Friday, February 27, 2009

Lincoln's Legacy: Part IV. "Are Doctors of Divinity Blind, or are They Hypoctrites?"

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 in the old South and in the North. 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.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Lincoln's Legacy: Part III. The Overthrow Of A False Christianity

No doubt there were slaveholders in the Old South who were genuine Christians. This was acknowledged by Frederick Douglass who mentioned a few in his memior, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave. However, some Christians today have been led to believe that because the modern South is the location of America's "Bible Belt", that the Old South was predominantly a Christian land fighting to preserve its religious heritage of true Christianity from the dominance of the "Godless" North. Many Christians view American slavery in a benign light because many slaveholders claimed to be disciples of Christ. Yet the testimony of former slaves, many of them who were Christians themselves, paints a far different picture. The main purpose behind most religious instruction given to slaves was to make them accept their slave status, to do their assigned tasks without complaining (even though their labor and living conditions reduced a male slave's lifespan to 29 years), and to think that to disobey an order or to desire freedom was sin. It is interesting that when slaves were allowed to marry, the charge by the preacher that "...those whom God has joined together, let no man split asunder..." was omitted. This made it more convenient for masters to split families apart to make a profit. When the slaves wished to worship as they felt led, they had to do so secretly, often in wooded areas surrounding the plantations. It was in these secret worship meetings where many of the African American Spirituals came to be.

The following is an excerpt from Douglas's "Narrative" which paints a more accurate picture of religion in the Old South:

"In August, 1832, my master attended a Methodist camp-meeting held in the Bayside, Talbot county, and there experienced religion. I indulged in a faint hope that his conversion would lead him to emancipate his slaves, and that, if he did not do this, it would at any rate, make him more kind and humane. I was disappointed in both these respects. It neither made him humane to his slaves, nor to emancipate them. If it had any effect on his character, it made him more cruel and hateful in all his ways; for I believe him to have been a much worse man after his conversion than before. Prior to his conversion, he relied on his own depravity to shield and sustain him in his savage barbarity; but after his conversion, he found religious sanction and support for his slave holding cruelty. He made the greatest pretensions to piety. His house was the house of prayer. He prayed morning, noon, and night. He very soon distinguished himself among his brethren, and was soon made a class-leader and exhorter. His activity in revivals was great, and he proved himself an instrument in the hands of the church in converting many souls. His house was the preachers' home. They used to take great pleasure in coming there to put up; for while he starved us, he stuffed them. We have had three or four preachers there at a time. The names of those who used to come most frequently while I lived there, were Mr. Storks, Mr. Ewery, Mr. Humphrey, and Mr. Hickey. I have also seen Mr. George Cookman at our house. We slaves loved Mr. Cookman. We believed him to be a good man. We thought him instrumental in getting Mr. Samuel Harrison, a very rich slaveholder, to emancipate his slaves; and by some means got the impression that he was laboring to effect the emancipation of all slaves. When he was at our house, we were called into prayers. When the others were there, we were sometimes called in and sometimes not. Mr. Cookman took more notice of us than either of the other ministers. He could not come among us without betraying his sympathy for us, and stupid as we were, we had the sagacity to see it.

While I lived with my master in St. Michael's, there was a white young man, a Mr. Wilson, who proposed to keep a Sabbath school for the instruction of such slaves as might be disposed to learn to read the New Testament. We met but three times, when Mr. West and Mr. Fairbanks, both class-leaders, with many others, came upon us with sticks and other missiles, drove us off, and forbade us to meet again. Thus ended our little Sabbath school in the pious town of St. Michael's.

I have said my Master found religious sanction for his cruelty. As an example, I will state one of many facts going to prove the charge. I have seen him tie up a lame young woman, and whip her with a heavy cow skin upon her naked shoulders, causing the warm blood to drip; and in justification of the bloody deed, he would quote this passage of Scripture--"He that knoweth his master's will, and does it not, shall be beaten with many stripes."

