On The Biblical Defense of Looting
[Note to the reader: the following is a LONG post, even by this blog’s prior standards, and probably would comprise a lengthy chapter in a book. Feel free to read it in installments at your leisure, but it all belongs together as a coherent and building (and integrated) narrative of the same general theme, and thus is is not broken up into smaller individual posts.]
According to certain cable news and talk radio networks, Antifa should now be running all of our cities and having us all under subjugation, killing white folk en masse and probably forcing us all, at the tip of the shiv, to be gay communists or socialists (or worse yet, Democrats), and to have abortions (even us guys); in turn, Trump herald and First Baptist Dallas senior pastor Robert Jeffries did make very clear that if Trump loses in November, “the left” will bring out the guillotines for the Trump supporters (the latter group of “supporters” basically limited to comprising the Religious Right and alt right/white supremacists, his original core supporters, these days) . In reality, as I pointed out in my last blog post, certain white supremacist groups are running “false flag” operations online, pretending to be Antifa or Black Lives Matter, and trying to spur violence, and furthermore, law enforcement agencies across the country say they are seeing little evidence of Antifa involvement, but alternatively they have alleged that multi-state criminal operations are suggested as being part of a coordinated looting operation. Regardless, it looks like after many weeks of marching and protesting for better vetting of “bad apple” police officers, better training to reduce confrontation escalation and the use of deadly choke holds in unnecessary situations, and more accountability and less blanket immunity for officers caught in the most egregious acts, these protests – comprising old and young, black and white – look to me to be petering out for the time being, as the media lost interest, and aside from some buildings and businesses sadly destroyed, in general our cities are still standing (in far better condition than they did in 1968). There have been a few modest changes in the wake of these protests, mostly in the corporate culture as they realize the buying public is fed up with soft racism and soft-peddling (or even being nostalgic for) the antebellum slavery era, such as even NASCAR banning the Confederate flag from the property of their events (which, for thoughtful adults, should be about as controversial as banning the Nazi/Swastika flag from the Jewish Maccabiah Games Olympic events in Israel (although, it is similarly part of “their history”)).
I will disappoint my handful of perpetual critics by admitting that I do not endorse the wanton vandalizing and looting of property, particularly the private property of innocent parties, and denounce not only the young, mentorless and confused people (some of whom need to be detained and legitimately held accountable for their deeds, particularly when harming innocent people or their livelihoods), but also the white racist provocateurs and criminal operations (and cynical thieves of all stripes), who are part of the act, as well as the governors and police chiefs who order their patrolmen in riot gear to stand by and let the businesses who pay their salaries to be burned and looted, so the protesters in total look bad in front of the cameras. I note with irony that these limited acts on property (in large extent inexcusable, even if sometimes understandable by empathetic Christians when considering the powerlessness felt by many minority youth who do not have the monetary clout to influence politicians, the media or other power centers, and do so as a desperate ploy to get the attention of the media and politicians to their plight, as I suspect many terrorists do) are met with outrage by the self-righteous Religious Right and fellow “patriots,” although many of them choose their own methods of fighting the “evil State,” such as refusing to pay taxes or wear masks in health emergencies (in thus really endangering their neighbors, far more than the other vandals), confront legislators with assault guns and military gear on the steps of their capitols, or when ranchers squat and make money grazing on publicly owned lands and are defended at gunpoint. They also extol the virtues of the “Tea Party” heroes who stole tea supplies and vandalized them (not because of beatings and deaths caused by authorities, but because they didn’t like their tea taxed to pay for their own military protection), the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, which was a statue-like embodiment of an establishment that had enslaved them (to a lesser albeit significant level) for thirty years, or the Iraqi people who tore down the statue of the tyrant Saddam Hussein (who had been kept in power with U.S. help and who had sold him chemical weapons to use on his people), with the assistance of the U.S. military to tear down the statue of that enslaver.
Having said all that, I am still disturbed by the destruction of property, particularly private property (as well as when police (with their salaries paid by the public) destroy houses of people in raids whom they later found out to be mistaken identity, and then are not held liable). As one who desires to have a Christian worldview and mind of Christ on the true reality of things, and my duties to both seek the truth, reflect biblical wisdom and take acts of responsibility to be “salt and light”in meeting my duties required of receiving such wisdom, I have been meditating on what the mind of God would be on such a situation of a people doing such acts of vandalism, and particularly ugly looting, within the nature of such a greater society and social circumstances.
I have been wondering about what God would think about a minority of people of a different ethnicity and culture, far away from their original homeland, and who had been subjugated by a powerful world power in another land for four hundred years in bitter, forceful slavery. Or about such a global power who would have risen in prominence as an economic and military juggernaut, largely on the backs of this foreign people of a foreign culture, who had toiled in their fields to make them prosperous, and built their massive infrastructure of transportation and other edifices, as an enslaved people who tended to stay cloistered in their own poor communities and cultures, whose reward for their contributions to the prosperity of their foreign enslavers was more subjugation, for hundreds of years.
I wonder what God would think about such a subjugated people in a faraway land, who cried out to God for generations in mournful psalms and lamentations while working those fields, while under the whip of their cruel taskmasters, for centuries.
What would God think about such a subjugated people whose chain of events leading to their uprising began with a singular incident when a law enforcement official of the people in power began abusing and beating one of their oppressed, who thought they were too lazy and unproductive and a bad example, and ultimately no good (at least in regard to the financial interests of the enslaving master nation). Their dominating nation had been saying for a long time that they feared these subjugated people and community would out-breed and then overrun them by numbers (much like prominent Christian organization American Family Association spokesman Brian Fischer wrote in 2011 that black folk on welfare are a “people who rut like rabbits”). Therefore, they focused on promoting late-term abortions targeting this subjugated people. These people had been warned by spiritual leaders that an accounting was coming for them, and to give in to minor accommodations to these subjugated people and rights to ease their suffering, but they would have none of it. Rather, their response was a bigger crackdown on them, and tightening their restrictions and making bigger demands, like the old business adage, “the beatings will continue until morale improves,” which is the technique the Religious Right uses to somehow attempt to elevate those rebellious “Gentiles” outside their rules to a higher spiritual state, by increasing the confrontation and aggressiveness when they differ on social issues or private lifestyles. Sometimes the people in question vacillated in their guilt and remorse over their oppression, and tentatively acceded to the requests for mercy and recognition of wrongdoing, particularly when the oppressors were suffering under extreme pressure that hit them in their homes and pocket books, but when the pressure was relaxed, they quickly went back to their own ways of uncaring about the suffering and mistreatment of the underclass.
These struggles for liberation and resisting abuse and oppression occurred during a season when a plague came widespread upon the people across the nation, affecting every household, apparently by the very hand of God, which only accomplished a temporary relent from oppression and lack of recognition.
The leaders of the oppressed were those with connections to the oppressors’ society and culture, as well as those oppressed, and were even held suspect by the more aggressive members of their camp and the rank-and-file, who noticed that the tensions and suffering increased as the confrontation for civil and human rights rights was raised.
Most importantly, it culminated in dramatic acts of widespread looting of the rest of the populace of the oppressing nation, taking their property and valuables, as pestilence took members of almost every family, and weary officials fearfully let the looting occur. Some of the ruling people even permanently joined their side. The thought by their leaders was for them to temporarily “have their fun” and get away with it if they would disappear out of sight during those days of widespread suffering, and shortly thereafter in anger, they changed their minds and decided to send their law enforcement and even military guard units after them relentlessly to “restore law and order,” even while rank-and-file members of the society came to the defense of the oppressed even while being looted, and the recompense of force by the government came to naught. Their greed, both for the recovery of their purloined goods and the ability to exploit these people in servitude to build their empire, ended up costing them both their resources and all their militaristic power, in a wasted confrontation in which it appeared that even nature opposed them, and all their aggressive counter-attacks backfired and were a disaster. In the same circumstances, the seminal events were a cloud of illumination and direction to the oppressed, while being a cloud of darkness to the oppressors. It also cost them their respect within the global community, and the other nations shuddered as they observed the ramifications of not dealing respectfully with these oppressed people “on the march.”
