Happy Juneteenth.

Happy Juneteenth, everyone. In case you need a little history, you can check this out here.

I am writing this post, not to add any more division and misunderstanding. God knows we have had enough of that. Nor am I writing to point fingers at anyone. I am simply seeking to understand and seeking to be understood. So this might be a bit of my own history here. I know more about the hidden recesses of my own heart than the hearts of others anyway, and I am still searching.

All of my life I have heard of the confederate “heroes”. You know the ones. Stonewall Jackson. Robert E Lee. Jefferson Davis.

I have heard of the southern heroes of Presbyterian orthodoxy as well, men like R.L. Dabney, J.H. Thornwell and others.

And I know now of the controversy surrounding these men. With all of their achievements, there was one huge glaring error – the support of the horrible institution of slavery.

To critique these men in some circles is to incur the wrath of the orthodox. One simply needs to spend a moment on Twitter to see it. Now it seems more relevant than ever, when the movement is so strong to remove the statues of Lee and Jackson from southern cities.

There was a time in my life when I also would have said, “Yes, slavery was wrong and it needed to be abolished. But it was only a very small aspect of who these men were. Certainly we can honor their achievements and their character while disagreeing with their stand on slavery.”

Yes. I used to think that way too. And then I listened.

It occurred to me that my saying this exposed a very ugly part of my own heart. The only way I could say this is if black lives didn’t REALLY matter to me. In theory, they would have mattered. I would say, “Of course, black lives matter. ALL lives matter.” But in practice, things were different.

It pains me to say this. Repentant sin still has the power to shame.

But let me explain. To say that Robert E. Lee or Thomas Jefferson or George Whitefield were true heroes except for their views on slavery is the same as saying that black lives really DON’T matter. There are certain viewpoints that color everything about a man.

One recent tweet from a very famous, conservative Christian leader and apologist exposes what I am saying. He said, “Slavery was a very small part of who Robert E Lee was.”

Which you can only say if slavery doesn’t really matter. And you can only say that slavery doesn’t matter if black lives don’t matter.

Please think it through. Would it be tolerated in any other setting?

“Marquis de Sade was a fine citizen except for his habit of torturing young women.”

“Bill Cosby was a great man, with strong family values except for that little peccadillo of drugging and raping women.”

“Larry Flint was a great champion of freedom. Violent Pornography was only a trivial part of who he was.”

“Dennis Rader was a fine Christian man, who taught Sunday School and was a leader in his community. Binding, torturing, and killing was only a trivial part of his character.”

I think you are getting my point. When we say that Robert E Lee or R.L. Dabney were great Christian influencers, and that slavery was only a small part of who they were as men – here is what is heard: Black lives are trivial and don’t really matter.

If you want to know why there are so many who are insisting that black lives matter, there it is.

Here is how slavery operated. Read a history. Men, women and children were sold on auction blocks, inspected like cattle. Families were torn apart, children were sold apart from their mothers, husbands and wives separated for the profit of landowners. Men, women and children could be raped, beaten, tortured. And they were, frequently. They did not count as humans. It was a crime to teach them how to read. They were not allowed in white churches. It was illegal to put them in “white” clothes. A white man seen in the company of a black man was considered an accomplice to an escape in Virginia. Laws were passed that made it impossible for slaves to be freed.

Whole presbyteries owned slaves and rented them to land-owners who worked them into the ground until they were dead. And the churches used the proceeds to pay for their pastors so that they could continue to preach the gospel over the bodies of the slaves.

The first gun control laws in Virginia ordered all white men to come to church armed to prevent any blacks from trying to seek asylum.

And so when we say, “Robert E Lee was a good man, except for his support of slavery” we are counting all of that history as trivial. And the only way that we can do that is if black lives don’t really matter.

PS – I guess I also need to say this. Apparently there is a movement and an organization called “Black Lives Matter”. I know nothing about them. This post isn’t about them.

It is about real lives and real people. Your daughters matter, which is why we don’t have statues of Marquis de Sade in our public squares. Your children’s lives matter, which is why we don’t put up statues of Dennis Rader. And black lives also matter. The first two aren’t disputed, but tend to be well-agreed-upon.

