Frederick Douglass, Slavery and Christianity

I have a constant desire to read and grow in my knowledge of different subjects, race is one of those

I recently purchased the Narrative of Frederick Douglass. I couldn’t put it down. It was a really easy, quick read.

While reading it though I became dumbfounded as I saw on paper the horrible details of the gruesome toll of slavery. We’ve all heard it. I’ve seen the movie Roots. I learned about it but hearing a first person detail of it’s effects by someone who received the lashings and torment really shook me.

There were a lot of powerful moments in the book that I had to underline and circle with a pen but one of the most powerful was the detail of how his grandmother finished her life. She raised and buried her own master. She outlived most of her children and when the master passed away they auctioned off her family individually. With her they made a small hut in the woods and left her there to fend for herself.

At this point of the book, Douglass details how horrible of a system slavery is. He points out the amount of evil it takes to follow through with the decisions many slave holders make.

But his details about the horrid treatment of his grandmother shook me more then any of the whippings or beatings detailed. To leave an elderly woman in a small cabin in the middle of the woods by herself, knowing that this was going to for sure be her tomb is beyond inhumane. It’s sick and evil.

Throughout reading the book it is noticeable that Douglass has a rough view of the Church and God. But reading the Appendix Douglass explains that his problem is that he finds joy in reading of Christ, but then knowing these men who are extremely devout in their religion yet abuse slaves, prostitute women out and steal the wages of working slaves, it caused Douglass to despise the religion he frequently saw of these men.

Which brings me to these two thoughts:

What are the Theological blind spots that the church has today?
Is the slavery that some Puritan pastors participated in pardonable?

1. What are the Theological blind spots that the church has today?

This is a tough one because if they were my blind spots, then I would be changing them as I write this. So, in some way I must answer, I don’t know.

But there are issues that I feel the church needs to regularly weigh with the scriptures regarding it’s stance.

Here are some issues I think that are needed to consistently be weighed:

* Biblical Manhood and Womanhood(Complimentarian/Egalitarian)
* Homosexuality and how to respond.
* Views of Scripture.
* Views on Abortion.
* Views on the Poor.
* Race relations.

With all of these, I think the church needs to take consistent consideration over what it’s stance is and why they hold that position. I am not saying that the church’s position on these topics will need to change, but I am saying that the church needs to know why it stands where it does on each one of these.

2. Is the slavery that some Puritan pastors participated in pardonable?

Many have hit on this just a couple of years ago. Thomas Kidd has a great collection of good thoughts and other links.

Hip Hop artist Propaganda has put out a song detailing this tension. It’s titled Precious Puritans.

There are many who have given different opinions such as:
Thabiti Anyabwile
Anthony Bradley
Mike Leake

I will say this, after reading this book and seeing the devotional lives of many of these slaveholders who would abuse and do many horrible things to their slaves, I am reminded that I consistently need to be weighing my life with the word. What culturally acceptable behaviors are ungodly? What leniencies do I have that are not loving my neighbor as myself and loving God with all of my heart, soul, mind or strength?

My view on the puritans is that they were men who loved the word of God and got others to see the need for loving it. There are good things about their lives that I am thankful for. In the same token there are things that were horrible. When I die I know that like everyone in the bible, there will be huge “misses” I had in my life. There will be area’s that I am blind to.

But I’d be lying about the fact that my respect and esteem for them changes when considering they would look at my wife and children as deserving of slavery because of their skin color. However people want to interpret that, the fact is, owning slaves is supporting slavery as an institution. Supporting it as an institution is hard to reconcile. That’s like when I hear people tell me about “good” drug dealers who do charity for their local neighborhood.

As well one thing this reminds me is that just because a theological giant I look up to supports or believes in a certain thing, does not mean he is right.

Douglass puts it poetically describing his tension with slaveholders claiming to be Christians,

“The man who wields the blood-clotted cow skin during the week fills the pulpit on 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 a 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 proclaims it a religious duty to read the Bible denies me the right of learning to read the name of the 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 that scatters whole families,—sundering husbands and wives, parents and children, sisters and brothers,—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!”

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