The delivered, oppressed people were certainly not virtuous in many respects; they were spoiled in some ways, wanting a certain lifestyle of living even during the crisis period of transition, ungrateful and looking back unrealistically on the “good old days” when they were not responsible for their own well-being and independence. They still constantly called for ‘hand outs” and were always fearful of another crackdown by “the man,” and dwelt on their uncertain future and the fallible men who led them, who had no long-term vision and were taking things “one step at a time,” sometimes mis-stepping, often in anger of their formerly oppressed followers, with perpetual factions and power struggles within their own ranks. God would sort out their shortcomings on his own schedule and by his own hand later, quite strongly. Regardless, these people seemed to have God’s favor anyway – not only because of their suffering, but also for their more useful role in punishing the oppressing nation itself.
Who are the oppressed peoples I am talking about, and who is the oppressing nation and culture? Am I speaking in veiled terms from storied accounts in today’s newspapers?
Well, any attendee of Sunday School or Vacation Bible School will know who I am talking about – why, it’s obviously the Egyptian people, judged by God (and judging their real gods) for oppressing the Hebrew people, in a veritable verbatim recount from the Book of Exodus narrative, which reveals to us a “God’s eye view” of these types of societal and national situations of crisis brought by centuries of oppression of strangers, how God perceives the players, and what He is up to behind the scenes.
Which side do you think God was on – the sophisticated, industrious, orderly, advanced, religious, militarily powerful and economically unparalleled Egyptians, or the rowdy, uneducated, whiny, impulsive, impatient, divisive and even profilic “looter” Hebrews?
To be fair to the Hebrews, they only resorted to wanton looting and pillaging of the wealth of the Egyptian public because God told them to do it. Why did He do that? Not because He wanted the Hebrews to show off conspicuous, plundered wealth that was not theirs, but rather to punish the Egyptians and the “gods” of Egypt (Ex. 12:12) (of which colonial-styled exploitative capitalism would certainly have been a part), to instigate His own “reparations” for four hundred years of the Egyptians “looting” the Hebrews’ productivity and earned assets, as well as some punitive damages for forcible confinement and assault, to boot. God will see that reparations and restitution will be made for injustices, one way or another, and we will see further examples.
God chose a leader in a God-fearing man who benefited from the riches of the establishment (being very comfortable and with a very bright future), but whose sense of justice would not allow him to stand by while he witnessed the oppression of those pitiful people who he identified with, even though not being raised in their community or culture, and felt forced, not to look the other way and keep his head down like his peers (or the German Christians who sang louder when they heard the scream of the Jewish deportees in the rail cars outside, or the American clergy who didn’t “rock the boat” over the institution of slavery, the Jim Crow laws or the later civil rights oppression), but to act coercively when he saw them abused by law enforcement. His act of impulsive pursuit of justice and remedy was even misunderstood by those he tried to help, and cost him his standing in both societies, as a pariah for a LONG time. He ultimately was directed to lead a liberation movement, inspired by God’s wishes for such, although he wished someone else would do it, which was not a military-style uprising with “patriots” brandishing AR-15s and military fatigues, but rather one that followed the “hand of God,” in a period when people witnessed hordes of locusts and perils of migrating dust clouds (both seen recently worldwide), and capped off by an unprecedented pestilence that struck every community. He was seen as the greatest enemy and traitor of the “respectable” establishment that he had been a part of (ruining his future of societal leadership), while also being of uncertain status among those he tried to help, who were unsettled, impetuous and impatient.
God said that these acts were acts to “judge the gods of Egypt” – a prosperous land whose gods were given credit for their magnificence, but were not really the True God, and who oppressed God’s people even though leaders of those people had helped the Egyptians in generations past, like Joseph (or later figures like Frederick Douglass or George Washington Carver (both born into slavery), or the African Americans who fought valiantly in Word Wars 1 and 2, and even the Revolutionary War, and even provided key mathematical skills to get Americans to the Moon).
The Hebrews that were liberated were not even very religious at the time of their deliverance, and knew very little about God, or their religious history (nor did their ancestors). Sadly, soon after they were “liberated,” they pined for the “good old days” and the “gods of Egypt,” and the material comforts they were thought to provide, and soon thereafter hoisted their “golden calfs” like their capitalistically-acquired sense of greed and profit they had acquired; the benevolent though flawed leaders of these historically-oppressed people tried to keep them straight, although some among the leadership like Aaron fell to the temptations of trying to keep popular approval, and its inherent benefits. Today, many white Christians resent some black activists (and often painting a broad brush over all of them) because similarly they are, not any “St. Francis of Assisi.”
However, regarding their more exceptional leaders of oppressed underclasses, like Moses, in his nature he not only fought to protect his own kin, but also other “strangers” whose oppression he encountered, including women and their rights and well-being, as when he defended the women strangers at the well at Midian, from shepherds who must of thought there should be segregated water fountains (note that Moses, whose name means “drawn out of water,” because of his deliverance from the banks of the Nile, always is involved in scenes of deliverance near bodies of water, such as his own, the Nile turning to blood to force Pharaoh’s hand, the Red Sea parting, the Midian well experience, and drawing water out of a rock to address the thirst of his followers). Evidently, “human rights” was in his “blood,” and he could not to stand to see any humble folk oppressed or deprived of rights, once his eyes were opened to the general scourge of discrimination and the common humanity of all that united him with all people, much like Martin Luther King, who expanded his emphasis on the civil rights of African Americans, to incorporate all poor folk in is “Poor People’s Campaign,” including Indians, rural and poor whites and Hispanics, and his opposition to how they were exploited in their wages and lack of benefits (and even the poor in Vietnam who were exploited in the Vietnam War, such positions costing him his hard-fought support for his earlier civil rights work from both white and black earlier supporters). Ultimately, like many other civil and human rights leaders through the ages, Moses came to see himself as even more than just a Hebrew, but more holistically as a “stranger” himself – a powerless minority in a place he didn’t belong, in a culture he didn’t relate to – just like his predecessor Abraham; he even named his son Gershom, meaning “stranger in a strange land” (Ex. 2:22).
Unfortunately, meekness is not always inherited by family members and hangers-on of such humanitarians and their movements; Jimmy Carter had his Billy Carter, King had his surrounding opportunists, and with Moses he had his brother and sister Aaron and Miriam, all of whom degraded their reputations. In Numbers 12 it recounts the incident that although Moses was said to be “very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth” (v. 3), unfortunately Aaron and Miriam were ordinary racists and bigots, and obviously disapproving of misgenation (or the intermarrying of races), as many of the Religious Right upbringing (particularly older generations) shared, per my earlier observations growing up. Scripture says that “Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married: for he had married an Ethiopian woman” (i.e. a black woman), and suggested that they might be better representatives of the nation themselves, drawing the Lord’s attention (v. 3). The Lord responded to them that Moses was far better than a prophet, because he was allowed to see Himself in His true form (v. 8), and let Miriam really be a “white supremacist,” by making her leprous, “white as snow” (v. 10), requiring Moses to intervene before God to cure her later.
Powerful oppressing nations and cultures not only stop with those outsider-culture “strangers” they blatantly oppress and exploit; being their nature, they often exploit their own people in the lower and middle classes, in a more discreet way and over a longer time. In the case of Egypt, their government and religious leadership had earlier confiscated the wealth of the average Egyptian and surrounding nations years ago by exploiting a famine, weaponizing and with the aid of the message of Joseph, which enriched Joseph in money and government power, to the detriment of the common Egyptian folk, and the eventual loss of their crops they relinquished, all their money, their farm implements and tools, work animals and cattle, their land, and finally the loss of their freedom as they were herded into government housing to work on their former lands that were now owned by the government, triggered by a crisis of staple commodity shortages and a currency crisis, according to the accounts in the last parts of the Book of Genesis.
