I'm reading UNCLE TOM'S CABIN. It was originally published in 1852 by Harriet Beecher Stowe, a northern abolitionist. Many, including Abraham Lincoln, agree this book played a significant role in raising such awareness into the truth about slavery that it eventually led to the Civil War.
I learned about slavery in school just like everyone else. I've seen the movie ROOTS and others that depict slavery. I've read novels that contain slave characters. I've read the biographical account of John Newton, the former slave trader who wrote the hymn AMAZING GRACE. But honestly, none of those books and movies ever stirred within me the depth of sorrow I feel for the plight of the slaves that UNCLE TOM'S CABIN has done this week. And I'm not even finished reading it!
Maybe it's because I'm older. Maybe it's because I'm a wife and a mother now. More likely, it's because my relationship with Jesus Christ, the Creator of all beings, has grown to the place that what grieves Him grieves me.
But whatever the reason, I'm completely and utterly heartbroken for the human beings who suffered under the shameful and despicable practice called slavery. It gives me a small measure of comfort to know, not with certainty but with hope, that my ancestors didn't participate in the ownership of slaves. At least not those living in America anyway. My mother's family immigrated from Germany in the late 1700s and lived in Pennsylvania. My Great-grandfather and great, great uncle fought in the Civil War for the North. My father's family immigrated from Mexico in the early 1900s, long past the era of legal slavery.
As I think about the people--supposedly good Christian people--who owned slaves, I'm dumbfounded by their ignorance and the justifications given to proceed with such a horrific practice. Sure, I understand about large cotton, sugar and tobacco plantations, about farms and households and the need for workers. But does that justify owning another person and treating them as "property"? Does it justify the buying and selling of a living, breathing human being? Of tearing apart families? Of beating, maiming, raping and murdering?
It makes me wonder: Have I ever justified sin?
Looking deep, I know the answer is shamefully yes. My sin is not owning and mistreating a slave, but it is sin nonetheless. Thankfully, God is a forgiving God. He has forgiven me. If the slave owners, like John Newton, came to a place of repentance for their poor treatment of a slave, they too would have been forgiven. But, my gut tells me that most died believing owning slaves was their right. It was legal, wasn't it? If the act of slavery itself was not sinful--and I'm not at all sure it isn't!-- then surely the mistreatment of a human being is! Only the slaveholder, the slave and God know the truth of what transpired in their relationship.
I'm appalled at the very idea that many people in those days, and even today, believed Africans were born for slavery! The Bible was actually used by many, including preachers, to justify slavery. Where they got that idea from is beyond me! Yes, slavery is mentioned in the Bible many times, but no where does it condone or justify the practice. No where does it say "you may own one of God's children and treat them as property."
We all have to answer for our actions on this earth when we stand before God on Judgement Day.
Sadly, slavery did not end with the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. Slavery continues today. Not legally, of course, but it is alive and thriving in every country around the globe. Even in the United States. The sex slave market in particular is growing at a frightening rate.
Sometimes, I simply don't know how God stands us!