(First published 2/27/09. Some links were updated and a few typos corrected.)
February 12th marked the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth. While most Americans are proud to have such a figure as their own, and many across the world wish to produce statesmen of his caliber, Lincoln does have his detractors. These detractors include some of my fellow conservatives and some of my fellow conservative Christians. The next post will deal with the nature of their negative view towards Lincoln. In the meantime, I have tried to highlight Lincoln's greatness by providing eyewitness testimony to the evil that American slavery was and which Lincoln and the Northern army overthrew. We have been hearing from Frederick Douglass, who wrote Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave, a chronicle of his life as a slave before he escaped. The last excerpt detailed his experiences being under the control of a master who professed to follow Christ. In this excerpt, he contrasts true Christianity with the false Christianity many slave masters professed and practiced:
"I find, since reading the foregoing Narrative that I have, in several instances, spoken in such a tone and manner, respecting religion, as may possibly lead those unacquainted with my religious views to suppose me an opponent of all religion. To remove the liability of such misapprehension, I deem it proper to append the following brief explanation. What I have said respecting and against religion, I mean strictly to apply to the slave holding religion of this land, and with no possible reference to Christianity proper; for, between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference--so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to be the enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slave holding, woman-whipping, cradle plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity. I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels. Never was there a clearer case of 'stealing the livery of the court of heaven to serve the devil in.' I am filled with unutterable loathing when I contemplate the religious pomp and show, together with the horrible inconsistencies , which everywhere surround me. We have man stealer's as ministers, women-whippers for missionaries, and cradle plunderers for church members. The man who wields the blood-clotted cow skin during the week fills the pulpit Sunday, and claims to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus. The man who robs me of my earnings at the end of each week meets me as class leader on Sunday morning, to show me the way of life, and the path of salvation. He who sells my sister, for purposes of prostitution, stands forth as the pious advocate of purity. He who claims it a religious duty to read the Bible denies me the right of learning to read the name of God who made me. He who is the religious advocate of marriage robs whole millions of its sacred influence, and leaves them to the ravages of wholesale pollution. The warm defender of the sacredness of the family relation is the same who scatters whole families, --sundering husbands and wives, parents and children, sisters and brother,--leaving the hut vacant, and the hearth desolate. We see the thief preaching against theft, and the adulterer against adultery. We have men sold to build churches, women sold to support the gospel, and babes sold to purchase Bibles for the poor heathen! all for the glory of God and the good of souls!...The dealer gives his blood-stained gold to support the pulpit, and the pulpit, in return, covers his infernal business with the garb of Christianity. Here we have religion and robbery the allies of each other--devils dressed in angel's robes, and hell presenting the semblance of paradise...
"Such is, very briefly, my view of the religion of this land; and to avoid any misunderstanding, growing out of the use of general terms, I mean, by the religion of this land, this is revealed in the words, deeds, and actions, of those bodies, north and south, calling themselves Christian churches, yet in union with slaveholders. It is against religion, as presented by these bodies, that I have felt it my duty to testify."
Frederick Douglass was not the only former slave to contrast the religion of America that sanctioned slavery with the true Gospel. Another one to do so was Linda Brent. Linda Brent hid herself from her master and the law for years before she escaped to the North. She wrote of her experiences in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Her real name was Harriet Jacobs, but because she escaped in the 1850's, the "Fugitive Slave Act" made it a crime for a Northerner to give aid and shelter to escaped slaves, she had to write under a pseudonym. Like Douglass, Brent was able to distinguish the true Gospel from what her masters proclaimed. Here is a portion of her observations contrasting the two:
"There are thousands, who...for the water of life, but the law forbids it, and the churches withhold it. They send the Bible to the heathen abroad, and neglect the heathen at home. I am glad that the missionaries go out to the dark corners of the earth; but I ask them not to overlook the dark corners of home. Talk to American slaveholders, as you talk to savages in Africa. Tell them it was wrong to traffic in men. Tell them it is sinful to sell their own children, and atrocious to violate their own daughters. Tell them that all men are brethren, and that man has no right to shut out the light of knowledge from his brother. Tell them they are answerable to God for sealing up the Fountain of Life from souls that are thirsting for it.
"There are men who would gladly undertake such missionary work as this; but, alas! their number is small. They are hated by the south, and would be driven from its soil, or dragged to prison to die, as others have been before them. The field is ripe for the harvest, and awaits the reapers...
"Are doctors of divinity blind, or are they hypocrites? I suppose some are the one, and some the other; but I think if they felt the interest in the poor and the lowly, that they ought to feel, they would not be so easily blinded. A clergyman who goes to the south, for the first time, has usually some feeling, however vague, that slavery is wrong. The slaveholder suspects this, and plays his game accordingly. He makes himself as agreeable as possible; talks on theology, and other kindred topics. The reverend gentleman is asked to invoke a blessing on a table loaded with luxuries. After dinner he walks around the premises, and sees the beautiful groves and flowering vines, and the comfortable huts of favored household slaves. The southerner invites him to talk with those slaves. He asks them if they want to be free, and they say, 'O, no massa.' This is sufficient to satisfy him. He comes home to publish a 'South Side View of Slavery,' and to complain of the exaggerations of abolitionists. He assures people that he has been to the south, and seen slavery for himself; that it is a beautiful 'patriarchal institution;' that the slaves don't want their freedom; that they have hallelujah meetings, and other religious privileges.
"What does he know of the half-starved wretches toiling from dawn till dark on the plantation? of mothers shrieking for their children, torn from their arms by slave traders? of young girls dragged down into moral filth? of pools of blood around the whipping post? of hounds trained to tear human flesh? of men screwed into cotton gins to die? The slaveholder showed him none of these things, and the slaves dared not tell of them if he had asked them.
"There is a great difference between Christianity and the religion of the south. If a man goes to the communion table, and pays money into the treasury of the church, no matter if it be the price of blood, he is called religious. If a pastor has offspring by a woman not his wife, the church dismisses him, if she is a white woman; but if she is colored, it does not hinder his continuing to be their good shepherd."
This closes our examination of the personal testimony of former slaves regarding their own experiences and their contrast of true Christianity with what passed for it , North and South. Again, this examination was necessary because there are Christians who have a benign view of slavery because of the current status of the South as the Bible belt. This misapprehension causes them to view Lincoln in a negative light. In the next post, I will examine the case against Lincoln as advocated by some conservatives and some conservative Christians.