Master would keep this lacerated young woman tied up in this horrid situation, four or five hours at a time. I have known him to tie her up early in the morning, and whip her before breakfast; leave her, go to his store, return at dinner, and whip her again, cutting her in the places already made raw with his cruel lash. The secret of the master's cruelty toward 'Henny' is found in the fact of her being almost helpless. When quite a child, she fell into the fire, and burned herself horribly. Her hands were so burnt that she never got the use of them. She could do very little but bear heavy burdens. She was to the master a bill of expense; and as he was a mean man, she was a constant offense to him. He seemed desirous of getting the poor girl out of existence. He gave her away once to his sister; but, being a poor gift, she was not disposed to keep her. Finally, my benevolent master, to use his own words, 'set her adrift to take care of herself.' here was a recently converted man, holding on upon the mother, and at the same time turning out her helpless child, to starve and die! Master Thomas was one of the many pious slaveholders who hold slaves for the very charitable purpose of taking care of them."

Douglass had escaped slavery nearly thirty years before it ended. During this time, if his old master, or a bounty hunter, had captured him, he could have been returned to slavery. After 1850, it was the law of the land that any northerner who gave shelter to an escaped slave was subject to fines and imprisonment. Douglass has already been quoted asking whether or not God will visit a land (judge it) for these things. The fact that Abraham Lincoln was not orthodox in his religious views, or the fact that many in the North were racist, does not alter the fact that they were used as divine instruments of deliverance. The Christianity of the old South was by in large a false one, an institution used as a pillar supporting the South's "Peculiar Institution." Most slaves were not treated any better because a master claimed to follow Christ. Here is more of Frederick Douglass on the subject:

"...Another advantage I gained in my new master was, he made no pretensions to, or profession of, religion; and this, in my opinion, was truly a great advantage. I assert most unhesitatingly, that the religion of the South is a mere covering for the most horrid crimes,--a justifier of the most appalling barbarity,--a sanctifier of the most hateful frauds,--and a dark shelter under which the darkest, foulest, grossest, and most infernal deeds of slaveholders find the strongest protection. Were I to be again reduced to the chains of slavery, next to that enslavement, I should regard being the slave of a religious master the greatest calamity that could befall me. For all the slaveholders with whom I have ever met, religious slaveholders are the worst. I have even found the meanest and basest, the most cruel and cowardly, of all others. It was my unhappy lot not only to belong to a religious slaveholder, but to live in a community of such religionists. Very near Mr. Freeland lived the Rev. Daniel Weeden, and in the same neighborhood lived the Rev. Rigby Hopkins. They were members and ministers in the Reformed Methodist Church. Mr. Weeden owned, among others, a woman slave, whose name I have forgotten. This woman's back, for weeks, was kept literally raw, made so by the lash of this merciless, religious wretch. He used to hire hands. His maxim was, Behave well or behave ill, it is the duty of a master occasionally to whip a slave, to remind him of his master's authority. Such was his theory, and such was his practice."

It is my purpose in sharing this testimony with you to highlight the greatness of Lincoln by examining the evil institution which he and those under his authority overthrew. Yes, Lincoln was slow in realizing that the North must act to free the slaves; it was two years into the war when he issued The Emancipation Proclamation. But once Lincoln decided on this course, he never wavered, even in the face of vehement opposition from some sections of the North. He imperiled his own reelection by standing firm on the issue of Emancipation.

To me, it is a miracle that these slaves who had an impossible task of learning the entire Word of God from masters who did not want them to know the whole Gospel, who were forbidden from learning to read God's Word, who had to worship in secret to worship freely, who underwent unspeakable cruelty in the name of the Gospel, these same slaves knew that their masters were not telling them what the Bible really said, and that their masters did not really live up to its commands. For them to be able to know there was a true Gospel, and a God that would hear and one day deliver them, is truly a miracle. In Part IV, Frederick Douglass contrasts real Christianity with the false one their master's proclaimed.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Lincoln's Legacy: Part II. Death, Bondage And The Pursuit Of The Master

