A Lesson From Black History January 21, 2019
Greetings, my brothers and sisters. Happy Martin Luther King Day. A lesson from black history. After Frederick Douglass escaped from slavery, he became a national leader of the abolitionist movement, gaining notoriety for his oratory and incisive antislavery writings.
On July 5, 1852, he delivered what became his most famous speech. It eventually became known as "What to the Slave / the Negro ... is the Fourth of July?" One biographer called it "perhaps the greatest antislavery oration ever given."
Douglass understood why July 4th was a day to celebrate for all free Americans . . .
whose people had lived under the control of tyranny, who had bravely fought for freedom against incredible odds, and who had created a brilliant democratic republic.
But Douglass acknowledged July 4th meant none of that to him, nor to thousands of his brothers and sisters. For they experienced no freedom to celebrate. What free Americans fought so hard to gain ... was now his desire for all. Yet at every turn, this freedom was blocked.
"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 shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery;
your sermons and prayers and hymns,
mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy."
In scathing words, Douglass challenged politicians to read the documents on which our country was founded ... to find any justification for slavery ... or for all human beings not to live free.
His words to the Christian church, to its clergy and people were even more striking. He showcased the hypocrisy of their living. Once again, he challenged any person who claimed the name of Christ to justify the words of Scripture ... to the life they were living.
Finally, Douglass even challenged his fellow abolitionists, who sat comfortably in their correct theology and reasoning, but who did very little. Doing little to challenge the accepted religious and political thinking of their day.
As a "white, sixty-five-year-old male," I don't have to think much about race. I don't have to. But I wonder, are there those around me whose experience of freedom is less than mine? Might I be like those in Douglass' audience? I feel the right things. I believe the right things.
But I do ... very little. What would Jesus say?