A voice of one calling

When we were in Tillamook, I picked up a little book off Doug’s mom’s bookshelf: the autobiography of Frederick Douglass. It was a fascinating read, and I consumed it almost in one sitting. I actually knew very little about his life and I found his story remarkable on so many levels. He details life as a slave from childhood. Perhaps the most gripping passages for me were his descriptions of how his mother was forbidden from seeing him more than a handful of times after he was six months old. He tells of how she would walk through the evening to come and lay down next to him for part of the night, then rise to walk back to the estate where she worked. There were only a few occasions where even this was permitted. The brutal, outright inhumanity of that deprivation, for both of them, affected me more than the stories of violent beatings, of which there are many.

Toward the end of his story, he writes this: “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 unhesitantly, 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 of all the slaveholders with whom I have ever met, religious slaveholders are the worst. I have ever found them the meanest and basest, the most cruel and cowardly, of all others.”

As I read his words, I felt a huge knot grow in my stomach. To imagine his story of one enslaved, deprived, abused, and to consider how that had been done with the covering of a faith in the God I serve made me sick. And it also made me scared because those who defended slavery under the umbrella of God’s will for creation were capable of so far missing the mark, to the point of embracing something so appalling; so visibly evil. And they did so with utter confidence in the rightness of what they were doing. And it made we wonder what things we, those who call on the same name of Jesus, are capable of doing today?

He continues: “The slave auctioneer’s bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heartbroken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious maser. Revivals of religion and revivals in the slave-trade go hand in hand together. The salve prison and the church stand near each other. The clanking of fetters and the rattling of chains in the prison, and the pious psalm and solemn prayer in the church, may be heard at the same time. The dealers in the bodies and souls of men erect their stand in the presence of the pulpit, and they mutually help each other. The dealer gives his bloodstained 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 angels’ robes, and hell presenting the semblance of paradise.”

Hell presenting the semblance of paradise. This is within our reach, as much as we would like to deny it. We have the capability of getting things terribly wrong, especially when money and power and the economy are involved. There are places today where Christians are invited to find themselves on one side or the other on critical issues that impact our neighbors locally and around the world and, like the landscape of America in the time of slavery, there are those who profess Jesus as Lord standing fiercely on opposite sides. We do well to recognize the voices of the oppressed in our midst and give ear to the Frederick Douglasses of our world today. May it be that we would see the places today where devils are roaming in angels’ robes.


  1. This is a hard one to swallow. It makes me wonder about every injury I have caused in the name of Christ. This must be the deepest wound of all. God forgive me.

  2. Erika,

    Yes. I think part of what was going on there is that religion was a part of their culture. And their Christianity. It is interesting that most of what was written by Christians in those days on slavery was written to defend it on a Biblical premise. And much of the opposition came from people who did not refer much, if at all, to Scripture. Yet today we believe the latter were right in their premise, and the Christians wrong. That is a little heads up for me about thinking through issues today.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  3. Ted,
    I have likewise seen in recent years that my secular peers seem much more concerned about genocides, the AIDS epidemic in Africa, and preserving the environment. The very things I would expect to see Christians leading the way in are often the places where I see the church as most silent. Why is that?!?!?!?!

  4. Praise God that He saw fit to end the abomination of slavery. Yet, today it seems that even the Christian world does not recognize that, though we have the potential to share a message of freedom to those enslaved by sin, instead we share a watered down gospel message. What comes to my mind is what the church,(in GENERAL), teaches and preaches. I am certainly not in favor of the return of hellfire and brimstone preaching along with scaring Christians into a legalistic obedience to His commands. However, I (and many others), have noticed that many pastors and church leaders today have watered down the gospel so as ” not to offend”. By preaching solely a message of love and acceptance, with hardly a mention of sin, its consequences, and the horror of eternal damnation, many have become deceived into thinking that Jesus is just a way to become a better person. I an convinced that the Enemy laughs with glee and even promotes this watered down gospel because Jesus and His Words are, for the most part, ignored in favor of spouting love, tolerance, and acceptance. It does not take a scholar (I figured it out) to realize that the good news of Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection does not have near the effect that good news should have unless we are aware of the bad news first. Many have made fun of the hypocritical, finger pointing evangelist who emphasizes sin and damnation. Yet, much of what he says is TRUE. Now it seems that many (NOT all)Christian preachers/teachers have gone 180 degrees to the opposite extreme – forget about the God of justice and emphasize the God of love. As a result,many become better people, are loved and accepted, and becone productive people in the church and the world. Yet they remain lost and continue on that road of slavery, which ends in death – eternally. This really is “Hell presenting the semblance of paradise”. Don’t the preachers and teachers realize that they will indeed come under a stricter judgement, as the Bible says (not me!)? I remind those who preach and teach His Word that they are either speaking life or death. Eternal life or eternal death. Finally, ask yourselves:”Do I care more about the praises of men than the praises of God?” The answer will reveal to you who it is that you really serve.

  5. Erika, I fear that it is because we do not have a full gospel. That not only sees people reconciled to God through Jesus. But fails to see that in God reconciling all things to him, through the death of his Son (Colossians), we are implicated to be involved in this work, as well. I know you know this. But many see a concern for the poor and injustice in this world, as somehow beneath God, and not according to the gospel. How unlike Mary, in her song, the Magnificat. And unlike the entire Story we find in Scripture.

  6. I think you are right, Ted. I guess the part that really confounds me is not just the sins of omission so to speak (I don’t need to get involved in this social cause or whatever–this is at least somewhat understandable if not justifiable) but the actual choices Christians have made in the past and continue to make today to align ourselves with those very things that oppose God’s redemptive work in our world. Like the “Christian” advocates of slavery, it is just so horrifying to consider the ease with which those professing faith in Christ can fall into such depravity–and never see it as such!

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