“An Example of Somebody Who’s done an Amazing Job” Frederick Douglass’s Immortal Words for the Church and Trump

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Frederick Douglass 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

A couple of weeks ago President Trump made an interesting acknowledgement of African American Abolitionist and civil rights champion, Frederick Douglass. The President said:   “Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more, I notice.” But I really wonder if the President, and the 80% plus continent of Evangelical and other conservative Christians really understand what Douglass stood for, or have ever heard his harsh words for the church of his day, which are as applicable now as when he penned them in 1845. It is hard read if you claim to be a follower of Jesus, because while the issue of slavery has been resolved, at least officially, there are many others who reside in this country now who are with the blessing of many “Christians” are discriminated against, persecuted, and even hated. Yes, Douglass’s words still echo loudly in our land.

Anyway, have a good day.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

slave-coffle2

But African Americans too had an effect on the debate. In the 1820s Black abolitionists organized with white abolitionists and of their own accord “in order to improve their lives and to attack slavery.” [1] Even before “Garrison published his famous Liberator in Boston in 1831, the first national convention of Negroes had been held, David Walker had already written his “appeal,” and a black abolitionist magazine named Freedom’s Journal had appeared.” [2] Initially most blacks that could simply desired to improve their lives and hoped that their self-improvement would result in less discrimination and more opportunity. This was known as the self-improvement doctrine. But in the face of continued discrimination in the North and in a society where slavery was expanding and slavery proponents “philosophical and political defenders became ever more in intransigent, and where racism became an increasingly rigid barrier even to the most highly talented blacks, the self-improvement doctrine lost viability.” [3]

Escaped former slaves like Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth and others added their voices to the debate. Unlike the white abolitionists these leaders “formative years and antislavery educations were spent on southern plantations, and not in organizations dedicated to moral suasion.” [4] Douglass became a prominent abolitionist leader and was very critical of the role of churches, especially Southern churches, in the maintenance of slavery as an institution.

However, Douglass did not spare Northern churches from criticism for buttressing the peculiar institution. Douglass’s polemics against Northern and Southern churches in the South in his autobiography reads like the preaching of an Old Testament prophet such as Amos, or Jeremiah railing against the corrupt religious institutions of their day:

“I find, since reading over 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 slaveholding 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 reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of the one, 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, slaveholding, women‐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 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 fill 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 heart 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 Christianity of America is a Christianity, of whose votaries it may be as truly said, as it was of the ancient scribes and Pharisees, ʺThey bind heavy burdens, and grievous to be borne, and lay them on menʹs shoulders, but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. All their works they do for to be seen of men.‐‐They love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, . . . . . . and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.‐‐But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. Ye devour widowsʹ houses, and for a pretence make long prayers; therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation. Ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.‐‐Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint, and anise, and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith; these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides! which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter; but within, they are full of extortion and excess.‐Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead menʹs bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.ʺ  Dark and terrible as is this picture, I hold it to be strictly true of the overwhelming mass of professed Christians in America. They strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel… They attend with Pharisaical strictness to the outward forms of religion, and at the same time neglect the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith. They are always ready to sacrifice, but seldom to show mercy. They are they who are represented as professing to love God whom they have not seen, whilst they hate their brother whom they have seen. They love the heathen on the other side of the globe. They can pray for him, pay money to have the Bible put into his hand, and missionaries to instruct him; while they despise and totally neglect the heathen at their own doors.

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, that which is revealed in the words, deeds, and actions, of those bodies, north and south, calling themselves Christian churches, and yet in union with slaveholders. It is against religion, as presented by these bodies, that I have felt it my duty to testify. [5]

Douglass and other African American abolitionists were cognizant of the fact that in spite of their good intentions that many Northern abolitionists were unconscious of their own racism and many black abolitionists were repelled by it. As such black abolitionists were characterized by “racial independence and pragmatism” while white abolition leaders though “still committed to antislavery principles, increasingly divided over doctrines such as political action or evangelical reform.” [6] Douglass and others realized that blacks had to take control of their own destiny and take an active role in the abolitionist movement. In 1854 Douglass declared “it is emphatically our battle; no one else can fight it for us….Our relations to the Anti-Slavery movement must be and are changed. Instead of depending on it we must lead it.”  [7] Douglass and other black abolitionist leaders found this necessary because many white abolitionists were unable to “comprehend the world in other than moral absolute, as well as their unwillingness to confront issues of racial prejudice and poverty….” [8] As a result Douglass and other black abolitionist leaders went into the critical decade before the Civil War with a clear idea that the fight would be much more difficult and complicated than many of their white counterparts could image.

Notes

[1] Blight, David W. Beyond the Battlefield: Race, Memory and the American Civil War University of Massachusetts Press Amherst and Boston 2002 p.30

[2] Ibid. Zinn The Other Civil War p.23

[3] Ibid. Blight Beyond the Battlefield p.31

[4] Ibid. Blight Beyond the Battlefield p.31

[5] Douglass, Frederick. Life and Times of Frederick Douglass: His Early Life as a Slave, His Escape From Bondage, and His Complete History. Anti-Slavery Office, Boston, 1845. Retrieved from http://antislavery.eserver.org/narratives/narrativeofthelife/narrativeofthelife.pdf/view February 24, 2017  copyright © 2005 by the Antislavery Literature Project.

[6] Ibid. Blight Beyond the Battlefield p.32

[7] Ibid. Zinn The Other Civil War p.24

[8] Ibid. Blight Beyond the Battlefield p.32

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Filed under christian life, civil rights, History, News and current events, Political Commentary, Religion

One response to ““An Example of Somebody Who’s done an Amazing Job” Frederick Douglass’s Immortal Words for the Church and Trump

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