Slavery

A Tale of Two Pharaohs: On Horse Racing and Transformed Hearts

Diana Robinson / Flickr.com

American Pharoah ridden by jockey Victor Espinoza wins the Triple Crown at Belmont on June 6. Photo by Diana Robinson/Flickr.com

After winning the Triple Crown, American Pharoah’s jockey, Victor Espinoza, showed that he doesn’t live in fear of losing his power. And, as opposed to the Egyptian Pharaoh, he showed he has a soft heart for those who are suffering.

Espinoza reportedly earned $80,000 for his victory at the Belmont Stakes and he’s giving it all away. “I won the Triple Crown right now,” he stated, “but I don’t make any money because I’m donating all the money to the City of Hope.” The City of Hope is a cancer research and treatment center. Espinoza also donates his time at the City of Hope, visiting with children struck by cancer. He says, “The kids [are] 6 years old, 10 years old, it’s just heartbreaking.” Why does he do it? “I just saw one kid with the disease and that’s how I changed my life. I changed the way I think. Pretty much I changed everything … the first change I made was in my heart.”

A Miracle of Resilience

MY GREAT-GRANDMOTHER, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Johnson, was born in 1890 in Camden, S.C., with a different last name from all the other people in her household. Three generations later, we have no idea where the name Johnson came from.

Lizzie grew up working plantation land owned by her grandmother, Lea Ballard. Lea received the land in the wake of the Civil War: We don’t know how or why, though one theory speculates that Lea, who was listed as a 42-year-old mulatto widow on the 1880 U.S. Census, may have been the daughter of her slave owner. He may have given the land to her after the Civil War. We don’t know. We only know that Lea owned it, that she had 17 children who worked that land, according to family lore, and that the city of Camden eventually stole the land from her by the power of eminent domain. This we know from records I hold in my possession.

Lizzie married a railroad man named Charles Jenkins. Lizzie and Charles had three children; Charles later died in a railroad accident. Lizzie had a choice: endure the brutality of the Jim Crow South alone with three kids, or move with the stream of black bodies migrating north. Lizzie migrated to Washington, D.C., and, eventually, to Philadelphia and took her lightest-skinned child with her.

Both mother and child were light enough to pass for white. My caramel-toned, straight-haired grandmother, Willa, and her brother, Charlie, were too dark. So they were left behind in the care of their elderly great-grandmother. Willa and Charlie joined others on the plantation and earned their keep working the fields.

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July 2015
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Love Is the Primary Energy to Amend Climate Change

Image via anawat sudchanham/shutterstock.com

Image via anawat sudchanham/shutterstock.com

Several weeks ago at the Minnesota State Capitol building, I and a host of others met with senators and representatives to lobby them on environmental issues. When I met with one senator he said he understood the issues and was on my side. It was a love fest. But when asked about working with the Republicans, the love fest ended.

He started rattling off how the other side will not listen, how there is no communication with them, how they are funded by the Koch brothers and will not compromise or even consider any proposals but their own, and so on and so forth. I do not doubt that he was speaking from personal experience, but if he only sees the other as bull-headed then that is exactly what he will get.

As he spoke I kept saying to myself, "There has to be another way of doing this…" ​

Last week I discovered "a more excellent way" when I re-read The Journal of John Woolman, the spiritual autobiography of the colonial Quaker who I describe as America’s first social mystic. It my seem odd to look to a colonial Quaker as the model for amending climate change — I say amend because we have already changed the climate; the best goal now is to stop further change and amend our way of live — but his model/witness may be the exact model/witness we need. 

In my work on environmental causes I have acted primarily from a place of loss, sorrow, and anger, centering on the loss of my family farm in northern West Virginia. In the mid-1980s, the farm was sold to a coal company who stripmined the farms and destroyed the community. I had had dreams of farming that land. 

But if I dig deeper through the loss, through the sorrow, and through the anger, I arrive at a place of love. I love creation, I feel I am a part of it, and I want it to flourish because if creation flourishes, all flourishes. 

Here is where Woolman’s witness comes in. His social conscience was formed because Love was the first motion. He was simply responding to that Love. 

How did he respond? Eighty years before the modern abolition movement of the 1830s, John Woolman began his personal mission to end slavery amongst Quakers in the American colonies. 

Does Obama Owe Christians An Apology?

Obama in prayer. Image courtesy Stephen C./shutterstock.com

Obama in prayer. Image courtesy Stephen C./shutterstock.com

I’m very offended. Or so I’m told. As a believing Christian, I’m supposed to be deeply troubled by the remarks that President Barack Obama delivered at the recent National Prayer Breakfast here in Washington, DC. Former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore had this to say:

The president’s comments this morning at the prayer breakfast are the most offensive I’ve ever heard a president make in my lifetime. He has offended every believing Christian in the United States. This goes further to the point that Mr. Obama does not believe in America or the values we all share.

Strong words. But what were Obama’s terribly offensive remarks? Here’s what the president said:

And lest we get on our high horse and think [religious violence] is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.

Wait… what? Why should I be offended by that? That’s a fact. That’s our history. Every Christian should be aware of what we are capable of when we turn our eyes away from the self-sacrificing love of Jesus and instead turn Christianity into an ideology that justifies terror, brutality, oppression, and war.

It should be impossible to study Western history without getting some glimpse into the terrifying possibilities that any religious system — including Christian ones — hold out for those who seek to dominate others. We humans have a long track record of twisting our most precious faith into a weapon of violence and hatred. This shouldn’t be a controversial statement; it should be a matter of ongoing repentance and prayer for people of faith everywhere.

So I’m confused.