While it is true that Abraham Lincoln always was morally opposed to slavery, he was slow to come to the realization that political action was required to bring about its demise. (It was two years into his presidency that he issued the Emancipation Proclamation.) He was convinced that if slavery was limited to the territory allotted to it by the Missouri Compromise (below the Mason Dixon Line), then the institution would slowly die out. This was the view of many of the original Founding Fathers such as Thomas Jefferson. In the early days of this country, slavery was on the defensive. Many of those who held slaves publicly declared that slavery was not to be actively defended and hoped for its demise. However, the terms of the debate changed so that by the 1850's, the South and its defenders argued that slavery was a positive good. Southern politicians and writers made an all-out assault on the Declaration of Independence which declared that all were created in the image of God and therefore possessed the inalienable rights of "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Southerners denied this proposition, stating that black people were not as equal as whites and therefore had no such rights the Declaration declared as belonging to all men. The Chief Justice of the United States, Roger B. Tanney, expressed these sentiments in his opinion in the Dred Scott case. This case involved a slaveholder moving to a free territory with his slave, Scott, who soon died. Scott contended that as his master was dead and he was a resident of a free-soil state, he was free. The Supreme Court, under Tanney, declared otherwise, that as a slave he was considered to be property and his fate was to be decided by the laws of property. This assault on the Declaration is what drove Lincoln back into politics. By his actions, and the actions of his supporters, the rights spoken of in the Declaration were preserved in this nation and have been won in other parts of the world. Without Lincoln and company fighting to preserve them, modern day Christians would not have these rights to refer to when fighting for the unborn.

The following is one man's view, Frederick Doulass's, of daily life endured by American slaves in the Old South. His view is by no means unique, as there is abundant supporting testimony from former slaves available. In fact, according to Ken Burn's "The Civil War," the average lifespan for a male slave was 29 years. The following is from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave:

"Mr. Gore was a grave man, and, though a young man, he indulged in no jokes, and said no funny words, seldomed smiled. His words were in perfect keeping with his looks, and his looks were in perfect keeping with his words. Overseers will sometimes indulge in a witty word, even with the slaves; not so with Mr. Gore. He spoke but to command, and commanded but to be obeyed; he dealt sparingly with his words, and bountifully with his whip, never using the former where the later would answer as well. When he whipped, he seemed to do so from a sense of duty, and feared no consequences. He did nothing reluctantly, no matter how disagreeable; always at his post, never inconsistent. He never promised but to fulfill. He was, in a word, a man of the most inflexible firmness and stone-like coolness.

"His savage barbarity was equalled only by the consummate coolness with which he committed the grossest and most savage deeds upon the slaves under his charge. Mr. Gore once undertook to whip one of Colonel Lloyd's slaves, by the name of Demby. He had given Denby but few stripes, when, to get rid of the scourging, he ran and plunged himself into a creek, and stood there at the depth of his shoulders, refusing to come out. Mr. Gore told him he would give him three calls, and that, if he did not come out at the end of the third call, he would shoot him. The first call was given. Demby made no response, but stood his ground. The second and third calls were given with the same result. Mr. Gore then, without consultation or deliberation with anyone, not even giving Demby an additional call, raised his musket to his face, taking deadly aim at his standing victim, and in an instant Demby was no more. His mangled body sank out of sight, and blood and brains marked the water where he had stood.

"A thrill of horror flashed through every soul upon the plantation, excepting Mr. Gore. He alone seemed cool and collected. He was asked by Colonel Lloyd and my old master, why he resorted to this extraordinary expedient. His reply was, (as well as I can remember,) that Demby had become unmanageable. He was setting a dangerous example to the other slaves,--one which, if suffered to pass without some demonstration on his part, would finally lead to the subversion of all rule and order on the plantation. He argued that if one slave refused to be corrected, and escaped with his life, the other slaves would soon copy his example; the result of which would be, the freedom of the slaves, and the enslavement of the whites. Mr. Gore's defense was satisfactory. He continued in his status as overseer upon the home plantation. His fame as an overseer went abroad. His horrid crime was not even submitted to judicial investigation. It was committed in the presence of slaves, and they of course could neither institute a suit, nor testify against him; and thus the guilty perpetrator of one of the bloodiest and most foul murders goes unwhipped of justice, and uncensored by the community in which he lives. Mr. Gore lived in St. Michael's, Talbot County, Maryland, when I left there; and if he is still alive, he probably lives there now; and if so, he is now, as he was then, as highly esteemed and as much respected as though his guilty soul had not been stained with his brother's blood.

