The history of my faith, by which I mean both the people of my faith and my personal faith, is to readily see the errors of the history of my faith while insisting we have moved beyond those most egregious evils.
This is a centuries-old habit of self soothing. We recognize the wayward ignorance of our ancestors and venerate the prophets they rejected while doing exactly as they did: We resist suggestions of defects in our cherished ways, defend the infallibility of our certainties, and scoff at living prophets who name our faults.
But if our finely tuned capacity to dismiss and discredit our contemporary critics numbs us to their corrections, the prophets of old still see, still speak.
The ones who decades and centuries ago saw and named this repeating cycle of soul-destroying religion,
this refusal of even the possibility of systemic sins,
this resistance to the disruption of treasured “institutions,”
and all of this under the cover of false unity and so-called standing up for God and country,
those prophets whom we celebrate now that they are safely dead and unable to see us as we are,
still they see us, still they speak to us.
Frederick Douglass in a speech at Finsbury Chapel, May 12, 1846:
But you will ask me, can these things be possible in a land of professing Christianity? Yes, they are so; and this is not the worst.
I have to inform you that the religion of the southern states, at this time, is the great supporter, the great sanctioner of the bloody atrocities to which I have referred. While America is printing tracts and bibles; sending missionaries abroad to convert the heathen; expending her money in various ways for the promotion of the gospel in foreign lands—the slave not only lies forgotten, uncared for, but is trampled underfoot by the very churches of the land.
What have we in America? Why, we have slavery made part of the religion of the land. Yes, the pulpit there stands up as the great defender of this cursed “institution,” as it is called. Ministers of religion come forward and torture the hallowed pages of inspired wisdom to sanction the bloody deed.
I have found it difficult to speak on this matter without persons coming forward and saying, “Douglass, are you not afraid of injuring the cause of Christ? You do not desire to do so, we know; but are you not undermining religion?” This has been said to me again and again…but I cannot be induced to leave off these exposures. I love the religion of our blessed Savior. … It is because I love this religion that I hate the slaveholding, the woman-whipping, the mind-darkening, the soul-destroying religion that exists in the southern states of America.
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