The head of this modern, sophisticated and very proud oppressing nation told the leader of the oppressed minority that the complaints for equal rights from these oppressed minority people and their leaders just proved the prejudiced stereotype that they were too lazy and unproductive (Ex. 5:5), just I have heard from white media and political figures growing up, and in my own circles (including church), and ordered tightening restrictions on the complaining Hebrews (vv. 6-9), as martial law and police crackdowns and FBI raids have often done during periods of civil rights disturbances. They did have the effect of creating internal divisions within the oppressed people as they felt the pressure of such a clamp down (which worked well when executed by embedded FBI agents in the civil rights and peace movements during their infamous COINTELLPRO operation by Hoover), including when the law enforcement people started raiding and cracking heads of the civil rights leadership as when “the officers of the children of Israel, which Pharaoh’s taskmasters had set over them, were beaten” for protesting labor practices and not meeting their employers’ demands by wasting time in civil rights matters (Ex. 5:15). Jesus knows what it is like to be beaten by law enforcement when seeking the liberation of others, and set up; He was arrested in the dark without charges or general public witnesses, He was later beaten by a phalanx of officers who surrounded Him and taunted Him (while He was no threat), was assaulted and charged by the secret testimony of paid informants who were not cross-examined as Jesus had no defense counsel, and later tortured to death by a technique where He “could not breathe” on the cross for an extended time, while being mocked by law enforcement officers of the oppressing nation in front of Him. Do you think Jesus might be able relate to the Rodney Kings, George Floyds and others of their ilk?
When actions related to the liberation movement of the Hebrew people began to really hit the oppressing Egyptians in their pocketbooks, daily lives and households in public displays, they typically relented and pretended to acknowledge the wishes of those they oppressed, but as soon as “the heat was off” and the demonstrations subsided after negotiations, the leadership would repeatedly get cocky and betray their negotiated promises for reform, and be ever stiffer in their resistance and swagger, such as in Ex. 8:32. In one set of demonstrations, the oppressing people were warned to stay indoors, and even keep their livestock assets indoors, because it was finally going to “get real” in the streets, and those who recognized the “finger of God” did just that, while those who mocked God and were not worried kept themselves and their stuff outside – just like those who refused to stay away from violent protests, or even the warnings of unprotected public exposure during COVID, to mock God and the pestilence, and show them “who’s boss” (Ex. 9:20-21) – and of course, he outcome was predictable in both cases.
Sadly, the material benefits of looting an oppressed foreign people in their midst and slaves and an underclass for centuries proved so essential, and produced an arrogance so blinding and self-defeating, that the stiff necks of the oppressing people Egypt finally left no option for negotiated emancipation except by bloody outcomes – one premeditatively chosen beforehand by God, not the oppressed peoples themselves, as a means to judge and punish the oppressing people who refused to repent. The LORD-initiated first Passover was such an unforgettable bloody event; it was a swift affair, and the Hebrews were instructed to take swift actions to be liberated before the oppressors could recover and regain their swagger, and change their minds. These days, similar action in legislation, changes in police department policies and corporate identities and policies should be swiftly pursued in the wake of the recent weeks-long civil rights protests in the streets, because as the protests have died down (mostly all peacefully) and are off our TV screens, people swiftly “move on,” letting their officials off the hook, and the call for change dies down, just as efforts for sensible gun legislation always quickly dies down after the latest mass shooting and the brief displays of outrage, letting cowardly legislators and other leaders off the hook from enacting anything beneficial that might take some courage.
Yes, God told Moses that the Hebrews should “spoil the Egyptians” (Ex. 3:22), i.e. “loot” them, who had “spoiled” them for generations, telling Moses this before the interactions in Egypt even started, as His premeditated plan; he also reminded them on the eve of the “big event” that they should prepare to loot the Egyptians, as a part of God’s plan (Ex. 11:1-2), and they in turn did it (Ex. 12:35). God warned Moses that this appeal for relief from oppression of this foreign race would encounter strong opposition from the Egyptian government, and God Himself would harden the hearts of the captors (Ex. 4:21), and even Moses’ own wife resentfully suggested that this whole process would be a bloody affair, and that Moses would be a “blood husband” (Ex. 4:25), as an example of the type of tensions, within one’s own household, such a role foists on those who try to follow the Lord in “setting captives free.” When they did leave, even wise “strangers” not of the oppressed people joined them in their quest, and set their cause long term with them (Ex. 12:48).
When they did leave, God’s appeal for them to strike quickly and emancipate themselves was of course wise, because the Egyptians did reverse their repentance and capitulation, and decided they liked having minorities in servitude too much to release them easily (as the Hebrews themselves would later discover about themselves), bringing out their full law enforcement and military powers powers to bear to strike terror into the liberated peoples, without self-reflection or sense of discovery of the wrongfulness or futility of one’s position by that time. When they caught them and supposedly trapped them at the shores of the Red Sea, the Angel of the Lord moved to the rear to separate the camps, serving as a light of illumination to the powerless, oppressed Hebrews, and simultaneously a vessel of darkness and confusion for the Egyptians (Ex. 14:20); circumstances in history, and the Lord’s hand in them, play a similar role in those on the “right side” or “wrong side” of history, as we can see looking down the ages.
Many Christians today will look at pictures on the television at what many would label as “punks,” destroying property and setting fires or looting (while in truth a tiny sliver of such protesters engaged in such, of which many of them were provocateurs from criminal groups, white supremacists or even state law enforcement groups suspected in many cases), or out in front of the camera demanding “their rights,” and therefore not sympathetic figures to the average white suburbanite Christian watching comfortably at home. In truth, as I have stated, the purposes of God’s acts in such dramatic incidents of liberation such as the Exodus and other historical movements, was not to show the purity or piety of the Hebrews or others, but rather the evils of the oppressing nation, as God used them as a tool for their downfall. God similarly would use the Hebrews as agents for judgment on all the wicked Canaanite nations on which He had passed final judgment, saying He waited to rescue the Hebrews for over 400 years, for until then “the iniquity of the [Canaanite] Amorites is not yet full” (Gen. 15:16). People may wonder why God would use such a flawed people as the Hebrews, or the people on their TV screens today, and when is He going to get around to addressing their own sins of selfishness, disregard for the well-being of innocent parties, and treatment of others of different ethnicity from themselves. Well, scripture would appear to suggest that is not our concern, but rather God’s and He will address their own sins in His own time, and in the right manner, because they do indeed have their own “baggage.” For example, while they were on their way to their “Promised Land” of liberation, in what was already supposed to be a relatively brief trip (which they made longer in the path to total freedom because of their disobedience – a risk for liberation movements today), God almost immediately had to remind them, enshrined as a type of “Bill of Rights” for minorities in their own new nation, that they were to treat minority strangers properly in their own midst as they had wanted to be treated in Egypt as “strangers” (like a form of the Golden Rule), playing on their (hopeful) sense of empathy based upon their suffering, and reminded them of this repeatedly, of which the following are a few examples from the Lord to them:
“Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exod. 22:21)
“Also thou shalt not oppress a stranger: for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exod. 23:9)
God believed the minority stranger, in any society (including modern-day Israel) truly should have equal rights and be seen as native-born (unlike the Trump administration and Republicans fighting birthright citizenship), and even worthy of love rather than distrust and contempt:
“And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him. [But] the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I [am] the LORD your God.” (Lev. 19:33–34)
God says we should emulate Him in looking out for the minority and foreigner “stranger” in our midst:
“He doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment. Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Deut. 10:18–19)
Even those immigrants of historical “bad blood” are to be treated well; this would also apply to a generous watch care over the American Indian, since the European Christians now dominant in America were once “strangers” in his land:
“Thou shalt not abhor an Edomite; for he [is] thy brother: thou shalt not abhor an Egyptian; because thou wast a stranger in his land.” (Deut. 23:7)
Sadly, the once oppressed minority “stranger” Hebrews did not learn from their own experience, and sometimes oppressed others without reason, just like our “wonderful” Puritans we so look up to in many of our churches, who fled persecution from other Christians in England so they could be in a New World of freedom of religion (ironically viewing themselves as “the New Israel” as the elect entering the new “Promised Land”), and then promptly set themselves up as a majority to more severely persecute anyone who challenged them religiously or politically, not only massacring Indian women and children (and making it a religious experience) and the insane, irrational “witch hunts,” but also destroying rival (but peaceful and non-political leadership-seeking) Baptists and Quakers, swinging them from the gallows, along with rogue Puritan pastors who asked too many questions. At various times God would send other neighborhood vandal/pillager/looting groups like the Midianites to teach the Israelites a thing or two, not because the Midianites were any great virtuous nation themselves, but rather to show Israel He was not kidding around.
