A Light in American History

  History is far from boring.   I’ve been reading through Noel Rae’s Great Stain and Catherine Clinton’s Harriet Tubman, and am spellbound by the characters and stories of our history.  No contemporary entertainment comes close to competing with the stories of real people in history.  As Sherlock told us, “truth is stranger than fiction,” and reality exposes the cracks and fissures in glossy ideological paradigms.  
    History defies the ideological cliches of the Right and Left, and puts to shame the shallow, binary thinking to which both have gravitated.  America’s history is undeniably sordid and dark, with its churches often taking the lead in defying the just requirements of the Law.  The Fugitive Slave Act, a stiff-necked defiance against Deuteronomy 23:15-16, stands as a testament against any assertion that our nation is descriptively Christian. The Scripture explicitly acknowledges and condemns unjust laws (Isaiah 10), and allows for resistance against unjust rulers (Exodus 1-2, Joshua 2).    As for the prescriptive statement that America “should be a nation founded on Biblical justice,” the Torah’s governance over all mankind clearly stands unbreakable before and superior to all man’s political subterfuge. Thus could Frederick Douglas say, “The man who is right is a majority. He who has God and conscience on his side, has a majority against the universe.” And thus have reformers in the past courageously fought for the justice they saw in the Torah. They understood that God’s holiness is revealed by justice (Isaiah 5:16).
    Standing out in relief against a massive, dark backdrop, a remnant of people have shone brightly in relief, and given light to us despite being “the weak and despised things of this world.” For those with eyes to see, such men and women have been raised up precisely because they were weak and despised, to expose the folly of those who say they are wise, and the weakness of those who say they are strong. 
    Such are those who peopled America’s VC and SS, or “Vigilance Committees” and “Slave Stealers,”  men and women, “black” and “white,” who risked their lives to transport and protect fugitive slaves in accordance with the clear and undeniable command of the Torah.  Harriet Tubman, a fugitive herself with a $12,000 bounty on her head, is certainly the most intrepid of the famous “abductors” (those who ventured into slave states to guide or ferry fugitive slaves out), but there are many others, the most intrepid of which were  Jonathan Walker, John Fairfield, Charles Torrey, and Calvin Fairbank. Of course, these were all reliant on clandestine contacts in the South that included a courageous mixture of free “black” and independent “white” (especially Methodist and Quaker) persons who provided shelter, food, transportation, or funding.

The entire UGRR, much of it lost to recorded history because of the need for secrecy, consisted of inter-racial cooperation that did not lack for “white males” such as Thomas Garrett, Daniel Gibbons, John Rankin, Levi Coffin, and John Brown. “White” women were not absent from the fight, either: Laura Haviland, Graceanna Lewis, and Elizabeth Buffum Chace were key members of the UGRR. Therefore, the assertion that we are unavoidably and historically divided along shallow lines of color, gender, or even wealth is a gloss over history and humanity, a failure to judge each man or woman on their words and deeds. Such a gloss is not only dishonest, but is rooted in the same bloodline-focused thinking that spawned scientific racism and its horrific fruits: modern slavery and modern genocide.

Good and evil cut not across colors, gender, and creeds, for they are a matter of the heart’s inclination to embrace or mock at what is good and just. “You shall know them by their fruit,” not by the color of their skin. If Miriam, sister and first savior of Moses, did not escape chastisement for her remarks about Zipporah (Moses’ third savior), how will anyone else escape the God who “pays a man back to His face?”

   Just as character cuts across categories, so do categories blind us to character. Slanted paradigms of the present blind us to heroes of the past. Postmodern squeamishness over use-of-force, like the Victorian squeamishness over sexuality that Foucault fascinated himself with, blinds us to those whose convictions led them to take decisive action. If Tubman is likened to Moses, John Brown and Nat Turner may be likened to a young Moses or a Jehu, both of whom used force to resist murderous oppression, and neither of whom are presented by Scripture as condemned for their action. Armed resistance was crucial to ending the reign of terror of Southern slave catchers who came North to kidnap slaves, enabled by the blasphemous Fugitive Slave Act. The ability afforded by the Second Amendment for community level resistance against corrupt government, unjust laws, and henchmen ought not to be regarded as a mere relic of a distant past, nor a privilege of “phallic white men who want to play army.” It is a sober right that has served to protect the vulnerable, and ought not be treated with either frivolous entitlement or unjust disdain.