"I speak advisedly when I say this,--that killing a slave, or any colored person, in Talbot County, Maryland, is not treated as a crime, either by the Courts or the Community. Mr. Thomas Lanman, of St. Michael's, killed two slaves, one of whom he killed with a hatchet by knocking his brains out. He used to boast of the commission of the awful and bloody deed. I have heard him do so laughingly, saying among other things, that he was the only benefactor of his country in the company, and that when others would do as much as he had done, we should be relieved of the 'd---d n-----s.' "

We need not just take the word of former slaves concerning the cruelty of everyday slavery. There is plenty of evidence from the pens of slaveholders themselves. This quote is from Francis Schaeffer's How Should We Then Live?:

"Anyone with a tendency to minimize the brutality of slavery which existed in the United States should read Charles Dickens's (1812-1870) American Notes (1842). He begins this portion of the book saying 'The upholders of slavery in America--of the atrocities of which system I shall not write one word for which I have not ample proof or warrant....' He goes on to quote pages of newspaper ads which speak profoundly for themselves. Here are four examples out of the dozens which Dicken's quotes: 'Ran away, a negro boy about 12 years old. Had round his neck a chain dog-collar with De Lampert on it.' 'Detained at the police jail, the negro wretch, Myra. Has several marks of lashing, and has irons on her feet.' 'One hundred dollar reward for a negro fellow, Pompoy, 40 years old. He was branded on the left jaw.' 'Ran away, a negro woman and two children. A few days before she went off, I burned her with a hot iron, on the left side of her face. I tried to make the letter M.' "

If a slave survived to old age, this is the fate they could look forward to, according to Frederick Douglass:

" grandmother, who was now very old, having outlived my old master and all of his children, having seen the beginning and end of all of them, and her present owners she was of but little value, her frame already racked with the pains of old age, and complete helplessness stealing over her once active limbs, they took her to the woods, built her a little hut, put up a mud chimney, and made her welcome to the privilege of supporting herself there in perfect loneliness; she lives to remember and mourn over the loss of children, the loss of grandchildren, and the loss of great grandchildren...

"The hearth is desolate. The children, the unconscious children, who once sang and danced in her presence, are gone. She gropes her way, in the darkness of age, for a drink of water...She stands--she sits--she staggers--she falls--she groans--she dies--and there are none of her children or grandchildren present, to wipe from her wrinkled brow the cold sweat of death, or to place beneath the sod her fallen remains. Will not a righteous God visit for these things?"

It matters not that Abraham Lincoln was not an orthodox believer in Christianity when one argues that he was a righteous God's instrument for ending "these things." Even the unorthodox Thomas Jefferson, when speaking about a possible Civil War over slavery, said "I tremble when I remember that God is just." It appears that on this point Douglass was a better theologian then those slaveholders who claimed to follow Christ. In Part III, Douglass describes what passed for Christianity in the Old South. It is not a history the Church should be proud to acknowledge.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Lincoln's Legacy: Part I. What No Child Should Ever See

Today marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln. I will not attempt to write an article praising his greatness; other writers can do that better than myself. However, a particular group of people need to be addressed as to why Lincoln is considered our greatest President: Conservatives and Conservative Christians who believe that Lincoln and the North were wrong and that the South was right. I had some spirited discussions on this topic in the Mens' Dorm in Seminary. As to why some of these people have a negative opinion toward Lincoln and think the South was right, that will be addressed in a future column to appear in this series. For now I will express my astonishment that some consider the effort to abolish slavery and subdue the South to be on the wrong side of the theological debate. Some believe that because the South is now designated as the "Bible Belt", that the Old South was a bastion of true Christianity fighting a doomed battle to prevent the Godless modernist North from wiping out the last vestiges of the true faith in this nation. Because some plantation owners professed to follow Christ, some have a benign view of what slavery was like. They don't understand slavery's soul-destroying effects upon those held in bondage. The slaves were denied every vestige of human dignity and the effects of slavery caused Southern whites to live in the grossest of sins. One of the best ways to understand Lincoln's greatness is to understand just how evil the system he was instrumental in destroying actually was. For that purpose, we need to hear the testimony of slaves who actually survived the hell that was slavery in the United States. In the following articles we will hear from two former slaves. Both comment not only on the evil deeds they witnessed, but also on the hypocritical religion that called itself Christianity that made their plight even worse. Both were believers in God and were able to distinguish between the true Gospel and the planter's religion that was used as a further pillar to buttress such an evil system. It signifies nothing that many in the North were racists as well; to read the personal testimony of these former slaves shows the justice of its forceful abolition and just who's side God favored in the conflict. God was on the side of the slaves, and any theology that seeks to argue otherwise is at odds with the heart of God.

