“And Miriam sang to them, ‘Sing unto the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and rider he has thrown into the sea” – Exodus 15:21. Biblical scholars agree that Exodus 15:21 is the most ancient text in the Bible. It was written by a Hebrew slave woman.
Make no mistake about it – HR 535, the year of the Bible in Pennsylvania, is a cynical attempt by election year legislators to wrap themselves up in the Bible as a way to deflect public attention from ridiculous budget cuts that strike hard at all public schools but especially poor school districts who do not have a property tax base that can make up the difference as well as the voter ID law that is nothing more than a way to suppress poor and elderly voters.
Make no mistake about it – the Bible has also been used and is still being used to suppress and subjugate women. Every female legislator who voted for HR 535 should read (and heed) 1 Timothy 2:12-14.
Make no mistake about it – 1 Peter 2:13 (Obey the Emperor), was used to justify the divine right of kings in England. In America, it only seems to be used during Republican administrations.
Make no mistake about it – presently, the Bible is used to deny the rights of gays, lesbians, bi-sexuals, and transgender persons.
And make no mistake about it – the Bible had been used to justify the unspeakable horror of the American institution of slavery, just as it was used to justify the racial wars against native Americans.
But make no mistake about it – the Bible was also used to put an end to the American institution of slavery.
Moses is the central person of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament). He was called by God to 1) lead the first successful slave revolt in recorded history, 2) give these slaves liberty through law, and 3) to introduce slaves to a God who is on the side of slaves not kings. Most people think democracy begins with the Greeks. It begins with Jews. And muck and mire and bricks of straw, work speed-ups, horrid conditions, bondage, slavery.
American slaves understood this; the white owners, absolutely clueless. Thinking that religion would keep slaves opiated, white slave owners allowed black churches on their plantations. The slaves used the institution well – for their liberation. Blacks knew every story about Exodus and Moses, no detail was lost. Black slaves named their sons Moses. Harriet Tubman’s brother was named Moses and when she delivered her family and others from slavery, she too, became known as Moses. In the beautiful spirituals, the black church sang about Moses and freedom and a God who cared for them, , never losing hope of an exodus from slavery. From the African American spiritual “Follow the Gourd” (follow the handle of the constellation called the Big Dipper north to Canada) to “Go Down Moses,” black slaves were working hard for their freedom.
Some white Christians also knew their Bible, white Christians such as William Lloyd Garrison. In 1820s, many Americans believed slavery was wrong, but there was no way end it without breaking apart the Union. As a result, most Americans took a stance of toleration believing that the issue was a “states rights” issue that should be handled on state rather than federal level. Sound familiar?
On July 4, 1829, Independence Day, William Lloyd Garrison preached a sermon/oration titled “Danger to the Nation” at the Park Street Congregational Church in Boston Massachusetts. William Lloyd Garrison said that America was shamefully hypocritical for simultaneously celebrating the notion that “all men are created equal” while keeping two million slaves in “hopeless bondage.” He charged all Americans with the moral obligation to demand an end to the “national sin” of slavery.
“ I call upon the ambassadors of Christ everywhere to make known this proclamation: ‘Thus saith the Lord God of the Africans, ‘Let this people go, that they may serve me.
“Let us, then, be up and doing,” he urged his listeners. “Sound the trumpet of alarm and plead eloquently for the rights of man.”
He introduced four propositions:
1. Above all others, slaves in America deserve “the prayers, and sympathies, and charities of the American people.”
2. Non-slave-holding states are “constitutionally involved in the guilt of slavery,” and are obligated “to assist in its overthrow.”
3. There is no valid legal or religious justification for the preservation of slavery.
4. The “colored population” of America should be freed, given an education, and accepted as equal citizens with whites.
The abolition of slavery began in the church, black and white, as did the Amistad event, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” and the deeds John Brown.