 

Obama Compares ISIS to Crusades, Inquisition, Slavery, and Jim Crow. Was He Right?

Photo courtesy New York Public Library / RNS

“EntrŽe des croisŽs ˆ Constantinople,” by Eugene Delacroix, circa 1885-1889. Photo courtesy New York Public Library / RNS

The conservative Twitterverse is all riled up because at Feb. 5 National Prayer Breakfast (an event founded and run by the secretive Christian organization known as The Fellowship), President Obama said that Christians, as well as Muslims, have at times committed atrocities. His words:

“Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history. And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”

This would seem to be Religious History 101, but it was nonetheless met with shock and awe.

“Hey, American Christians–Obama just threw you under the bus in order to defend Islam,” wrote shock jock Michael Graham. Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., called the comments “dangerously irresponsible.” The Catholic League’s Bill Donohue said: “Obama’s ignorance is astounding and his comparison is pernicious. The Crusades were a defensive Christian reaction against Muslim madmen of the Middle Ages.”

More thoughtfully, Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, called Obama’s comments about Christianity “an unfortunate attempt at a wrongheaded moral comparison. … The evil actions that he mentioned were clearly outside the moral parameters of Christianity itself and were met with overwhelming moral opposition from Christians.”

Really?

In Our Own Backyard: Children and Sexual Slavery

Swing set. Photo via cvm / Shutterstock.com

Everyone who desires to follow Jesus’ command to love can pour that love into their own communities, where thousands of children languish in foster care, are legally tangled in the juvenile system, and are raising themselves with no strong adults to guide them forward.

These children in our communities are vulnerable to human trafficking unless each of us does something about it. Right here at home.

In Matthew 5, Jesus tells us to love our enemies. We should love even the unlovable, especially the downtrodden, the forgotten. Don’t be afraid to love those that the world says aren’t worth it, the throwaways, the ones we too often pretend don’t exist.

Love big, love strong, love deep with compassion and bravery. Love those who spit in your face and curse you, the ones who break your heart over and over again. Your love may be the catalyst that keeps that one person from becoming a statistic.

Who will end slavery? You will. How will we end slavery? By God’s grace, through love and fortitude. Not in a faraway place but right here, at home.

Pope Francis Joins Other Faith Leaders to Demand an End to Human Trafficking

Pope Francis holds his pectoral cross.  Photo via Paul Haring / Catholic News Se

Pope Francis holds his pectoral cross. Photo via Paul Haring / Catholic News Service / RNS.

Pope Francis and religious leaders from Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and other faiths came together at the Vatican on Dec. 2 to call for an end to slavery by 2020.

At a ceremony in which they signed a declaration to that effect, the pope joined the head of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, and representatives of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and the grand imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar Mosque, Ahmed Muhammad Ahmed el-Tayeb.

The leaders said it was a “human and moral imperative” to wipe out human trafficking, forced labor, prostitution, and organ trafficking. It also committed the signatories to do all they could to free the estimated 35 million people enslaved across the world.

“Modern slavery … fails to respect the fundamental conviction that all people are equal and have the same freedom and dignity,“ the joint statement said.

“We pledge ourselves here today to do all in our power, within our faith communities and beyond, to work together for the freedom of all those who are enslaved and trafficked so that their future may be restored.”

A Theology of Labor

Namning and Suzanne Tucker/Shutterstock.com

Namning and Suzanne Tucker/Shutterstock.com

A theology of labor involves Genesis 2:15 – “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.”

Labor is fundamentally a good thing and a theology of labor includes responsible stewardship of the earth’s resources. The first chapter of Genesis is obsessed with telling us that the world is good. As such, God calls us to labor for it, to responsibly keep and care for it.

Of course, labor often involves hard, back breaking work that doesn’t always feel good. Genesis 3 puts forth an explanation that God cursed the earth because of human sin, making labor much more difficult. Whatever we think about that explanation, the Bible is much more interested in a different curse when it comes to labor — how we humans curse one another.

Like everything in this good world, the goodness of labor can be exploited. The prime biblical example of this comes from Exodus, which describes how the Hebrews were exploited as slaves in Egypt.

They were forced to labor.

Ratio Imaginis

by TJ Gehling, Flickr.com

by TJ Gehling, Flickr.com

Sometimes it is hard to know even where to begin. We stare at this System, this complex web of human behaviors, and the institutions erected to memorialize them, and we simply do not know where to begin. How do we fix it?

"That's just the way it is," we say. "Some things will never change."

Systems are strange beasts. They take incredible human investment to maintain. They are the spaces by which many of us come to know ourselves, to know our place in this world. We identify ourselves in relationship to them. And yet they are so close to us as to be rendered invisible.

Until they hurt us. Until they step on us, exclude us, enslave us, brutalize us.

And this is when it gets interesting, of course; this is when they do their real work, these systems. 

Slavery, Surrogacy, and Society: Making a Future in the Wilderness

Magdalene is a residential program that helps women who have survived lives of violence and prostitution.

The 2013 Global Slavery Index reports that nearly 30 million women, children, and men are enslaved around the world today. Their slavery has many forms. For millions, especially women and girls, it is prostitution, forced marriage, or other sexual and reproductive exploitation. Others - an estimated 16.4 million - are forced into labor in spheres ranging from domestic work and agriculture to construction and manufacturing. Others are tricked, kidnapped, and/or sold for illegal adoption, forced begging, armed combat, forced crime, and organ harvesting. As globalization continues to increase demand for cheap labor and movement across borders, human trafficking - sale and movement of people for forced labor, including prostitution - has become the “fastest growing international crime.” It nets traffickers billions of dollars in profit each year.

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