The first former slave we shall hear from is Frederick Douglass who escaped from slavery in Maryland in the 1830's and wrote Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave in 1845. It is from this work that I will quote from. We will begin by reading some of his earliest childhood memories, and how slave owners did all in their power to destroy all the bonds of family among the slaves:

"I was born in Tuckahoe, near Hillsbourough, and about twelve miles from Easton, in Talbot county, Maryland. I have no accurate knowledge of my age, never having seen any authentic record containing it. By far the larger part of the slaves know as little of their ages as horses know of theirs, and it is the wish of most masters within my knowledge to keep their slaves thus ignorant. I do not remember ever to have met a slave who could tell of his birthday...A want of information concerning my own was a source of unhappiness to me even during childhood. The white children could tell their ages. I could not tell why I ought to be deprived of the same privilege. I was not allowed to make any inquiries of my master concerning it. He deemed all such inquiries on the part of a slave improper and impertinent, and the evidence of a restless spirit...

"My mother was named Harriet Bailey...My father was a white man. He was admitted to be such by all I ever heard speak of my parentage. The opinion was also whispered that my master was my father; but of the correctness of this opinion, I know nothing; the means of knowing was withheld from me . My mother and I were separated when I was but an infant--before I knew her as my mother. It is a common custom, in the part of Maryland from which I ran away, to part children from their mothers at an early age. Frequently, before the child has reached its twelfth month, its mother is taken from it, and hired out on some farm a considerable distance off, and the child is placed under the care of an old woman too old for field labor. For what this separation is done, I do not know, unless it be to hinder the development of the child's affection towards its mother, and to blunt and destroy the natural affection of the mother for the child. This is the inevitable result.

"I never saw my mother, to know her as such, more than four or five times in my life; and each of these times was very short in duration, and at night. She was hired by Mr. Stewart, who lived about twelve miles from my home. She made her journeys to see me at night, travelling the whole distance on foot, after the performance of the day's work. She was a field hand, and a whipping is the penalty of not being in the field at sunrise...I do not recollect ever seeing my mother by the light of day. She was with me in the night. She would lie down with me, and get me to sleep, but before long I waked and she was gone...She died when I was about seven years old...I was not allowed to be present during her illness , at her death, or burial. She was gone long before I knew anything about it. Never having enjoyed, to any considerable extent, her soothing presence, her tender and watchful care, I received the tidings of her death with much the same emotions I should have probably felt at the death of a stranger.

"...slave holders have ordained, and by law established, that the children of slave women follow the condition of their mothers, and this is done too obviously to administer to their own lusts, and make a gratification of their wicked desires profitable as well as pleasurable, for by this cunning arrangement, the slave holders, in cases not a few, sustains to his slaves the double relation of master and father.

"My first master's name was Anthony. I do not remember his first name...His farms and slaves were under the care of an overseer. The overseer's name was Plummer. Mr. Plummer was a miserable drunkard, a profane swearer, and a savage monster. He always went armed with a cowskin and a very heavy cudgel. I have known him to cut and slash the womens' heads so horribly, that even master would be enraged at his cruelty, and would threaten to whip him if he did not mind himself. It required extraordinary barbarity on the part of an overseer to affect him. He was a cruel man, hardened by a long life of slave holding. He would at times seem to take great pleasure in whipping a slave. I have often been awakened at the dawn of the day by the most heart-rending shrieks of an aunt of mine, whom he used to tie up to a joist, and whip upon her naked back till she was literally covered with blood. No words, no tears, no prayers, from his gory victim, seemed to move his iron heart from its bloody purpose. The louder she screamed, the harder he whipped; and where the blood ran fastest, there he whipped longest. He would whip to make her scream, and whip to make her hush; and not until overcome with fatigue, would he cease to swing the blood clotted cowskin. I remember the first time I ever witnessed this horrible exhibition. I was quite a child, but remember it well. It was the first of a long series of outrages, of which I was doomed to be a witness and a participant. It struck me with awful force. It was the blood-stained gate, the entrance to the hell of slavery, through which I was about to pass. It was the most terrible spectacle, I wish I could commit to paper the feelings, with which I beheld it...I was so terrified and horror stricken at the sight, that I hid myself in a closet...I had never seen anything like it before...I had therefore been, until now, out of the way of the bloody scenes that often occurred on the plantation."