In the summer of 1837, John Brown, a Christian, was expelled from his church for escorting blacks to pews reserved for white parishioners. That November, anti-slavery minister and editor the Rev. Elijah Lovejoy wrote an op/ed column condemning the lynching of a black person. Rev. Lovejoy was murdered by an angry mob of whites. At his memorial service, John Brown vowed, “Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery!”
The Bible was also the inspiration for Julia Ward Howe’s “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” a song which was sung by Federal armies as they smashed, slashed and burned their way through Georgia in Sherman’s famous march to the sea. The song is about as subtle at the sometimes 30 mile wide path of destruction Sherman made that broke the back of traitors and slavers alike.
“Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored (read Southern slave states). He has loosed the fateful lightening of his terrible swift sword, (read Federal armies) His truth goes marching on … In the beauty of the lilies, Christ was born across the sea, with a glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me. As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free, our God is marching on.”
Throwing horse and rider into the Atlanta sea was not the only way persons of faith put slavery to death.
Richard Humphreys, a Quaker, was born on a plantation in the West Indies He came to Philadelphia in 1764. where he witnessed the struggles of African Americans who could not compete successfully for jobs due to the influx of immigrants. After the horrible race riots of 1829, Richard Humphreys wrote out his will and asked 13 fellow Quakers to design an institution: “… to instruct the descendants of the African Race in school learning, in the various branches of the mechanic Arts, trades and Agriculture, in order to prepare and fit and qualify them to act as teachers….” In 1837, almost a quarter century before the Civil War, the Institute for Colored Youth was founded in Philadelphia Pennsylvania. In 1902 it moved to George Cheyney’s farm. Today, we know it as Cheyney University, the first historically black college in the United States of America. After the Civil War, Christian abolitionists followed the federal armies, and planted Cheyney Universities all over the South – 11 in North Carolina, 9 in Alabama, 8 in Georgia including Morehouse, the alma mater of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 8 in South Carolina, 7 in Texas, and 7 in Mississippi.
One hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation, the children of Moses and Miriam, Jew and Gentile, black and white, worked for the rights of human beings in the second civil war – the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
Make no mistake about it – Martin Luther King Jr. was the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; Andrew Young, the Rev. Andrew Young; Fred Shuttlesworth, the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth; and Hosea Williams, the Rev. Hosea Williams.
Make no mistake about it – it was Jews who bravely boarded the freedom rider buses, sat with blacks in pubic places, and endured attacks from police, police dogs, and mobs, when few others would.
Make no mistake about it - five score after the Emancipation Proclamation, 1963 three skinny, scared white people stepped onto a stage in front of a sea of mostly black people and asked a question written by a Jewish poet:
“How many times must a man walk down, before they call him a man? How many times must the white dove sail, before she sleeps in the sand, … How many years can a mountain exist before it is washed to the sea? And how many years can some people exist, before they’re allowed to be free? How any times can a man turn his head, and pretend that he just doesn’t see? The answer my friend, is blowin’ in the wind, the answer is blowin’ in the wind.”
The tune was taken from an old slave spiritual “No More Auction Block,” the words inspired from Hebrew scriptures in Ezekiel 2:1-2
Rev. King answered those questions in his great oration “I Have a Dream.” Rev. King compared his experience as a civil rights leader to that of Moses who, though he spent almost all of his life wandering in the wilderness, was afforded a glimpse of the promised land of freedom and equality.
We, the children of Miriam, Moses, and Martin, need to carry on that idea of equality and equal opportunity.
The slave is our brother and sister, a child of God.
The poor, the widow, the orphan are the people of God; they my people, my sisters, my brothers. We break bread with one another; we share our common lot.
The disadvantaged, the illegal aliens (the Bible calls them the sojourners), the mentally challenged, persons in need of health care, the children of Chester and the adults Cheyney, the atheists of Allison Hill, the citizens of the Sudan and Syria, be they Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, or none of the above, are my people. My walk and conversation is with them.
Gays, lesbians, bi-sexuals, transgendered persons are also my people and God’s beloved. They are bright shining and splendid as the sun.
Make no mistake about it.
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