  If Quaker pacifist Thomas Garrett’s bold, unarmed confrontation with a man who threatened to shoot him is laudable for walking straight into danger, is John Brown’s or Nat Turner’s courage any less laudable for running into danger armed?  Those who, by squeamishness and apathy, downplay John Brown and Nat Turner as men of mere violence: reconsider—Harriet herself was drawn to Brown’s unshakable convictions, and grieved for his loss as David grieved for Jonathan’s. 

In a day when the favoritism condemned in James’ epistle shackles our churches, we must, no less forcefully than James, reject apathy and embrace what the Son himself taught, that “the Kingdom of Heaven advances forcefully.” Even Scriptural love songs, such as Isaiah 63, Psalms 10 and 45, are written to a King who carries a sword, breaks the arm of the cruel and unjust, and wears a robe bespattered with their blood.  His intolerance for cruel injustice has and will yet smash even temples and churches in His desire to “lead justice to victory.” The Combahee Ferry Raid and Sherman’s march to the sea not only have justifiable historical precedent in God’s whistling for Assyrians and Babylonians, but are themselves types and shadows of what is yet to come.

  The intellectual fighters were no less intrepid and no less crucial to the fight against oppression than the abductors, conductors, and station masters. Their role in capturing the American conscience is not only a credit to themselves, but to the conscience of the people, who eventually rose in response to cogent and authoritative argument. The pen is as mighty as a sword, if for no other reason than one cannot take up a sword properly without firm, thought-out conviction. Abolitionist writers took their own bright stand against the dark lies of William Harper and like ilk.  While Harper (whose sophistic ideas still dominate discussion by Left and Right) supressed and distorted Scripture by sophistry and lies, Frederick Douglass, Angelina Grimke and Theodore Weld rightly divided Scripture to expose not only Harper’s great folly, but also the lesser folly of abolitionists who pursued disengagement with the South. Harriet Beecher Stowe had a great impact through narrative in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Narrative strikes cords in the heart and mind which do not resonate with only explicit argument. There is a life and substance to narrative that captures heart as well as mind. For my own part, I feel as dwarfed by these four as I do by Harriet, Garrett, William Still, and their network of active resistance.
  Between those who waged war both in mind and action, there is a unifying theme:  faith.  Not the substanceless and sentimental “word of faith” that dominates pulpits today, but faith based on the unified message of the Gospel, the Torah, the Wisdom Literature, and the Prophets: that the God whose throne is founded on justice (Ps 89 & 97), whose scepter is justice (Ps 45), has called, chosen, and justified His own, calling them not only to repentance, but to bear fruit in keeping with repentance, namely just and complete obedience to all the commandments that address the inward heart rather than outward ceremony.
    Contemporary categories which unscrupulous persons have applied to indiscriminantly demonize groups of individuals, such as “white anglo saxon protestant (WASP),” would be laughed to derision by those who worked side by side in the UGRR.  These lighhouses of history embraced one another by “the substance of things hoped for,” counting the wealth and power of this world as nothing in comparison to the riches of just-loving fellowship in a Christ who is truly human and truly God.  They embodied the key message of Psalm 16: “Apart from You I have no good thing…as for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones in whom is all my delight.”  They anticipated joy as they anticipated God’s coming work of desolation as a means of throwing off the yoke of lies and oppression that formed the rites and rituals of mammon worship.  They were Protestants and Catholics, white and black, men and women;  all of whom knew the One Who “has broken down every wall” and “united the two,” and Who has proclaimed the end of enmity by a unity of faith in which “there is neither male nor female, Jew or Gentile in Christ.”  For them, sound doctrine trumped selfish ambition, and life was only truly life when lived by  “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,” including the Torah and Prophets.