I heard a theologian say recently that if Christians disobeyed all the verses in the Bible commanding us to protect the most vulnerable, then Christians would be disobeying 60% of the whole Bible. What kind of theology condemns the Civil War fought by the North which would never have occurred but for slavery which resulted in the destruction of that institution that so brutalized its victims such as Frederick Douglass and his family? Any one care to reply?

Part II will cover more of Frederick Douglass's testimony.

Friday, February 6, 2009


I had been meaning to post this earlier, but I forgot to do so before Bush left office. I just found it in my list of unpublished drafts. How would you catagorize this story ?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Friday Night Frozen Dinner And An Intellectual: "The End Of Memory: Remembering Rightly In A Violent World" by Miroslav Volf. Part II

My Friday evenings visiting home in West Virginia have been spent reading more of Yale professor Miroslav Volf's book on remembering abuse: "The End Of Memory:Remembering Rightly In A Violent World." I read the next four chapters which make up Part II which is called "How Should We Remember."

Throughout this book the question Volf brings to the reader's attention is this: How can the memories of wrongs suffered by individuals and communities be shaped for redemptive purposes? In other words, how can memory be shaped so that victims of wrong doing experience healing and so that their victimizers be brought into a right relationship not only to the victim but also with God?

Yes, memories can be shaped so that we are not at their mercy. Memories are not just about recall. We can choose what aspects of our past shape our personal identity. It is a fact that our memory of detail is often partial; we don't always remember all the facts. Our imaginations also affect our memory by causing us to see ourselves in a much better light than objective truth telling would allow. We have the ability to present those who have wronged us as worse than they really are. For example, Volf experienced grueling interrogations by the Communist authorities of Yugoslavia for one year. The memories left their mark, yet Volf never underwent actual physical torture. However, in his own mind, he could have created scenarios where his tormentors treated him worse than they actually did. Then he could have told others about these imaginary wrongs, presenting his abusers to the world in a worse light than what their actual conduct merited. We all do this to some extent. Even those of us who follow Jesus. We may never complain about bad conduct directed at ourselves, but it satisfies the carnal nature to harbor a sense of victim hood. We allow ourselves to imagine fictional wrongs committed by others we feel have wronged us. We wallow in these thoughts, expecting a day to come when our abusers will "get theirs." If we allow these thoughts of real and imagined wrongs to fester, we may begin a series of revenge and retaliation. Ultimately, we can allow our memories to stifle our potential and all that God plans for us. Or we can allow our memories to be agents for positive change. Our memories can serve as a catalyst for us to fight for those who experience injustice and to help bring those who commit wrongs to repentance and acceptance in the community of the forgiven ones, the Church.

As Volf points out, Exodus 20:16, the ninth commandment, commands us to remember rightly. "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor."(NKJV) When we remember wrongs done to us, we must remember and recount them truthfully. Yet as Volf admits, remembering rightly is not easy, it takes discipline. Fortunately, we are not alone in the endeavor to remember rightly. Volf gives us a Biblical framework that teaches us how it is possible to remember rightly:

1. We are not here by chance. God created us.

2. We are not placed here on earth just to fend for ourselves and to avoid as much pain as possible. We are to live with God and each other in a community defined by love and justice.

3. We have not been left alone to deal with our failure to love God and others. Christ's death reconciles us to God and to each other.

