In addition to being Valentine’s Day, today is the birthday of one of my heroes – Frederick Douglass. A man who was not only a brilliant thinker and author but a courageous man who, once he won his freedom, used it to bring freedom to others. Through his incredible writing and speaking, Douglass got a nation thinking. He became a voice for people who didn’t have a voice. A legacy I’m hoping my generation will continue.
If you haven’t read the “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” it is worth reading. The timeless language and message makes the book seem as though it could have been written today. I was especially moved by a letter he wrote to his slave master treating him with the dignity and respect he didn’t deserve. I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Douglass’s great, great, great grandson a few years ago. Kenneth B. Morris has stepped into the legacy of his ancestor and is helping bring hope to people enslaved today. I recently read the piece below from Douglass’s writings that sheds light on the role people of faith played in the slave trade:
“I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of the 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 every where surround me. We have men-stealers for ministers, women-whippers for missionaries, and cradle-plunderers for church members. The man who wields the blood-clotted cowskin during the week fills the pulpit on Sunday, and claims to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus. . . . The slave auctioneer’s bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master. Revivals of religion and revivals in the slave-trade go hand in hand together. The slave 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 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 angels’ robes, and hell presenting the semblance of paradise.” — Frederick Douglass (Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass)
My hope is that people of faith would be a voice for freedom and a voice for the oppressed. That churches would be safe havens not for oppressors and prejudice but for those who are mistreated and misunderstood. This passage in Amos 5 is a pretty compelling argument:
[21-24] “I can’t stand your religious meetings. I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions. I want nothing to do with your religion projects, your pretentious slogans and goals. I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes, your public relations and image making. I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music. When was the last time you sang to me? Do you know what I want? I want justice—oceans of it. I want fairness—rivers of it. That’s what I want. That’s all I want.” (The Message)