Inconvenient American History

I often hear conservative (politically and ostensibly religious) voices in our society call us to return to the way our society “used to be,” an idyllic state of bliss, it seems, when one listens to them.  Yet voices like David Walker echo in my head, reminding me that America has always been a mixture of greatness and disgusting wickedness; a nation consigned to live underneath the powerful aspirations of the Declaration of Independence and a Constitution that should never, never allow us to feel comfortable in having “arrived” as a society.

Here is the voice of David Walker in 1829;

I declare it does appear to me as though some nations think God is asleep, or that he made the Africans for nothing else but to dig their mines and work their farms, or they cannot believe history, sacred, or profane.  I ask every man who has a heart, and is blessed with the privilege of believing- Is not God a God of justice to all his creatures?   Do you say he is?

Then if he gives peace and tranquility to tyrants and permits them to keep our fathers, our mothers, ourselves and our children in eternal ignorace and wretchedness to support them and their families, would he be to us a God of Justice?  I ask, O, ye Christians, who hold us and our children in the most abject ignorance and degradation that ever a people were afflicted with since the world began- I say if God gives you peace and tranquility, and suffers you thus to go on afflicting us, and our children, who have never given you the least provocation- would he be to us a God of Justice?

If you will allow that we are men, who feel for each other, does not the blood of our fathers and of us, their children, cry aloud to the Lord of Sabaoth against you for the cruelties and murders with which you have and do continue to afflict us?

David Walker, from “The Appeal” 1829

David Walker’s bio on Wikipedia
Full text of the Appeal online

The effect of “The Appeal”
Three editions of the pamphlet were published within a year. Walker distributed his pamphlet through various Black communication networks along the Atlantic coast. These included free and enslaved Black sailors, other mobile laborers, Black church and revivalist networks, contacts with free Black benevolent societies, and maroon communities. Walker even sewed some pamphlets into the clothes that he sold at his store.

By 1830, white authorities suppressed the circulation of the pamphlet whenever they could. In New Orleans, authorities arrested four Black men for owning copies. In North Carolina, vigilantes attacked free Blacks assuming they had copies. Savannah, Georgia, instituted a ban on Black seamen coming ashore because of white fears that they were distributing the incendiary pamphlet. Some Blacks were lynched, others whipped. Yet the document continued to circulate. Plantation owners offered a bounty for Walker’s death. Anyone who captured Walker and brought him alive to the South would receive $10,000.

Friends concerned about his safety implored him to flee to Canada. Walker responded that he would stand his ground. “Somebody must die in this cause,” he added. “I may be doomed to the stake and the fire, or to the scaffold tree, but it is not in me to falter if I can promote the work of emancipation.” A devout Christian, he believed that abolition was a “glorious and heavenly cause.”

Herbert Aptheker writing on Walker’s legacy in 1965,

“Walker’s Appeal is the first sustained written assault upon slavery and racism to come from a black man in the United States. This was the main source of its overwhelming power in its own time; this is the source of the great relevance and enormous impact that remain in it, deep as we are in the twentieth century.

Never before or since was there a more passionate denunciation of the hypocrisy of the nation as a whole – democratic and fraternal and equalitarian and all the other words. And Walker does this not as one who hates the country but rather as one who hates the institutions which disfigure it and make it a hissing in the world.

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Another wise, courageous word from a primary mentor of mine…

In the video I’ve linked to below, Brian McLaren is interviewed by Scot McKnight.  Both are vital voices in the church today helping the church shake off all kinds of excess baggage we’ve carried for many many years.  Both come down at very different places theologically, depending on the issue.  The video itself is provocatively named (I would say sensationally named) “Conversations on Being a Heretic.”  I absolutely HATE that title, because the whole “heretic” thing has been used by religious border patrols and by ridiculous individuals who think they’ve found some “secret” about spirituality alike throughout history.  Brian McLaren is asking important, essential questions about the message and lifestyle of Christianity from within the constraints of a deep respect for Scriptural authority and for Jesus….and the reward he gets for such searching is vitriol from heresy-hunters and outsiders who think he’s like them.

Brian McLaren is the single most important voice short of Jesus who has opened up space for me to breathe when I’ve felt something was horrendously wrong, when faith felt like a giant weight squeezing the life out of me.  He has led me in my spiritual quest not away from the Scriptures, but deeper into the Scriptures. He has led me not into the arms of any religious guru “because they’re all saying essentially the same thing,” but into a deeper trust in the words, example, and authority of Jesus in a way that has given me conviction beyond anything I’ve ever experienced before.  And yet Brian seems to be assailed from all sides in exploring his curiosity.  This video, in 19 short minutes, is Brian laying out in concise, straight-forward ways what he places his hope in, what structure he works within, and what he believes God’s agenda is all about.  And it. remains. beautiful.

Q | Conversations on Being a Heretic from Q Ideas on Vimeo.

Here’s some vital quotes from the video from Brian:

“I don’t think the primary question being asked by the Bible is the question, “Who goes to heaven, and who goes to hell?”  I think the primary question being asked is, “How can God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven?”  I think the primary question is “How can this creation that has been damaged by human sin, injustice, evil, lust, greed, the whole shebang, how can this creation be healed and how can we participate with God in the healing of this creation?”

“You just used the word salvation.  And for so many people, as soon as they hear the word salvation, they have a whole set of definitions in their mind.  I was a preacher for 24 years.  I really read the Bible, I still do!  And what I was always troubled by, was when I read the word “salvation” in the Bible, I would import a set of assumptions about what that word meant, and they didn’t fit what I saw in the text.  So when I read the text, the word salvation starts in the Old Testament, and it means liberation.  Salvation is what God does for the Jewish people getting them out of slavery. It’s not about getting them out of hell in the Old Testament, it’s about getting them out of Egypt.  So I’m trying to be hon est about those things.”