  We, America, have a goldmine buried in our dark history, a treasure trove that has been suppressed not only in our schools and government, but in our churches.  Don’t believe the lies of the Left and the Right, who distort truth for the sake of gaining political power and material wealth, ignoring the clear requirements of higher law.  Their divisiveness along shallowly defined categorical lines is sheer mockery of humanity’s call to “act justly and love mercy;” their visions  sycophantic to the idea that people are made for the nation state, rather than government existing for the individual purpose and welfare of people.  Both houses are acting in defiance of role assigned to government in II Samuel 23:3-4, and troubling the house they govern.  Let them inherit the wind…or as Mercutio says:  “A plague on both your houses.”   

I would be remiss if I did not briefly mention the particular gloss over history that has recently gained promininence in our academic and political circles, threatening to dominate by way of indoctrination:  Critical Race Theory.  CRT is not only built on willful confusion and suppression of historical facts, but is a willful confusion and suppression of the principles of justice and reconciliation which America’s reformers used as a guiding light in their work to free us from the lies that put not only slaves, but also “free” men and women under subjection for the sake of “building the nation” economically and militarily. 

  In a nutshell, CRT is simply another imposition of favoritism in the vein of the modern “bloodline” argument, and is essentially equivalent to the bloodline arguments that plummeted America into slavery and a justly necessary civil war, and Germany and Japan into genocide.   Like all bloodline arguments, it attempts to separate good from evil along hereditary lines, lines which can neither be drawn nor justified prescriptively nor descriptively. Prescriptively, the Torah requires justice on an individual level, not punishing the sons for the sins of their fathers nor biasing judicial outcomes by outward appearances, even wealth or poverty. Descriptively, CRT fails a great portion of those who claim heritage from America’s former slaves, for one of the truly horrific facts of American Slavery is the rampant practice of raping female slaves to beget more slaves. Thus slave owners were not only guilty of rape, but of enslaving their own children, a fact that ought to provoke great mourning and a recognition that the “bloodlines” are far more fluid than we realize. An argument against the “evils” of a “white” bloodline, if logically consistent, targets a large population of those labeled as “black.” America’s story is one with that of Ralph Nickleby, a man who destroys himself by destroying his own son, and to perpetrate this destruction generation after generation with bloodline arguments not only prevents us from rightful mourning over our painful past, but pits “brother against brother” in a manner worthy of the same destruction that Israel, Edom, Ammon, and Moab wreaked among themselves.

We must abandon the idols we have raised above truth and above the image of God in man. “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”

Whether you call your demonic idol a “Christian Nation” or “Social Justice” matters little:  trampling down and despising the image of God in man and despising the Torah in order to rebuild Babel’s tower and “make a name for ourselves” is detestable and abhorrent, a profanation worthy of the wrath that has been poured out and will yet be poured out upon the impenitently unjust who use dissension and oppression as a means to aggrandizing themselves.

    The towering lighthouses that courageously fought slavery before and during the Civil War, and the towering lighthouses who fought the ostracizing of former slaves after the war (e.g. Booker T. Washington, General Armstrong, MLK, Ralph Ellison) firmly girded themselves with the precepts of Biblical justice: namely the need to defend and lift up oppressed men and women based on the content of their character rather than the color of their skin.  
  CRT, with its Marxist view of history, not only willfully ignores the historically verifiable, substantial, and inter-racial faith of reformers in America and Europe, and confuses them with those they opposed, but directly contradicts and opposes their work by reaffirming superficial divisions instead of overcoming them.  The very form and method of CRT fall very near the tree of the 19th century Southern White Democrat, and is comparable to the sophistry of William Harper.  One need only substitute “Cursed be a WASP” for Harper’s distorted interpretation of “Cursed be Canaan” to discover a common invidious root.
   There is hope and help, but not in our elites.  “Hope not in princes,”  whether they be legislative, judicial, executive, or pastoral.  True hope lies with the Creator of heaven and earth, who sends the world courageous men and women to “break the fangs of the wicked” (Job 29:17),  and destroy dark strongholds (Eph 6).  We would do well to look, not to our elites and their mammon-centered lies, but to the towering lights in our history: to know, honor, and emulate them, and see beyond them to the One who called them to speak truly and act justly.  

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