Posted on: 07/06/10:
Frederick Douglass on Expanding Liberty: A Quick Post-Independence Day Reflection
By J. Kameron Carter
By J. Kameron Carter
Toward an American Theology of FreedomTo read the rest of the article, click here
In 1962, when the civil rights fervor in our country was approaching a tipping point, the great theologian Karl Barth made his one and only trip to the United States. (Of course, I have to get Barth in here given the extensive study I’m doing of him in relation to my current book project.) On that trip he implored his American hosts of the need to demythologize the Statue of Liberty. What did Barth mean by this? He was pointing to the need for an ideologically-unhinged approach to liberty. In short, he was calling for a true and specifically American theology of freedom.
But little did Barth know, to say nothing of his many American interpreters even now, that his call to demythologize liberty put him in an interesting company of thinkers and activists. This was a tradition of black intellectuals spanning the trans-Atlantic. A central figure in this tradition was Frederick Douglass.
In 1852 (on the 4th of July of that year, to be exact), just over a century before Barth showed up in America, Douglass called for a similar demythologizing of and deeper reflection on freedom and liberty in American life. Indeed, he carried out the unmasking and in the process discerned that at the center of the mythos of American liberty and its political shortcomings on the key question of the day, which was slavery, was a deep and profound failure of Christian social imagination. It was in that magnificent piece of political oratory, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?,” that Douglass took up his analysis of liberty and freedom. (You can find the entire speech here.)
With the war in Iraq still fresh in our political memory banks and with the recent doubling-down on the war in Afghanistan—wars waged in the wake of the September 11th attacks to defend “freedom,” because as the saying goes, “freedom isn’t free”—it is well worth returning to Barth’s admonition as the dust now settles the July 4th weekend festivities. But I want to do so by way of Frederick Douglass, the one-time American slave.
In this post, I’m going to give or at least try to give something of the flavor of Douglass’s profound address, how in it he is really intervening into America’s religious and political discourse. I’ll finish up by suggesting a connection (and it can only be a suggestion for now: I will develop it in another posting) between what Douglass is talking about and current debates about immigration in our national life.
Posted on: 06/19/09:
From The African American Lectionary:
To read the rest of the article, click hereEMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION DAY AND JUNETEENTH
Thursday, January 1, 2009
Or Friday, June 19, 2009: Juneteenth
Editorial Note: Since the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and Juneteenth share important historical and cultural connections, we explore them under the same lectionary moment. Some congregations will choose to celebrate each of these moments separately on different days. Others will elect to celebrate only one of these moments. Still other churches will combine the celebrations as we have done and celebrate them on January 1 or June 19th.
Yolanda Pierce, Guest Lectionary Commentator
Elmer G. Homrighausen Associate Professor of African American Religion and Literature, Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, NJ
Lection - Exodus 15: 20-21 (New Revised Standard Version)
(v.20) Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. (v.21) And Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.”
I. Description of the Liturgical Moment
Emancipation Proclamation Day
What a wonderful way to begin this extraordinary new year—talking about freedom. On January 1, 1863, as the nation approached its third year of the bloody and horrific Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation declaring freedom for “all persons held as slaves.” While this was a bold declaration in sentiment, it did not actually free all enslaved persons from bondage, because it applied only to states that had seceded from the Union, thus leaving slavery legal in the border states and in those parts of the Confederacy already under Northern control.
However, the impact of the spirit of the Emancipation Proclamation cannot be denied; it brought the cause of the emancipation of enslaved people to the very heart of this war. Every battle waged after January 1, 1863 struck a blow to the inhumane institution of slavery and advanced the cause of immediate emancipation. Lincoln’s declaration also legitimized the service of black men into the Union Army and Navy, thus allowing the enslaved to be full participants in the struggle for their own freedom. By the end of the war, almost 200,000 African American soldiers and sailors had fought for the Union and for freedom.
It wasn’t until the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, on December 18, 1865, that slavery was truly abolished. However, the Emancipation Proclamation stands as a great document of human freedom, reminding us that words are powerful tools in striking a blow to injustice, inequality, and oppression everywhere.
On June 19, 1865, two thousand federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas to take possession of the state from the Confederacy and enforce the emancipation of enslaved persons living there. Although the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued two years earlier, actual bodily freedom was slow in coming to the lives of the majority of enslaved men and women living in former Confederate strongholds. For a full two and a half years after Lincoln’s famous address, African American men and women in places such as Texas continued to live under the confines of chattel slavery, some of them completely unaware that they were no longer legally under the oppressor’s yoke.
Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, is the commemoration of this June 19, 1865 freedom event in Texas. And while the celebration of this day originated in Texas, it is now celebrated throughout the United States and in several countries. Usually commemorated in both public and private celebrations, Juneteenth is a festive remembrance of freedom. Whether at a church picnic or a dance festival in the park, Juneteenth has a celebratory flavor as an entire people look back and wonder “how they got over.” For African Americans, more importantly this day represents the continuing legacy of resistance to oppression and our survival and endurance in the face of genocide due to God’s sustaining power and deliverance.
II. Biblical Interpretation for Preaching and Worship: Exodus 15:20-21
Part One: The Contemporary Context of the Interpreter
In the Akan language of Ghana, “sankofa” is a term that translates to “go back and take.” Sankofa symbolizes the action of taking from the past that which is good, and bringing it into the present in order to make positive changes for the future. As we enter a new year, we must retrieve from our past that which was important to our continued survival and our success – even as we approach the future with a new vision. While the African American past is a painful legacy, there is much joy there, as well. Our foremothers and forefathers were able to pass on a love for community, a love for God, and a love for all people, despite their enslavement. What a good way to begin a year—passing on the things which are most important.
As we celebrate emancipation and deliverance, we must do so with a full recognition of the costs of that freedom. In reverence, we cannot forget the sixty million and more who died during the transatlantic slave voyage and the many centuries of slavery. We must remember those who endured second class citizenship under Jim Crow. We must not forget that the battle for freedom is ever waging. In the spirit of the Emancipation Proclamation and in the spirit of Juneteenth, we must declare words of freedom for all who are in bondage, of every creed, color, nation, and persuasion. Chattel slavery in the United States is over, but slavery continues to exist all over the globe, as in Sudan or in the exploitation of migrant workers. When the Spirit of the Lord is upon us, we are called to proclaim liberty to the captive and release to the prisoners (Isaiah 61:1b). Are we doing all that we can to ensure that all people are free? What a good way to begin the year—fighting for freedom for others.
Posted on: 03/25/09:
Duke University professor John Hope Franklin, 94, a revered historian of life in the South and the African-American experience, died Wednesday of congestive heart failure at Duke University's hospital in Durham. Here's the 29-inch AP version of his obit.
Author of the seminal "From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans," which has been republished more than seven times, Dr. Franklin was part of the team of scholars who assisted Thurgood Marshall to win Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 case that outlawed the "separate but equal" doctrine in the nation's public schools.
"The tragedy," Franklin told a New York Times Book Review writer in 1990, "is that black scholars so often have their specialties forced on them. My specialty is the history of the South, and that means I teach the history of blacks and whites."
Often honored late in his life, he appeared on the Tavis Smiley show just three years ago. Videos of him talking about his life can be found at the National Visionary Leadership Project. He talked about Barack Obama's nomination here.
Posted on: 07/05/08:
Frederick Douglass: A True American Prophet
By Jonathan L. Walton
The 4th of July is a high and holy day on America’s civil religious calender. It is a time for Americans to read patriotic speeches by the “founding fathers,” extol the virtues of “sacred” documents such as the Declaration of Independence, and unite our voices with the national hymns of Francis Scott Key and Julia Ward Howe.
Moreover, today we will hear, explicitly and implicitly, the theological doctrine of American exceptionalism proclaimed from both ecclesial and secular pulpits. Just as John Winthrop, the first governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, declared America to be a “City on a Hill,” many will continue to elevate America as the moral arbiter of the world; God’s divine voice and example in all matters of freedom, justice and democracy.
But there are also those who have used the 4th of July to indict this nation concerning the incongruence between her self-professions and actual social practices. Famed abolitionists and American statesman Frederick Douglass is an example. Before the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society on July 4, 1852, Douglass offered what many consider one of the greatest speeches of the century.
“What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” illumines the hypocrisy of a nation unable to check and challenge itself concerning its own moral hubris. True to form to the jeremiadic tradition, Douglass’ address transcends the particular topic of chattel slavery and the historical moment of its delivery. Douglass directs us back to the founding principles of this nation, even as he calls Americans to critically examine our own perverse dealings with one another as well as the world. This is what made Frederick Douglass, unlike those who sat at the helm of political power, a true American patriot. Rather than ignore or gloss over the travesties of this nation, Douglass was willing to uncover and confront them. And if we, too, are committed to America, we would do well to do the same.