In one such incident in Israel, 2 Samuel 21 recounts a famine Israel was experiencing in the time of David, and when he inquired of the Lord as to its cause, the Lord told Him it was because of his predecessor King Saul’s attempted genocide of the Gibeonites who were in generations-long servitude to Israel. Again, God’s advocacy of this enslaved people was not because of their inherent virtue, but because of the evil shown upon them by their captors. In fact, the Gibeonites came into that state because they had deceived Joshua and his camp back in Joshua 9, pretending to be a people from afar off rather than Canaanites and therefore subject to eviction or annihilation, and to their regret Joshua’s people did not inquire of the Lord as to the veracity of their story, but did covenant with them to let them stay if they agreed to be forced laborers for the Israelites forever, which God intended for them to honor, even if it was struck under false pretenses. By all appearances the Gibeonites kept their end of the bargain as multi-generational manual laborers for Israel, chopping wood and carrying water, but for some reason the House of Saul sought to exterminate them. Therefore, God brought the eventual judgment upon this evil due to His pursuit of justice for these foreigners, to be invoked at a time when the right ruler would take righteous action. Even though David and his generation was not responsible for the great offense done to this captive people, he took responsibility and let the aggrieved captives set the terms to make it right, which involved the killing of Saul’s male descendants, to end the cycle of violence, and as a result God Himself began to again bless Israel. Would our leaders be so bold as to take such strong action to set right an old offense by our elder generations, or even our recognized religious spokesmen for God, and if we did, would God bless us bountifully again?
As to the “liberation” and “freedom,” and resultant humble nobility that the liberated Israel had in response to their earlier slavery they had experienced previously, before long Israel wanted a powerful king and military that could impress the surrounding nations and to emulate them, over the objections of their God and prophet/leader Samuel, and as expected, it never went well for them. As God warned, their new kings conscripted (or drafted) their sons into standing armies, and they paid high taxes for their defense industry of chariots and for opulent kings’ chambers and edifices for his glory. In other words, they exchanged their bonds of servitude to a foreign power by shackles for an economic servitude to their own kin folk. This was particularly true for the big dreams and ambitions of Solomon, to build the largest empire Israel ever had, at own their expense. After he died, his son Rehoboam took over for his father, and control over the tremendous resources and promise this awe-inspiring empire offered. However, the well-respected Jeroboam of the Northern Tribes wanted some relief for their subjection, just as their Hebrew forbearers had cried out for in Egypt. Here is what went down when the newly proposed king was approached by his people:
“Thy father made our yoke grievous: now therefore make thou the grievous service of thy father, and his heavy yoke which he put upon us, lighter, and we will serve thee….And king Rehoboam consulted with the old men, that stood before Solomon his father while he yet lived, and said, How do ye advise that I may answer this people? And they spake unto him, saying, If thou wilt be a servant unto this people this day, and wilt serve them, and answer them, and speak good words to them, then they will be thy servants for ever. But he forsook the counsel of the old men, which they had given him, and consulted with the young men that were grown up with him, [and] which stood before him:…And the king answered the people roughly, and forsook the old men’s counsel that they gave him; And spake to them after the counsel of the young men, saying, My father made your yoke heavy, and I will add to your yoke: my father [also] chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions….So when all Israel saw that the king hearkened not unto them, the people answered the king, saying, What portion have we in David? neither [have we] inheritance in the son of Jesse: to your tents, O Israel: now see to thine own house, David. So Israel departed unto their tents….So Israel rebelled against the house of David unto this day.” 1 Kings 12: 4, 6-8, 13-14, 16, 19, KJV
This rebellion was not merely an act of defiance to a God-appointed sovereign by a belligerent Jeroboam and his kinsmen. God told Rehoboam not to fight his kinsmen in Israel, because the rebellion itself was an act He had inspired (1 Kings 12:24), and that God had previously already anointed Jeroboam over Israel well beforehand, because their nation had fallen into evil idolatry by way of their succumbing to their riches and corrupt king long before (1 Kings 11:31-39); would this not be possible in what God may be initiating in the streets of America today, and bolstered by the “hard line” its leader is now taking to the desperate and beleaguered people in the streets? Jeroboam was certainly no saint, and in fact installed blasphemous golden calves to worship in Israel, but again, the point with God and His people was not the virtue of the people He was delivering, but the evil of the people from which He was releasing the former from their captivity.
Eventually, as Nebuchadnezzar finally besieged Jerusalem after they refused his yoke that God Himself told them He had placed on them to chastise them, which would not have been bad had they not chosen to rebel anyway, King Zedekiah shut the prophet Jeremiah up in prison, because he had prophesied that this political figure would not prevail against the enemy (Jeremiah 32:1 – 5), and that God’s people as well as the king would be held accountable for their neglect of the land, the oppressed poor and the other commands of their God. Christian minority voices in America today are also similarly treated with contempt for attempting to speak “truth to power” both to their American officials (beholden to big business campaign donors and their later employers) and to their own Christian leaders, particularly when such criticism, even if based in Biblical teachings, run counter to the prideful, patriotic and globally privileged perspectives both power centers hold. God also used this time to address other evils His people had been engaging in – this time, their long-time enslavement subjugation of their own people. In acknowledgement of the practices common before in the ancient world, God permitted the Jews to pay a fellow Jew to obtain their indentured servitude, as a type of slave – probably to pay off financial debts to the slave holder, or a third party, as the only way to make restitution. However, it was not intended to be an indefinite, life-long arrangement; in fact, it was supposed to last no longer than six years, at a point in which the indentured person might resume their freedom and independent life. However, the Jewish society had exploited this provision for their own economic enrichment, and evidently had been denying this writ of freedom to those less fortunate, just like they had denied the land its rest due to their economic greed.
As they stared at their own widespread servitude to Babylon, they evidently could finally see the irony of possessing their own Jewish slaves, and King Zedekiah made a covenant with the people to command the freeing of all Jewish slaves before they were overthrown (Jeremiah 34:8–10). However, after releasing them, they soon realized that they missed the creature comforts of an underclass to meet their every whim as low-cost labor, and soon thereafter rescinded their offer and brought them back under bondage, in defiance of God’s commands, and the covenant they had just agreed upon. In turn, God said (through His prophet Jeremiah) that the people had disobeyed His commands and the covenant made within the Temple, and that “Ye have not hearkened unto me, in proclaiming liberty, every one to his brother, and every man to his neighbor” (Jeremiah 34:17), and thus would experience God’s judgment from Babylon for this crime (ironically, Jeremiah then was famously let down into an empty cistern without water, and he sunk down deep into the mud below, but was rescued from the deep pit by a black (Ethiopian) slave of the king, and in turn God spared the man when the city fell, in reward for his faith (Jeremiah 39:16-18)). This leads one to ask – have the affluent (from a global perspective) Christians in America turned a blind eye to the oppression as well as economic exploitation of the underclasses in their own country? Have they also bemoaned the threat of “illegal aliens” invading their land across the border and sharing in the social services here, yet are more than willing to exploit them for cheap labor to build their homes, and clean and maintain them for a song, often paying them “under the table” to avoid taxes, and taking advantage of their limited options otherwise? In addition to their exploitation (for their economic advantage) of such underclasses domestically, even when such people are their fellow Christians, is the American church (including myself) also complacent about its wealth being built on the backs of underpaid, slave-like workers overseas that produce the products we obtain cheaply to obtain our standard of living?
Its all the more ironic since the American population has always been comprised, since its beginning, of a nation of “strangers,” most of them of lower economic strata and oftentimes persecuted in other lands, seeing this as the “land of opportunity” – at least, when they weren’t brought in shackles (although many have come under “indentured servitude” in the early days as well). All of them – most of our ancestors – made their own “exodus” to this “Promised Land,” yet now many turn a deaf ear to those still wanting a decent chance to make a modest life here too, with at least access to jobs that can sustain a family, and the ability to walk a neighborhood from the grocery in peace, and not wondering if police will follow them and start interrogating, or pull them over because the color of their skin and the suspicion that they “don’t belong” in that neighborhood, or become “the usual suspects” if a car has been stolen or a person assaulted in the neighborhood, or just the object of nosy neighbors who call 911 because they feel “threatened” by their presence.