But as long as people keep considering slavery to be a trivial issue, or “good for the African”, or, “A product of its time”, then we will also need to continue to insist that black lives do indeed matter.

It is time to do justice to the millions that died, trampled into the dust by white slave owners, pulled from their homes by white slavers, and sold like cattle to plantation owners. A good first step would be to acknowledge that the “defense of slavery” is not a trivial thing. It overshadows everything else about a person.

A pedophile might otherwise be a good person. A murderer might not be murdering 99% of the time. A bank robber doesn’t rob every bank. A man beating you up might be a kind and loving husband the rest of the time. A cheating wife might not cheat 6 days of the week.

But they are defined by the one thing – pedophile. Murderer. Robber. Brawler. Abuser. Adulterer.

Or a slave owner. One who used the body of another against his or her will for their own profit. And then tried to justify it from the scripture.

Quit honoring these men. We can do better, and we should.


Filed under Race, slavery

12 responses to “Happy Juneteenth.

  1. Great article, thank you.

  2. Grace551

    Great post, thank you.

  3. Thank you for using your voice. I pray it is heard by those who need to hear.

  4. Jennifer Bales

    Thank you so much for sharing this !

  5. Janet

    Thank you, Sam. Wise words, as usual.

  6. Bunkababy

    Here is another article about how the law got around slavery with a loophole until after WW2.

  7. just ... K

    I read this on the day that you posted it, and have been slowly chewing and thinking about it ever since. Powerful. Convicting. Pertinent. Thank you. (The quote by Frederick Douglass in the first article you link to is profound, thank you for that link also.)

    I have a curious parallel that has been running through my mind … a group of men who were totally against pornography, abortion, swearing, homosexuality, promiscuity, divorce – and their beliefs showed in how they governed and ruled a country. They scrupulously attended church, they ascribed to Calvinism, a very specific form of divine election, and also complimentarianism. The bible was read in schools and prayers were said. For serious crimes, capital punishment existed. I realise that I just described nirvana for many Christian people – “Where is this country and how do we get there???”

    Well, it was “old” South Africa and the group of men I just described were the broerdebond. They also happned to be the staunchest defenders, architects, apologists and promulgators of apartheid.

    I can’t imagine anyone in North America turning a blind eye to someone who wanted to erect some sort of memorial to these men, excusing their racist views as “just a part” of who they were?

    The greatest lesson these men taught me, was that when Christianity is framed as simple morality, or holding the “right” view on certain topics, the entire gospel is lost. That gospel where we learn to love our neighbour as ourselves – because of the Great Love that was extended to us first.

    Black lives do indeed matter.

    Thank you for your writing Pastor Powell.

    Happy Juneteenth!

  8. Em

    Thank you Pastor Sam, for helping me to more fully understand this. I didn’t like the removal of the statues initially, as I saw it as more erasure of history, but I now agree with you. I understand now. Pull them down. Don’t even put them in a museum with some sort of explanation which is likely to be wishy-washy. We should not idolize anyone or anything anyway, and we as Christians should never and I mean NEVER excuse evil! The world does that, we must not.
    And thank you to just…K as well, for more enlightenment. Unfortunately, I have had personal experience with the “just a part” of who they are attitude. They were called “good old boys” by two elders in a church that I left after being told that. Good? Where is that attitude that excuses, and therefore promotes evil, ever good?
    Thank you both!

  9. Aussie

    Hi Sam, Greetings from Australia! I don’t think I have commented here before and want to tell you how encouraging your blog is to me.
    I have just stumbled across a very encouraging reading on YouTube of a pamphlet : “Emancipation in the British West Indies” published in 1838 in The Reformed Presbyterian. YT Chanel is The Covenanter. The author describes the great rejoicing in Christian circles at the news of Queen Victoria’s approval of this legislation. A heartwarming *read*.

  10. Aussie

    Ps…sorry Sam…please edit my post which is awaiting moderation…correct title on yt is “Emancipation in the British West Indies”

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