Posted on: 06/20/08:
Why Juneteenth’s Not My Thing
By John McWhorter
I am John Hamilton McWhorter, the fifth. The first John Hamilton McWhorter was a slave. This Thursday is Juneteenth, when I might be inclined to celebrate the emancipation of John Hamilton McWhorter, the first.To read the rest of the article, click here.
Or not. Truth to tell, I have never quite gotten the hang of Juneteenth.
I suppose I should. What could be wrong, after all, with celebrating slaves in America being freed? Technically, Juneteenth arose to mark the day slaves in Texas were freed, but over the years it has been embraced nationwide as a
celebration of emancipation.
But at the end of the day, I just can’t wrap my head around celebrating the fact that someone else freed my ancestors. It puts too much focus on a time when we were so starkly in the down position. Juneteenth seems to be about what someone else did.
Whites had been crucial to keeping the Abolitionist movement going. Certainly blacks worked alongside them: The career of Frederick Douglass is Exhibit A. And there were more slave revolts than we are often aware of.
However, we cannot say that blacks in America made their freedom happen. Freedom happened partly as the result of whites making other whites see the error of their ways. And Abraham Lincoln’s commitment was to preserving the Union as a political arrangement, which inherently included abolishing slavery. And even then, the Emancipation Proclamation did not free all slaves, just slaves in the Confederacy, over which Lincoln had no jurisdiction.
So, yes, blacks played a part—but if for some bizarre reason blacks had not participated in the Abolitionist movement and had never revolted, it is thoroughly plausible that emancipation would have happened anyway.
Think about it: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was something that happened because we made it happen. As we have recently revisited in the wake of Hillary Clinton’s famous comment, Lyndon B. Johnson was the one who pushed it through Congress. However, he wouldn’t have done what he did absent the ferocious tenacity of Dr. King, his black comrades and the countless black people who gave their time, energy and sometimes their lives to battling Jim Crow to its knees and changing the nation’s mind on bigotry.
Juneteenth has also always left me a little cold because of what happened after slaves were freed.
Posted on: 04/04/08:
In acknowledging the death of Martin Luther King Jr, which is today, "Michael Eric Dyson ends his book, April 4, 1968 (Basic Civitas Books, 2008) with an imaginary Q&A with MLK at age 80 in which King 'speaks' out on Barack, Oprah, hip-hop, homosexuality and his depression."
AFTERWARDTo read the rest of the article, click here.
If Dr. King had lived, what might he say about what he sees today? This is but a small piece of what I think he might have thought about a few personal and social issues, offered in the same spirit that he penned his letter to the American church as the Apostle Paul. The occasion for the interview is a celebration of Dr. King's 80th birthday, which, of course, had he lived, would be nowhere near a national holiday.
QUESTION: Dr. King, how does it feel to turn 80 years old? It's such a milestone.
DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING: I must confess to you that I never thought I'd make it to this age. During the most intense moments of our struggle, there was a great deal of hatred and danger directed at us. I personally faced constant death threats. Many of our greatest leaders and most stalwart activists were brutally murdered. Medgar Evers was shot down like an animal in Mississippi, and in the same state, those three brave young civil rights workers were viciously murdered. And one can't forget the incredible sacrifice that those four young girls made when they were blown to premature martyrdom in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. Spike Lee's very fine documentary, Four Little Girls, captures the sense of terror we all faced during those times, but also the dignity and courage of the people too.
As far back as 1956 I had to face the real possibility that I would die. After all, my house was bombed during the Montgomery bus boycott. When I look back on many of the sermons and speeches that I gave during the sixties, I can clearly see that I was trying to address our people's grief and suffering, and trying to inspire them to keep going in the midst of the death and hatred we faced on a daily basis. But to be honest, I was also trying to come to grips with my own mortality in a movement where it seemed guaranteed that I would be made a sacrificial lamb. But contrary to what some might have believed, I had no martyr complex. I repeatedly stated that I wanted to live as long as anybody, and so...
QUESTION: Well, that's certainly borne out by a statement you made in Montgomery, Alabama, in May of 1965, where you expressed a great deal of frustration and anger over the killing of Negroes while the government sat idly by. You said that "when they kill Negroes and civil rights workers in Alabama, nothing is done about it. Under the administration of Governor George Wallace alone 10 people have been killed during civil rights demonstrations." Do you remember that statement?