Frederick Douglass may be arguably the most famous voice of abolitionism. He was a slave who ingeniously forged some passage papers to flee his slave owner, who had beaten him vigorously, by train to New York, and rather than use his talent for writing, speech and oratory to quietly find a cozy practice in one of the more-progressive American communities, he rather tirelessly wrote, spoke and campaigned for the rights of the black community and to end slavery in his old Southern homeland, and for civil rights for women and Asians, often being physically assaulted during his speeches, with one attack permanently ruining full use of one hand. History has shown him to probably be the most eloquent spokesman for human rights, possibly superseding King and Gandhi. A very dignified and articulate writer and speaker, when he was forced to sit in the cargo section of a train as a full-paying customer due to his skin color, and consoled by other riders for his “degradation”, it led him to reply that “I am not the one that is being degraded on account of this treatment, but those who are inflicting it upon me.” A wanted man in the South until after the war, he afterwards made cordial acquaintance with a member of the Auld family that had enslaved him, and who had had a change of heart. This led to him being able to reunite with his former slave master, Thomas Auld, on his deathbed, with both men leaving in tears. It has been said that “Thomas was a cruel master, starving and beating his enslaved workers and breaking up their attempts to worship, read and write. He leased Douglass out to other masters who attempted to break his independent spirit with physical and emotional abuse.” He had told the world how his former master had sought to recapture him with bounty hunters, but in 1848 wrote an open letter to Thomas Auld, writing that “I intend to make use of you as a weapon with which to assail the system of slavery,” but that “I entertain no malice toward you personally…There is no roof under which you would be more safe than mine, and there is nothing in my house which you might need for your comfort, which I would not readily grant…I am your fellow-man, but not your slave.” During their meeting, Auld said he would have run away too had he been in Douglass’ shoes, and in turn Douglass apologized for blaming Auld for mistreating his grandmother.
In 1858, radical white abolitionist John Brown stayed with Douglass, having met him previously at an abolitionist church meeting in 1847 and talked with him. Shortly thereafter, Brown led his fateful raid on Harper’s Ferry, and was the first American ever executed for treason, for the five men who died during his operation and for trying to cause a slave insurrection. His cause was hailed by Ralph Waldo Emerson, and European author Victor Hugo (author of Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame) appealed in vain in the international press for Brown’s pardon. Brown’s last words were, “I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood” – we know these words were realized a mere two years later, but will they be realized again? Douglass was to say of Brown, “His zeal in the cause of freedom was infinitely superior to mine. Mine was as the taper light, his was as the burning sun. Mine was bounded by time. His stretched away to the silent shores of eternity. I could speak for the slave. John Brown could fight for the slave. I could live for the slave. John Brown could die for the slave.”
Douglas was asked to speak on the 4th of July – a celebration going on as I write this – which is centered on America’s pride in its own greatness, purity, magnificence and as an international example and beacon of freedom, human rights and Christian righteousness, in 1952 in Rochester, NY with the address, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” It includes the following statements (and as you read it, think about what a modern black man, worried about police tailing him or pulling him over without cause (just because of his race), or police brutality or discrimination, thinks about our celebrations today – and the consistent observations from black commentators over the years, from Douglass to King to Malcolm X to Cornel West and other civil rights leaders today):
“The 4th of July is the first great fact in your nation’s history…Pride and patriotism, not less than gratitude, prompt you to celebrate and to hold it in perpetual remembrance. I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the ring-bolt to the chain of your nation’s destiny; so, indeed, I regard it. The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles…This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony….Standing, there, identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this 4th of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the constitution and the Bible, which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery — the great sin and shame of America! “I will not equivocate; I will not excuse;” I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgement is not blinded by prejudice, or who is not at heart a slaveholder, shall not confess to be right and just…At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.”
“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour. You profess to believe “that, of one blood, God made all nations of men to dwell on the face of all the earth,” and hath commanded all men, everywhere to love one another; yet you notoriously hate, (and glory in your hatred), all men whose skins are not colored like your own. You declare, before the world, and are understood by the world to declare, that you “hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal; and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; and that, among these are, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;” and yet, you hold securely, in a bondage which, according to your own Thomas Jefferson, ‘is worse than ages of that which your fathers rose in rebellion to oppose,’ a seventh part of the inhabitants of your country.”
Douglass said a number of other interesting things:
“I dwell mostly upon the religious aspects, because I believe it is the religious people who are to be relied upon in this Anti-Slavery movement. Do not misunderstand my railing—do not class me with those who despise religion—do not identify me with the infidel. I love the religion of Christianity—which cometh from above—which is a pure, peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of good fruits, and without hypocrisy. I love that religion which sends its votaries to bind up the wounds of those who have fallen among thieves. By all the love I bear such a Christianity as this, I hate that of the Priest and the Levite, that with long-faced Phariseeism goes up to Jerusalem to worship and leaves the bruised and wounded to die. I despise that religion which can carry Bibles to the heathen on the other side of the globe and withhold them from the heathen on this side—which can talk about human rights yonder and traffic in human flesh here…. I love that which makes its votaries do to others as they would that others should do to them. I hope to see a revival of it…”
“I deny and utterly scout the idea, that there is now, properly speaking, any such thing as a negro problem before the American people. It is not the negro, educated or illiterate, intelligent or ignorant, who is on trial, or whose qualities are giving trouble to the nation… The real question, the all-commanding question, is whether American justice, American liberty, American civilization, American law, and American Christianity can be made to include and protect, alike and forever, all American citizens… It is whether this great nation shall conquer its prejudices, rise to the dignity of its professions, and proceed in the sublime course of truth and liberty marked out for itself during the late war, or shall swing back to its ancient moorings of slavery and barbarism.”
“One thing which they ought to do, in order to hold their own against this enemy, is to give up cultivating what they call ‘race pride’, a sentiment too much like that which is ‘the lion in the way’ of our progress… Do we not know that every argument we make, and every pretension we set up in favor of race pride, is giving the enemy a stick to break our own heads?…You will, perhaps, think this criticism uncalled for. My answer is that truth is never uncalled for…In some of our colored public journals I have seen myself charged with a lack of race pride. I am not ashamed of that charge. I have no apology or vindication to offer. If fifty years of uncompromising devotion to the cause of the colored man in this country does not vindicate me, I am content to live without vindication. While I have no more reason to be proud of one race than another, I dare to say, and I fear no contradiction, that there is no other man in the United States prouder than myself of any great achievement, mental or mechanical, of which any colored man or woman is the author. This not because I am a colored man, but because I am a man.”
“The ice under us in this country is very thin, and is made very weak by the warm fogs of prejudice…Our policy should be to unite with the great mass of the American people in all their activities, and resolve to fall or flourish with our common country. We cannot afford to draw the color-line in politics, trade, education, manners, religion, fashion, or civilization. Especially we cannot afford to draw the color-line in politics. No folly could be greater. A party acting on that basis would be not merely a misfortune, but a dire calamity to our people.”
“It is not only the plain duty, but also the interest of us all, to have every colored man take the place for which he is best fitted by education, character, ability, manners, and culture. If others insist on keeping him in any lower and poorer place, it is not only his injury, but our universal loss. Yet which of our white congregations would take a colored pastor? How many of our New England villages would like to have colored postmasters, or doctors, or lawyers, or teachers in the public schools? A very slight difference in complexion suffices to keep a young man from getting a place as policeman, or fireman, or conductor, even on the horse cars. The trades-unions are closed against him, and so are many of our stores; while those which admit him are obliged to refuse him promotion on account of the unwillingness of white men to serve under him.”
“Slavery has left behind it a spirit that still delights in human blood. Outrage, murder, and assassination are the inheritance of the freed men and women of the South. Neither our government nor our civilization seems able to stop the flow of blood. As in the time of slavery, the Church is silent.“
“I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ; I therefore hate the corrupt, slave-holding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land.”
“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 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.”
“I make no pretension to patriotism. So long as my voice can be heard on this or the other side of the Atlantic, I will hold up America to the lightning scorn of moral indignation. In doing this, I shall feel myself discharging the duty of a true patriot; for he is a lover of his country who rebukes and does not excuse its sins. It is righteousness that exalteth a nation while sin is a reproach to any people.”
“Since the light of God’s truth beamed upon my mind, I have become a friend of that religion which teaches us to pray for our enemies — which, instead of shooting balls into their hearts, loves them. I would not hurt a hair of a slaveholder’s head.”
