This day in History: the Combahee Ferry Raid

   If I could choose one event in American History to see firsthand, I would choose the Combahee Ferry Raid.  Nothing in American history better prefigures God’s resotration of justice (the rendering of good due to another) and peace to earth by the destruction of oppression (Revelation 17-19).   The Combahee Ferry Raid was a miraculous feat of military success:  a woman of no account by this world’s standards lead two Union gunboats through mine-trapped waters to burn down the pride of avaricious men and women,  setting free almost 800 slaves and their livestock.  All this accomplished without any Union casualties.  Given the typical carnage of Civil War battlefields, this event is unique and worthy of much consideration.     Harriet Tubman was a miraculous woman.  She was known to quote Scripture verse and chapter and to insistently and consistently inquire of God on her famous forays into the South.  Her thought and activity had remarkeable parallels with such Biblical heroines and heroes as Deborah, Huldah, Moses, David, and Paul.  Her life exuded the heroic faith of those listed in Hebrews 11.      Harriet’s faith exposes a great weakness in our “Christian” civilization and culture:  She fought against oppression as courageously and kinetically as Moses, convicted by the Scripture’s clear teachings against oppression.  Yet few “Christians” recognize her faith, much less the Scripture’s unyielding condemnation of slavery, dominion of one human being over another, and oppression.     Lest any doubt what I write, let him consider that the Scripture itself clearly predicted the carnage and destruction of the Civil War in the Mosaic Law:   “You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.” –Exodus 22:21-23.     Note that this particular law is directly tied to the preamble in Exodus 20, highlighting it as not only an explicit command, but one which embodies the whole spirit of the Law itself, making it not only rudimentary, but utterly non-negotiable.     How does this apply to American History?  At least half of slave children were made orphans by the auction block, and a 1/3 of slave women made widows by the same auction block.  Most were sold to the Orleans Market, which slaves and traders alike referred to as the death market given the severity of work and climate in the deep South.  Not only did slavers separate that which God joined together in marriage and family, but added brutality to insult and injury.  There is no quicker way to awaken God’s wrath.      Combining the above facts with the fact that the Law is irrevocable (Matthew 5), it is simple to see that no mere man or woman was the primary actor in the War, but that God Himself made widows and orphans by killing America’s “free” men, justly repaying us for unlawful and wanton oppression.   He himself thus halted the sin of slavery, which the Church had rejected from its inception in accordance with the clear teaching of Genesis 1, Psalm 8, Matthew 20 & 23, and–most specifically–I Timothy  1:10.  Augustine of Hippo, a bishop in the Church of North Africa, gave clearest voice to this in City of God chap 19, a position reiterated by Aquinas and promulgated at least three times by the Vatican in response to Spain’s initiating slave trade in the 15th century.  This precedes the Reformation, and the Reformers certainly would have agreed wholeheartedly with the Vatican based on Scriptural Authority and sound doctrine.   I have begun to see that the Reformers strained out a camel in order for the Protestant Church to swallow a whale,  embracing the same Sophist materialism and gnostic dualism rejected in the New Testament and the robust doctrine of the early Church.  Luther and Calvin had fought, with their own lives at stake, to return us to the sound doctrine handed down even to Rome. Yet as Bonhoeffer noted, the Reformation devolved into “cheap grace,” the same lawless grace irrevocably condemned in Deuteronomy 29, II Thessalonians 2, II Timothy 3, Hebrews 10, and II Peter 2.   As Augustine instructed based on Matthew 5-7 and Romans 3:31, those who are saved are saved from being under the Law in order to be with the Law–to meditate on and fulfill it.         From the viewpoint of all of Scripture,  there is no such thing as “sola gratia.”   The Scripture allows no abstraction of grace from justice or love from wrath, nor the division of any attribute of God from another.   God alone saves, but only as the indivisible God Who will not deny Himself in any way.  We would do well to consider that “sola gratia” was a specific answer to a specific question, and not intended to be general theology nor to become the idol it is today.   It is worthy to consider that it has become a snare to many, like that bronze snake Moses made.    My digression does have a point.  God saves from sin, and uses not only invitation, but suffering and wrath to arrest the disintegrating affect of sin. All three are inextricably tied to His grace because He is indivisible (“The LORD is one”).    In other words, sin annihilates our nature, while God’s wrath affirms our nature by stopping sin’s deterioration.  The early Church rightly taught that sin is not a nature itself, but the disintegration of the good nature God endowed us with. Yet the Protestant Church, eager to break from Catholic traditions, strayed from this fundamental doctrine en large, and embraced the old blasphemy of Platonic dualism which secular culture had reawakened in the Englightement.  So pandora’s box was opened with the assertion of “sinful nature,” allowing men and women to be despised, “managed,” and even disposed of in increasing brutality and numbers.     If you have followed my argument thus far, you will see that the destruction of the Combahee Ferry was an act of Divine Grace, God’s appointed avenger not only freeing the oppressed from the oppressors, but the oppressors from their own disintegrating sin, and the rest of us from the fruit of that sin, a fruit which yet debilitates our nation today.  Harriet Tubman didn’t just save slaves on that raid;  she saved all of us, and for that, we are forever in her debt and in the debt of a God who does not abandon any to the complete annihilation of sin.     We have not properly understood our past, and the politics of race has only accomplished the ascendency of the same political party which used it to divide us before the War (the other using money to divide us).  Angelina Grimke, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Frederick Douglass, WEB Dubois, Ralph Ellison, MLK, and William Stringfellow still have important observations on our past and present.  So long as we ignore them, we render ourselves vulnerable to the blasphemous assertion that men and women are mere categories, like Ralph Ellison’s invisible man.    “God Bless America” is a popular, yet empty phrase these days.  Let me give it substance:  blessing comes in hungering and thirsting for justice; justice comes when we see our responsibility to our neighbor; and responsibility is only possible when we recognize our neighbor.  Ralph Ellison and Hannah Arendt both resonate on this point:  that though we now see each other and God as if through hazy glass, our longing must be to see face-to-face (I Corinthians 13).  The first step in that direction requires embracing another blessing:   together mourning the evil and injustice of the past, and repenting of the sins of our fathers and the fruit of injustice it has bourne in our own lives.   “Blessed are those who mourn.”

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