Learning from Frederick Douglass

Frederick_Douglass_(circa_1879)

Over the last two years, I have been trying to read more books on racial inequality as a way to better understand and stand with my African American brothers and sisters. (I still have a ways to go). I started with Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow and followed that up with James Cone’s The Cross and The Lynching Tree. Both books broke my heart and gave me a new perspective on our country, our communities and myself.

It took me awhile, but I recently finished reading Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight. Douglass was the slave to abolitionist/orator who led an incredible life and fight for the freedom and rights as slaves and black men and women in our country. Blight’s book is dense at times, but also comes alive in the details and narrative of Douglass. Especially interesting to me was Douglass’s interactions with President Lincoln during the Civil War. The period of Reconstruction and Jim Crow laws tied in nicely to Michelle Alexander’s book. Reading about the lynching mobs (among many other atrocities) shows the sins of white America and shows the need for our repentance.

These books are important to read, especially given our news cycle today. Earlier this week, a shooter opened fire in El Paso, TX. The shooter is suspected of posting an anti-immigrant manifesto online that warned of an “Hispanic invasion of Texas” prior to the shooting rampage in the heavily Hispanic border city.” There has been a rise in hate crimes and white nationalism in our country. Books like the Douglass biography and the Alexander book help us to remember the atrocities committed in the name of race and see, despite improvements for equality, that there is a long way to go. Books like this encourage us to not move backward in the ways in which we treat one another. As a white person, reading books like these teach me that the problem of racism is my problem and that I can be part of the solution.

There is no place for racism or white nationalism in our country. As a Christian, we cannot make apologies for white supremacist. Period. We cannot make apologies or remain quiet for any notions of ethnic superiority.  Genesis 1 tells us that God made each person (of every ethnicity and color) in the imago dei, or the image of God. This means that each person has sacred worth and value. When we give in to stereotypes, assumptions, and racist beliefs we are forgetting the imago dei which resides in each of us. We are treating that person as less than God created them. When we agree with rhetoric or beliefs that elevates one person above the other based on the color of skin or where they are born, we have dehumanized that person or group.

In Revelation 7, there is a beautiful image of worship that is taking place around the throne of God. John writes that there are people of every tribe, nation, and tongue worshiping together. As Christians, this is what we should long for in our churches and our communities. As Christians, and especially those of us who are white, should be the first to denounce racist rhetoric and speech regardless of whether it comes from a person of power or from our neighbor. We must stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those different from us because we are all made in God’s image.

 

About Steve LaMotte

Husband of Andrea and father of four amazing children. Pastor at Avenue United Methodist Church in Milford, Delaware.
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