“I assert most unhesitatingly, that the religion of the South — as I have observed it and proved it — 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 abominations fester and flourish. Were I again to be reduced to the condition of a slave, next to that calamity, I should regard the fact of being the slave of a religious slaveholder, the greatest that could befall me.”
“Any other race, with the same antecedents and the same conditions, would show a similar thieving propensity. The American people have this lesson to learn, that where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob, and degrade them, neither persons nor property would be safe.”
“As I have often said before, we should not measure the negro from the heights which the white race has attained, but from the depths from which he has come.”
In my own beloved state of my upbringing, Kentucky, they did not officially abolish slavery by their legislature until 1976. You read it right – just in time for our nation’s bicentennial, when I was a twelve-year-old. that’s when the legislature finally was able to round up enough votes to ratify the 13th amendment to the Constitution, which outlawed slavery. Pam Gersh is a Louisville resident, not long ago wrote the following about Kentucky’s history with slavery, and the statues of the men who defended it who are memorialized in its state capitol even today:
“Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin [Editor’s Note: Governor Bevin sent his children to the same Christian school in Kentucky that I attended. M.B.] was for the removal of Confederate statues before he was against it. While campaigning, he said ‘It is important to never forget our history, but parts of our history are more appropriately displayed in museums, not on government property.’ After he became governor, he changed his tune, saying ‘I think it is a very dangerous precedent to pretend that your history is not your history. That doesn’t mean you have to embrace it. It doesn’t mean you agree with it or even like it. But to pretend it does not exist, to remove it from the landscape of discussion and the ability to learn from (it) is a very dangerous proposition.'”
“There is a lot of irony in Governor Bevin’s belief that the ‘sanitization of history,’ as he likes to call it, makes us pretend that our history is not our history. The sanitization he mentions started with the very Confederate statues that are now the subject of so much controversy. They are certainly symbols: they are symbols of an insurrection to overthrow our government, led by men who were traitors, and they are symbols of 200-plus years of hate, racism, murder, segregation, disenfranchisement, and discriminatory laws that made it nearly impossible for black Americans to live the ‘American dream.'”
“The 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery, was ratified by the required three-fourths of the states in 1865. But, Kentucky was not one of those states. In fact, it was not until 1976 that the Kentucky legislature ratified the 13th Amendment. That’s right: Kentucky did not officially agree to outlaw slavery until 111 years after the 13th Amendment prohibiting involuntary servitude became the law of the land.” [emphasis added]
“A History of Racism in Kentucky”
“In 1830, thirty years before the Civil War began, slaves made up around 24 percent of the population in Kentucky. Approximately 28 percent of white families owned five or fewer slaves. In 1860, Kentucky had 225,000 slaves living in the corridor between Louisville and Lexington, and primarily working on hemp and tobacco farms. At the start of the Civil War, President Lincoln had hoped to encourage border states like Kentucky to end slavery voluntarily. He tried several times to get Kentucky to adopt a plan of compensated emancipation: if an owner gave up a slave, he would get $400 from the federal government for each slave freed. When this didn’t work, Lincoln declared slaves free only in those areas controlled by the Confederacy in the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. And although most Kentuckians served in the Union, they revolted in protest, believing that a state had the right to deal with slavery as a matter of state’s rights. Ironically, Brutus Clay, a U.S. representative from Bourbon County, an anti-abolitionist (unlike his brother, Cassius Marcellus Clay), made an impassioned speech against the Emancipation Proclamation stating, ‘If you take away from a man that which he considers to be justly his own, you make him desperate, and he will retaliate against you. You can never by oppression make a man obey willingly the laws of his country. Act justly toward him, let him see he has a government which will protect him and he will love that government. But oppress him and rob him, and he will despise and hate you.’ Again, ironically, he was talking about ‘a man’s’ right to own slaves. It didn’t occur to him that this is exactly how slaves felt toward their own country for enslaving them, and the very reason for the Civil War.”
“Brutus Clay didn’t vote for the ratification of the 13th Amendment when it passed the U.S. House of Representatives in January 1865. The next month, the Kentucky legislature voted to reject it by a 56-18 vote in the State House and a 23-10 vote in the State Senate. After the Civil War, things didn’t improve much for freed slaves in Kentucky. A visitor traveling through the South commented that Louisville was ‘the only place on the trip where (former) slaves waited on him.’ This was also the period when the first wave of the Ku Klux Klan rose to power along with state militias and paramilitary groups. They were formed to vandalize and destroy property, and to intimidate and physically attack and assassinate black citizens. Lynchings were the preferred way to kill black men and women. During Reconstruction and up until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, black citizens were also disenfranchised and not allowed to vote through a series of laws that required them to pass literacy tests, pay poll taxes, or own property. There was also the ‘grandfather clause.’ This law prevented you from voting if your grandfather hadn’t voted, meaning black citizens couldn’t vote but illiterate whites could. Remember, women didn’t win the vote until 1920, so these laws only applied to black men. As a result, by the early 1900’s, black citizens were virtually eliminated from voting, even though most Southern states had majority black populations. Ten of the eleven Southern states also rewrote their state constitutions to make sure these voting laws were enforceable. The Supreme Court of the United States upheld these laws in court case after court case. And because black Southerners were not listed on local voter rolls, they were automatically excluded from serving in local courts. Juries in the South were all white. As a result, by the turn of the century, less than one percent of black citizens in the Deep South were registered to vote. For instance, in North Carolina, even though there were 630,207 black citizens in the state, not one of them (zero) could vote in that year’s elections. The same thing happened in Louisiana, South Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Arkansas.”
“From the early 1900’s to the 1960’s, thousands of cheaply made Confederate statues were erected all over the country, most financed privately by the Daughters of the American Revolution, and placed on public lands. The statues were put up long after the Civil War, mostly during the Jim Crow era, when violence against black Americans was at an all-time high. This was also the period that the second wave of the KKK came to power, and segregation of schools, housing, and every other area of black lives was sanctioned by the government. So while black Americans were legally not slaves, they were held captive to oppressive laws that led to their being hanged, beaten, and treated as second-class citizens. The statues were meant to serve as a place marker for them, to let them not forget that they were still inferior to the white man.”
“Today, front and center in the Capitol Rotunda in Frankfort, stands a 15-foot marble statue of Jefferson Davis, a man who was a member of the U.S. House and Senate, before he left to become president of the Confederacy. The calls for removal of the statue were answered by only a proposed change to the plaque on his statute, to take away the section that reads “PATRIOT – HERO – STATESMAN.” As of today, no change has been made because of “legal” issues. The statute of Davis shares space with statues of three other Kentuckians: President Abraham Lincoln; Henry Clay, the longest-serving speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in the 19th century, and once Secretary of State; and Alben Barkley, without argument Kentucky’s greatest statesman to date, having served as a U.S. Representative, a Senator, and Vice President of the United States.” (emphasis added)
“Matt Bevin is right: we must learn from our history. We must learn that these statues not only commemorate an insurrection lead by American citizens against their own government, but that they also symbolize 200 years of systemic racism and oppression against black Americans. This history remains with us, as America continues to struggle with deep racism. Today, 153 years after the end of the Civil War, we have a president who aligns himself with white supremacy groups, and black men are imprisoned at higher rates than any other race in a privatized federal prison system that is incentivized to arrest as many people as possible. In a recent study in Boston, it was found that the average net worth of a black family was $8, while the average worth of a white family there of $250,000. This is not an accident. This is the long-term consequence of what these statues stand for: the destructive force of systemic racism. There is no honor in the repression of other human beings in any form, and it should never be recognized or celebrated. The men who fought against their own country to enslave their fellow citizens shouldn’t be held up as heroes in the public square…or in the state capitol building.”
As a side note, the Ku Klux Klan outside Louisville apparently burned down a newly built church in which my brother served, in the early 1980s, after an African American couple began to attend, after “fair warning” was given in a business meeting by a parishioner known to be Klan-affiliated – within days of the warning. The fire department officials found evidence of gasoline accelerants poured down the aisles of the church as a clear case of arson.