4. We will not be swallowed up into nothingness, but we will be with God forever.

5. The past does not have to be prologue; evil does not have to triumph. God will expose all evil and condemn it. God will also redeem the repentant ones and reconcile victims and wrong doers to Himself and to each other. (Paraphrased from Volf, The End of Memory, p.43-44)

Volf's framework encompasses Creation, Redemption and Final Consummation. And the final emphasis is on God who makes it possible for us to remember rightly. Putting things in my own words, when we first place our faith in Jesus Christ, Christ takes up residence in us and over time we become more like Christ so that we love those who have hurt us. That love enables us to remember those wrongs truthfully and enables us to be agents of reconciliation to the perpetrators of wrong actions. God in us gives us the power to prevent the wrongs done to us from defining who we are. Volf expresses this truth in this way:

"Christians believe, however, that neither what we do nor what we suffer defines us at the deepest level. Though the way we think of and treat ourselves and the way others think of and treat us does shape our identity, no human being can make or unmake us. Instead of being defined by how human beings relate to us, we are defined by how God relates to us. We know that fundamentally we are who we are, as unique individuals standing in relation to our neighbors and broader culture, because God loves us--to such a great extent that on the cross Jesus Christ, God incarnate, shouldered our sin and tasted our suffering.

"Even more, by opening ourselves to God's love through faith, our bodies and souls become sanctified spaces, God's 'temples' as the Apostle Paul puts it (1 Corinthians 6:9). The flame of God's presence, which gives us new identity, then burns in us indistinguishably. Though like buildings devastated by wind and flood, our bodies and souls may become ravaged, yet we continue to be God's temple--at times a temple in ruins, but a sacred space nonetheless. Absolutely nothing defines a Christian more than the abiding flame of God's presence, and that flame bathes in a warm glow everything we do and suffer." (Volf, p. 79)

Volf provides for us a Biblical framework as to how to remember rightly is made possible. But what are the scriptural passages he believes most pertinent to remembering rightly? What passages form the gateway into the process of helping individuals and groups deal with memories of abuse so healing and reconciliation can take place? Volf points us to two Biblical accounts, the Exodus and Christ's Passion. In both accounts, the ultimate focus is not on the suffering chronicled, but on the actions of God in deliverance and redemption.

In the Exodus we have the account of how God delivered Israel out of Egyptian slavery. Not only did God bring Israel through the Red Sea, but the pursuing Egyptian army drowned. The Exodus gives the reader the account of suffering Israel suffered under bondage and God is revealed as the God of justice. In keeping alive the memory of how God dealt with Israel, God wants Israel to remember how it suffered so that Israel will treat the most vulnerable with justice. We are to be reminded of this history not only so we will seek justice for the most vulnerable, but so we can put our faith in the God who delivered Israel. We can expect the same God to act for us in the same way He acted for Israel by delivering us from oppressive situations. The focus on the Exodus should be on God's deliverance, not on the oppression Israel suffered.

According to Volf, the Exodus account is not sufficient in bringing about healing and reconciliation. For this purpose, the Exodus must be linked with Christ's Passion. Here is another account of suffering, the suffering Jesus endured so that we could be reconciled to God. And just as we who have placed our faith in Christ have been forgiven, we must forgive those who have wronged us. As Volf states, Christ's death on the cross, in which He took upon Himself the wrath against evil doers, struck a fatal blow against the dues paying morality common to all humanity that demands that all who have committed offenses against their fellow man must receive a just punishment. But just as Israel's suffering is not the main focus of the Exodus, Christ's suffering is not the only aspect we are to meditate upon when we remember His Passion. We must also concentrate on the fact that in the Passion, the Father vindicated the Son as the Savior and coming King and that those who trust in Him have died with Him. We also remember that redeemed humanity will be in His presence forever in the world to come.

Volf reminds us that as we have suffered wrongs at the hands of others, we suffered as wrong doers ourselves. Our conduct is just as responsible for Christ's suffering as those who have wronged us. As forgiven wrong doers, we are reminded by Christ's Passion that Christ died for those who wronged us as well as for us. Therefore, we must do all we can to reconcile those who have wronged us with God. We must never forget injustices done to us, but the memory of them can be the first step in forgiveness. And we must do all in our power to see that those who have abused us repent and become participants in the community of the redeemed sinners worshipping God in His presence.

Part III of this review will cover the final four chapters of "The End Of Memory." After that I will share some of the questions raised in my mind from Volf's book.