KING: Absolutely, like it was yesterday. I also said, "What we are saying now is that we are tired of this. Our lives are too precious. We are saying to the State of Alabama, now you're not going to frighten us into submission. If you kill one Negro, or one white ally, then you're going to have to kill ten, and if you kill ten, you're going to have to kill 20, and if you kill 20, you're going to have to kill 100, and if you kill 100, then you're going to have to kill a thousand!"
QUESTION: But did you ever have a stronger sense you were going to die than at other times? There's famous newsreel footage of you explaining in rather stark and dramatic terms how you thought you were going to die one night in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Could that be considered such a moment?
Posted on: 08/08/07:
Charles Hodge was a leading nineteenth century theologian and has been described as one ably equipped to speak on any subject of his day. And speak he did, he wrote almost one-hundred and fifty articles for Princeton’s Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review addressing most, if not every, major issue of his day. Since Hodge had to navigate many new issues uniquely allowed for by a diverse and youthful nation, he proves himself to be quite a commendable figure. However, Hodge was forced to comment on perhaps the most controversial issue in American history. The issue was the involuntary enslavement of Africans in the United States.
While commendation might be in order for his intellectual labors and broad ranging accomplishments, analysis and assessment of his position on the critical issue of slavery is equally pertinent for understanding Charles Hodge. Traditionally it has been the case that Hodge has been either scorned or venerated, but the proposal of this paper suggests an understanding Hodge’s views of slavery reveal his evil and goodness, as well as an ultimate rejection of simplistic one-sided categorization. In this paper we will examine Charles Hodge’s understanding of the function of providence with regard to Scripture, humanity, church, and civil government, and how these issues shaped and influenced his views on slavery.
There are many issues inevitably raised in addressing highly sensitive and controversial concerns of the past. One example of these difficulties relative to our present concern is the unavoidable imposition of a contemporary ethic or theological ideology onto a past socio-intellectual landscape. Evaluating the issue of slavery in the nineteenth century through the lens of a contemporary ethic might produce an unhelpfully charged vigor inhibiting us from viewing the context as accurately as we might. On the other hand, the temptation of Calvinism seems to be a theological complacency which allows for gross injustices to take place from both within and without the Church. In the present paper we will seek to avoid both vices, while not denying a commitment to both traditional Reformed theology and at the same time abhorring the Reformed advocacy of slavery. For this dilemma Charles Hodge has left us with invaluable counsel equally helpful for understanding him as a person and the views he expressed: “Unmixed good or evil, however, in such a world as ours, remains a very rare thing.”
Posted on: 08/02/07:
Today James Baldwin would have been 83 years old. He was such a towering (literary, public, creative) figure in so many ways in this country.
Here are a few quotations:
“The people who call themselves ‘born again’ today have simply become members of the richest, most exclusive private club in the world, a club that the man from Galilee could not possibly hope – or wish – to enter.”
“Lincoln’s intention was not to ‘free’ the slaves but to ‘destabilize’ the Confederate Government by giving their slaves reason to ‘defect.’ The Emancipation Proclamation freed, precisely, those slaves who were not under the authority of the President of what could not yet be insured as a Union.”
“He may be a very nice man. But I haven’t got the time to figure that out. All I know is, he’s got a uniform and a gun and I have to relate to him that way. That’s the only way to relate to him.”
“Because I was born in a Christian culture, I never considered myself to be totally a free human being. In my own mind, and in fact, I was told by Christians what I could do and what I could become and what my life was worth. Now, this means that one’s concept of human freedom is in sense frozen or strangled at the root. This has to do, of course, with the fact that though he was born in Nazareth under a very hot sun, and though we know that he spent his life beneath that sun, the Christ I was presented with was presented to me with blue eyes and blond hair, and all the virtues to which I, as a black man, was expected to aspire had, by definition, to be white. This may seem a very simple thing and from some points of view it might even seem to be a desirable thing. But in fact what it did was make me very early, make us, the blacks, very early distrust our own experiences and refuse, in effect, to articulate that experience to the Christians who were our oppressors. That was a great loss for me, as a black man. I want to suggest that it was also a great loss for you, as white people.”
“But those songs we sang, and sing, our dances and the way we talk to each other, betray a terrifying pain, a pain so great that most Westerners, are simply baffled by it and paralysed by it, because they do not dare imagine what it would be like to be a black father, and what a black father would have to tell a black son in order for the black son to live at all.”
