Alright so here's a question that probably won't win me any friends but I'd like to hear some other perspectives on this.
Is slavery inherently immoral?
That is, is it always wrong to hold another person in bondage and reap the benefits of their labor? I understand that in the U.S. and elsewhere this issue is deeply intertwined with racist ideology and slaves were rampantly abused and even killed in huge numbers. Clearly this situation was wrong and slavery as it was practiced in the United States (slaves having no legal rights and being regarded as subhuman) should have been, and thankfully was, abolished.
But what about other forms of slavery, such as that which was practiced by Native Americans, where prisoners of war are held in captivity for a period of time and then either released or allowed to join the community? What about that proscribed by Mosaic law? What about that practiced by the ancient Romans and Greeks? I don't see anything to suggest that Jesus and his Apostles condemned the institution of slavery that was clearly part of their society.
In the first chapter of Philemon St. Paul even seems to have written about returning a slave to his master. Paul tells the master to receive him as "more than a slave, as a beloved brother" but in regards to freeing him, he explicitly says that "I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own free will." If slavery in and of it self were immoral, wouldn't St. Paul have compelled him?
A few other verses from the New Testament which also mention slavery similarly fail to condemn its practice.
Ephesians 6:5-9 "Slaves, be obedient to those who are your earthly masters, with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as to Christ; not in the way of eye-service, as men-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that whatever good any one does, he will receive the same again from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free. Masters, do the same to them, and forbear threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him."
1 Timothy 6:1 "Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be defamed. Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brethren; rather they must serve all the better since those who benefit by their service are believers."
So I guess what I'm asking is whether it's really slavery in itself that's wrong or if its the abuse and denial of human dignity that usually goes along with it.
Citations from the Church Fathers and conciliar documents and so forth would be much appreciated.