistribution of wealth (a.k.a. “restorations”) depends on it.
Legalistic arguments can take you anywhere on this, and I can just as easily argue that the Church would be absolutist in condemning slave owners and relativist in excusing them, or the other way around. Watch me try:
Guilty = absolutist:
If they were told it was wrong and refused to comply, then they are guilty and any excuse that their culpability is lessened by the fact that they didn’t understand it is not an excuse. What if, for example, John Kerry really does believe that abortion is immoral but really does believe in not legislating morality? That does not prevent his bishop from excommunicating him.
Guilty = relativist:
Quit judging by mere outside appearances and make a right judgment. You who presume to know what is in the heart of another know nothing of your brother than what you observe and what assumptions you make. What part of “do not judge, and you shall not be judged” do you not understand? By the measure you use against them you shall also be judged. You who pay others money by the hour, or room and board, to do your bidding; how are you any different than them? How can we clearly see the speck in their eye when we have a plank in our own? Forgive them for they know not what they do.
Maybe #2 really isn’t so much about whether guilty = relativist, but reinforce my premise that it isn’t ours to judge.
About the terrorists: You have heard it said, “love your enemies.” That means we cannot condemn them in our hearts, as I read it. For all we know they were doing what they were doing out of faith and as brothers in humanity we might be moved to pray that they will not suffer the eternal fires of hell. Vengeance is mine, says the Lord. That said, the Church fully authorizes killing as a means of self-defense so we don’t just have to sit there and let them kill us. That is, unless we really wish to absolutely follow Christ to the crucifixion by turning the other cheek. Doing nothing to prevent the terrorists is absolute love, but my false self cries out for physical security and I fully intend to vote for a president who will combat terror, even if it takes others’ lives in the process.