Posted on: 08/01/07:
Reformation & Culture of Persuasion
Reformation and the Culture of Persuasion. Andrew Pettegree. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. 237 pp. $25.99. ISBN 0-521-60264-5.
REVIEWED BY: Cory Ruth
Andrew Pettegree is professor of Modern History and founding director of the Reformation Studies Institute at St. Andrews University. It was his work as an editor of the St Andrews Studies in Reformation History Series that first arrested my attention and the focus of this book as expressed through its title that further engaged my interest. As he points out in his preface, the work seems to bring together a central theme of his career, in his words “the extraordinarily innovative manner in which the Reformation made its appeal for public support, and the manner, perhaps very different, in which this appeal was received.” One should note that among his administrative and otherwise scholarly duties, Dr. Pettegree is the director of a collaborative project on the French Vernacular Book, before 1601 being undertaken by the St Andrews Reformation Studies Institute.
The first chapter, which is fundamentally an introduction to the book, is entitled The Dynamics of Conversion. In what has been deemed the first chapter of this book the author ask several questions that, prior to reading the book was to me quite interesting, however, upon completing a reading of the book I learned to be of tremendous importance and perhaps taken for granted. Why did people choose the Reformation? What was it in the evangelical teaching that excited, moved or persuaded them? How, and by what process, did people arrive at the new understandings that prompted a change of allegiance, and embedded them in their new faith? He then proceeds to present the phenomenon of conversion in the opening paragraph as being conscious and in the face of great resistance. Here and throughout the book he toggles between the realities of the pre-Reformation era and those of its first generation and its latter generations. He points out that the first generation of converts to this “new order which was untested and largely unknown” would be confronted impudently with a painful decision not akin to the haphazard changing of churches that the twenty-first century Occidental would be familiar with. Pettegree makes his reader very much aware of the isolation, persecution and threat associated with first generation conversion to Reformational ideals, something he devotes a paragraph length to at least three times in the chapter alone. Pettegree then provides an interesting figure depicting the Protestant conversion process along with several examples of Reformers who emphasized and perhaps dramatized their personal conversion experiences as a means of transferring the focus of the movement from the inherent ramifications of accepting this new paradigm to the “motivating power of theology, particularly Luther’s teaching of Justification by Faith Alone.” Prior to closing out the introductory chapter the author summarizes the chapters that will follow.
Posted on: 11/29/06:
THIRD CENTURY FATHERS
The church fathers of the second century give us some strong but largely indirect evidence for the apostolic origin of infant baptism. Clearer evidence is given to us, however, through the writings of the third century church fathers. They are in fact the first to give us explicit references to the practice of infant baptism within the church. Hippolytus, Origen, and Cyprian give us favorable evidential statements, while men like Tertullian who agree with the apostolic origin still seem to dislike the practice. Analyzing the thoughts of these early scholars does much to bolster the pro-paedo-baptist perspective.
Hippolytus was presbyter and, eventually, rival bishop at Rome. He was a prominent theologian whose designation as a rival bishop came from his disagreement with two bishops, Zephyrinus and Callistus, after which he was ordained bishop of a schismatic community in Rome. His most important work was the Apostolic Tradition, an elaboration of church order and tradition in Rome written between 215 and 220. Despite the negative connotations sometimes associated with his break from the Catholic church, this work has been extremely important in understanding the life of the Early Church. The Encyclopedia of Early Christianity adds, “The recovery of Hippolytus’ Apostolic Tradition from the later church-order literature that incorporated it has given valuable information on ordination, ministries in the church, the catechumenate, baptism...and other church practices.”
The section on baptism gives important information on the early subjects of the sacrament. Hippolytus, in describing the order of baptism, writes, “First the little ones should be baptized. All who can speak for themselves should speak. For those however who cannot, their parents or another who belongs to their family should speak.” Even Kurt Aland admits that this evidence is unambiguous. Infants, in this particular situation, are baptized. If we are to trust Hippolytus’ account - while some scholars clearly do not - we must admit to the presence of infant baptism at least as early as the late 2nd century. Aland here would disagree, arguing that instead of looking at the current practices of the church and the past traditions of the apostles, Hippolytus is looking forward to the future of the church, perhaps intending to direct its course. However, the very title of the work suggests that Hippolytus is indeed writing about the practices of the earliest church fathers. Jeremias writes that Hippolytus’ intention was “expressly stated in the prologue, that to guard against heretical innovations he was codifying what has long been handed down.”