The erection of a statue – any statue – is in essence an expression of the opinions about a so-recognized person by the people who erect it, be they the state, individuals or special interest groups, but rarely are they voted on. The expression of a person memorialized in a statue, as opposed to a mere biography, textbook or historical exhibit, is veneration – admiring what that person stands for. As I always say, “An opinion says as much about the opiner, as it does its subject.” Thus, the statue, and the person it represents and their thoughts and deeds, reflects back on the people who erected it and their own values, as well as those who let it stay erected, particularly if it resides on lands that represent the general public and is supported with their tax dollars. For example, the statues of these figures well-known for defending or fighting to protect slavery, suggests the cavalier or even silently and slightly-repressed sympathetic views these statues’ supporters (including many Christians) have of the “good old days,” when blacks “knew their place.” Even for those statues exhibited near public thoroughfares but on non-public lands, think of it this way: would people stand for statues of Adolf Hitler in their communities, particularly if erected in the vicinity of communities of Holocaust survivors, or even if it was just merely the image of officer Heinrich Himmler, or even the commandants of their concentration camp? What about statues of the great General Custer near Indian reservations? Or statues of Nero in majority-Christian cities, extolling his control of Rome, and paid for by European pagans? In these cases, would the choice of these figures in sculpted form, placed within the regular eyesight of those they oppressed, be seen as a form of “hate speech,” just like a Nazi flag flying before those they destroyed? How long do you think these statues would stay aloft in our cities, and who would grieve over their loss?
Should we as a culture be more selective in who we choose to venerate in such ways? Should we just make it a general agreement to severely limit those we choose to venerate in such god-like fashion anyway, and in particular those with particular clouds that overshadow some of their noteworthy deeds? Does their presence wallpaper over the fact that most figures, and human beings, are a mixture of confusion, darkness and nobility, and are best treated more holistically and objectively (and sometimes sympathetically, when considering their era and culture) in a well-written biography and textbook, rather than a graven image? If we feel compelled to venerate some of our human race as role models of our best examples, why don’t we see more statues of those whose reputations over the centuries of history and time have shown to truly be visionary and devoid of such major clouds of darkness, like a Roger Williams, founder of the “separation of church and state,” the first Baptist Church, the State of Rhode Island, opponent of slavery, and advocate for the Indian and freedom of conscience in religion? In final consideration of what a nation’s statues say about a person, and its society, we will close with a what the Greek philosopher Plutarch wrote concerning a quote from the Roman statesman Cato the Elder, in his biography Parallel Lives, which would be good for all who desire such statue commemoration to consider, and the rationale for the origins and retainment of the controversial statues today:
“I would much rather have men ask why I have no statue, than why I have one.”
Seneca the Younger was a Roman philosopher and statesman and a contemporary to Jesus and Paul. In fact, many of the early Church Fathers (such as Tertullian) right up through the Medieval Ages (including Jerome and Augustine) saw Seneca himself as a “Christian writer,” including an apocryphal correspondence between Seneca and Paul the Apostle they cited. Seneca the Younger was called in to Rome to tutor heir apparent and new emperor Nero, as a scholarly, experienced statesman tasked with taking a volatile, self-absorbed and immature new head of state and preventing him from destroying the global state, including trying to assure the public that Nero’s conspiratorial ruin of others would be limited and short-lived, and justified and covered for Nero’s backroom destruction of his political predecessors to the Senate, fighting other Senators over their mutual financial enrichment and lucrative personal state loans, and was (likely innocently) then accused of betraying the head of state, leading to his own ruin – a sad, chaotic chapter that certainly we would never see the likes of in the recent years of our own political experiences.
In 65 AD, near the end of his life this Seneca the Younger wrote his “Moral Letters to Lucilius,” which included his “Letter 47 – On Master and Slave,” in which he quoted an earlier aphorism from Cato the Elder in his work Origins, in which Cato stated,
“You have as many enemies as you have slaves.”
To which Seneca added,
“They are not enemies when we acquire them; we make them enemies.”
The establishment today may be in power and hold the reins of political and economic power, which is really what “conservatism” is all about – conserving the traditional order of the “haves” versus the “have nots,” and who has a seat at the table that runs society, and shares in its wealth and benefits. However, all aristocratic communities within the powers of the world have always known, what European-based Caucasians are feeling now in Europe and the United States – that the numbers of the underclasses and “stranger” immigrant classes are growing every day, while the old guard powers of European whites are having lower birth rates and aging, and the number differential will one day (maybe soon) be untenable. Donald Trump and his allies in the Alt Right and white supremacists both in the U.S. and Europe, allied with Vladimir Putin and his spiritual advisor Alexandyr Dugin, as well as our own Religious Right, considers the solution to be stopping all immigration, and mowing them down at the nation’s border if we must, colonizing them elsewhere to control them, ghettoize them (as works in Palestine, South Africa (in the old days), the Indian reservation or the old Jewish ghettos, letting malnutrition and disease or sponsored civil wars take their course), or even eugenics-inspired sterilization, with novels that serve as “operational manuals” on such being popular in Alt Right circles, including the Turner Diaries. One day, however, the subjugators are going to run out of bullets, just like Doctor Moreau who controlled the “man beasts” with his gun, whip and the “house of pain,” and they dream (in their nightmares) of being overrun. One alternative would be to help find chairs for them at the table of shared responsibility and benefit over the broader society, and even promote practical solutions like promoting interracial marriages to help a slow-witted and sluggish society become “color blind,” since the Church has done a poor job of selling the principle by mere spiritual and philosophical arguments. However, the sharing of the authority and profits from society will likely not be given up willingly, and the temporary unsettling impacts on a generation or more of people. Therefore, they likely, like doomed civilizations before them, decide to tighten their grip on power like ancient Egypt and Rome, and even further tangibly differentiate themselves in their public persona from the “beastly” lower classes that riot in the streets, loot and set fire to buildings. Although they probably will not, they would be wise to listen to the warnings of Seneca the Younger in his book, On Clemency, in which he wrote:
“A proposal was once made in the Senate to distinguish slaves from free men by their dress: it was then discovered how dangerous it would be for our slaves to be able to count our numbers.”
I had originally intended to end this post with the preceding poignant comment, but I did not want to disappoint my critics by not concluding with an explicit, “pinned on the nose” simple recommendation of advice, the simplicity and obviousness of which may insult the intelligence of the other mature readers, but as a help for those less-perceptive critics whose limited skills of introspection may limit their means to properly digest the lessons, implications and mandates derived from the preceding discourse. Thus, to make such a directive as simple as possible, I close with the down-to-earth words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, and I implore the reader to consider its applicability to our Christian culture and its surrounding society here in America, and the legacy and future of the Christian witness here.
To put it into the perspective I suggest as to its relevance to us, I would remind the reader that the American Christian community, and in particular its Religious Right component which dominates the social discourse and public profile, has long been known nationally and worldwide for its prolific and widespread public displays of piety, Christian devotion, pronouncements of righteous denunciation of those outside its ranks, and political and cultural intervention to make all of American society to reflect its religious expression, even if in a generic “civil religion” manner, and has been expressed in its old-time traveling revivals, national crusades, religious television, para-church and political “pro-family” organizations, and sacred acts with government officials and key political and civil events.
While it has been prolific and ubiquitous in this role, it has often had its own “skeletons in its closet” and things “swept under the rug” and not dealt with, beyond the widespread corruption and hypocrisy among its leaders, in particular its disregard, feigned ignorance or blatant crusades to persecute those outside its ranks, or even those who question within their own circles, over the entire American era, known by all but ignored by its own. These range from the Puritan persecutions, witch hunts, massacres and executions of “non-elect “outsiders” like the Pequots and other Indians (and other “heathen” like the Baptists and Quakers who swung from their gallows), their top leaders like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield and others who strongly promoted slavery, churches who welcomed Ku Klux Klan groups nationwide in their Sunday services for promotion drives, or the similar “patriotic” groups who came in their wake, or welcomed eugenics sterilization of lower IQ community members in their churches, the hostility towards civil rights movements and young people who rightfully raised questions about the motives of the Vietnam War, the desperate poor who found themselves demonized by much of the church who opposed their New Deal jobs and other assistance (including health care for poor pregnant mothers), and the list goes on and on. In the wake of several hundred years, it has left a long line of victims and enemies, who haven’t forgotten, even though the Church has. Some of them have filled our streets in recent days, like they had in the 1960s and the days of Rodney King, and now they see the high-profile Christian leaders largely standing against them too, and against their calls to lessen racial targeting and brutality by law enforcement. While they ignore or figuratively curse these brethren in contempt, they meanwhile reinforce their public religious events to “bring America back to God,” with armed law enforcement and military “heroes” front and center, and many armed in the audience.
They do not recognize that a day of reckoning is coming, and maybe not by who they think from whom it is coming. It may be this year, or years down the road, that the forces of the lower-income “outsiders” of various ethnicities and economic strata, although limited by economics and lack of political and financial power, will grow to a level, and so desperate, that a singular trigger event, like the Egyptian law enforcement official beating an underclass Hebrew, will set in a moment a chain of events that may not be ultimately led by the oppressed classes, but rather by God. These people in our society may have as many hangups and be as undeserving of deliverance as the Hebrews are, but as I’ve pointed out, God’s final rendering of judgment on an oppressive nation and culture is not predicated on the righteousness of the oppressed, but rather by the wickedness of the oppressor.
Therefore, Jesus had some excellent timeless advice for those who seek to carry on their public displays of God-impressing piety, while having a cloud of injustice to their brother that is front and center in heaven as it is to the offended, and it applies to a nation and culture as much as it does to an individual. It is a practical suggestion to resolve such injustices honestly and humbly as a priority over the piestic public displays of “God-centered” religious worship focus, and the longer the delay, the greater the cost, and riskier the consequences. It suggests that if one waits too long, the “judge” will intervene, be it the masses in the public, a righteous judiciary process, or worst, of all, a “final rendering” by the Judge at the Great White Throne, with God’s judgment on earth, or in the eternal heavens the most fearful, final and irredeemable of all. It would behoove those God-fearing individuals and cultures to admit wrongdoing and “settle out of court,” the earlier the better to reduce the pain, and before its too late, and the “final reparations” and legal penalties are to be paid. As Jesus laconically explained it,
“Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.” Matt. 5:23-26 KJV
ADDENDUM: I have had some perpetual critics on this blog (actually, less than a handful at various times), in their desperate attempt to overlook the substantial reinforcing and evidentiary data and highlighted links I provide in my lengthy posts (along with some commentary), none of which they comment on, but who say not only that I provide no evidence as to my claims in my posts, and that I also only self-righteously assert that there are (non-existent, in their view) “problems” in our American church culture (or its most high profile embodiments) without offering any remedies, as well as that I don’t focus my criticisms on the godless “liberals.”
To these well-worn, years-long baseless charges, I first retort that the reference data I usually provide and/or links throughout my posts, which attempt to be notable in content and frequency but certainly not of the evidentiary level I provide in my books, are rife with supporting data if one follows the instances cited in them and persons involved, as well as the hotlinks I hunt down, but as to any “gaps” in data references of specific events of concepts, I assume the average reader will already be aware of or accept the commonly known facts, or a person with actual sincere motives and the least concern for getting to the truth can easily Google credible academic and other unimpeachable sources to verify my claims. At the very minimum, my broad observations and opinions beyond the facts presented, to put them in a proposed context, are supplemented by decades of countless hours reading works, news reports and watching the “word on the street” via Christian and conservative email newsletters, web sites, podcasts and other means of hearing a broader consensus of views, to which anyone with a similar commitment to observe such sources over years to ascertain what is happening within our culture would recognize. Also, my common mention and acknowledgment of exceptions to these general observations usually go unheeded by critics. This blog site is a side light to my primary mission of book writing, on which I focus most of my research and documentation, and I post here only when feeling so burdened that I need to distract myself from that important work and I need to say something more urgently, although it will usually result in knee jerk responses from the usual suspects among the “armchair quarterbacks,” along with valid, thoughtful critiques of merit that show my blind spots or additional data to consider that I can use constructively to refine my perspective.
On the matter that I do not focus my time and efforts on blasting “liberals” (the latter usually meant as a broad term for those who respect those who are different, or show empathy for minorities of every stripe who have had a different experience and walk and have some worthy perspectives even amongst their own shortcomings, or just those whose attitudes are humble and are dictated by the Golden Rule), I will repeat what I have said countless times (and I excuse newer readers not familiar with it), which is something we all know, that Christian media (as well as the bulk of talk radio and cable news) is a massive industry focused on decrying the “liberals” non-stop (as judged by my television, radio and email basket I observe daily), and as my current book series shows, has been well-funded since the time of the New Deal by huge sums of investments from Fortune 500 companies, since the message of these well-funded Christian outlets matches the corporate profit agendas of their shareholders. It is evidenced by the fact that most conservative Christians I know argue their positions on public issues from the talking points just heard on talk radio and cable news or specific national Christian ministries, and not the words of Jesus or the saints in scripture; this phenomena is the sheer by-product of public-relations messaging saturation (which is why we all hum the jingles of commercials we hate, but hear all the time). Thus, I see no need to take my no-budget individual operation (albeit operating around the clock, seven days a week) to provide them additional free PR support for their selfish agenda; they are doing just fine with their hundreds of millions in media investments (much of it in Christian media) just fine, and there needs to be some “voices crying out in the wilderness,” on behalf of the anawim, or the “lost and forgotten ones.” If you want to hear a pro-pride, anti-stranger, pro-Big Business and pro-aristocrat message, I would just direct you to your local national Christian ministry show or site, or talk news radio channel – they can do it with a much straighter poker face than I can, and the have much nicer sets and wear better clothes.
On the matter of offering “no remedies,” for such critics that argue that, I am still waiting on them to acknowledge the problems itself, for without that the proffering of solutions is meaningless. When the Pharisees tried to bait Jesus with questions about what He was about and His agenda, He would ask them a straight question about the historical state of affairs, such as the contemporary message of John and its origins, and when they would not commit to an honest answer, He saw no need (or constructive end) to disclose to them further. Having said all that, I often suggest proposed changes in our mindsets that are usually ignored. In my books, I devote page after page to specific, simple direct actions we can take to make our personal and Church-wide witness more authentic, effective and more fruit-bearing (in terms of “soul winning” and other expansions of the Kingdom of God) than our current adrift state in America. Even in all my public presentations at meetings, I always close with slides with a bullet-point list of specific conclusions and action items (drilled in my head from my days working alongside the military and Defense Department). Having said all that, such “pinning it on the nose” operations for less-perceptive people is a wasted allocation of time spent on people who do not have “ears to hear” to constructively consider challenging information (even if they partially disagree), and no intentions of considering the merits of the problem proposed, much less its remedies. For even the simplest of people but of sincere hearts and motives, it would be apparent that the distressing information I often share in this blog or my interviews and books would lead them to obvious actions to remedy our legacy and current public attitudes and actions, which is not really “rocket science” in terms of changing our ways but requires an open heart, but the first step is to first admit we have had problems, admit our responsibility for it (including our own Christian or local culture), and repent of it as a spiritual shortcoming, and humbly seek ways to be more effective lovers of others, and witnesses of Christ. This is what I am trying to do in my own life via these blog posts and books, thinking out loud in all its limitations, and I am seeking other kindred spirits “pricked in the heart” (or still able to be so reached), so we can learn from each other, and from Jesus.
I said all this, not to blow off steam or express some sour grapes, but rather to let newer readers of this blog know of our collective experiences over time with some of these commenters and their baseless assertions, and so you can know what is really going on, and so I don’t have to repeat them with every post.
SECOND ADDENDUM: I forgot to mention it in my last blog post, but my new book, Two Masters and Two Gospels, Vol. 1 – The Teaching of Jesus Vs. the “Leaven of the Pharisees” in Talk Radio and Cable News, is available in paperback and Kindle ebook here at Amazon, in paperback, Nook .epub ebook and even two types of hardcover at Barnes and Noble, in ebook via Kobo/Walmart and paperback and ebook at Books A Million, and many other places; I also offer a special deal for ebook readers at the Two Masters site at Bookbaby (available here), which provides Kindle, epub and pdf versions together for one price, and if you leave your email there for my mailing list, I will additionally send you a special short work I have done, just for you. You can also catch a few of my recent interviews on my book at Conspirinormal, Iron Show, Binnall of America, Ryan O’Neal’s WQEE Classic Rock, Pastor Mike Spaulding’s Soaring Eagle Radio and Derek Gilbert’s View From the Bunker.
The website that chronicles and makes announcements about my books is www.mikebennettbooks.com.
My publisher website is www.akribospress.com.