On August 1, 1944, seventy-three years ago, white transit workers shut down the transit system of the city of Philadelphia in a sickout strike aimed at stopping the promotion of eight black men to better jobs. The strike ended after six days when Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the army to take control of the Philadelphia Transportation Company. The strikers finally returned to the job after being threatened with losing their jobs, draft deferment and job certificates for the duration of the war.
On August 1, 1833, one hundred and eleven years before the Philadelphia Transit Strike, the Slavery Abolition Act was passed in Great Britain abolishing slavery throughout the British Empire. It would be thirty two more and a bloody civil war before the United States would follow suit with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment in December 1865 formally ending slavery in the U.S.
Today in August 2017 we are still facing troubling times. A quick review of the news feed today shows racism, classism and economic segregation are all still prevalent. What do we do in these troubling times? The urge for power and the greediness that drives us to seek more and more are not recent inventions. It seems that as long as humans have existed, we have used each other as well as the rest of creation for our own selfish purposes.
The United States itself has from its very inception intertwined the selfishness of using other humans for our own purposes and then varnishing the practice with the veneer of righteousness. Thomas Jefferson, one of our own founding fathers, recognized the hypocrisy of slavery. He wrote these words a century before slavery would finally be abolished.
“We have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other.”
We have used religion to hide these purposes, even drawing from scripture itself justification for the concept of owning another human being. Christianity Today gathered the following cherry picked scriptures that were used as common arguments by Christians to justify slavery.
- Abraham, the “father of faith,” and all the patriarchs held slaves without God’s disapproval (Gen. 21:9–10).
- Canaan, Ham’s son, was made a slave to his brothers (Gen. 9:24–27).
- The Ten Commandments mention slavery twice, showing God’s implicit acceptance of it (Ex. 20:10, 17).
- Slavery was widespread throughout the Roman world, and yet Jesus never spoke against it.
- The Apostle Paul specifically commanded slaves to obey their masters (Eph. 6:5–8).
- Paul returned a runaway slave, Philemon, to his master (Philem. 12).
It’s disturbing to me in the day and age that we continue to falsify the narrative of history that attempts to purge the unpleasant from our records. And the use of the Christian religion to justify oppression, discrimination and infringement on the human rights of others is particularly disturbing.
One of the Biblical references made to justify slavery was that Jesus never specifically spoke to it. Yet, what we see Jesus doing throughout scripture is revealing the fundamentals of faith.
“Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40 (NLT)
Simple words that reveal of lifetime journey to fully realize. The Apostle Paul expounded on this same basic theme in what’s known as the love chapter in his first letter to the church in Corinth.
If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing. Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless. When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
I don’t pretend to have the solutions to large scale problems that have plagued the United States and the rest of the world since the beginning of human history, but I do believe that my faith lays out a way for making choices that will set us on the right path.
It is simply to choose love.
In each situation, how do we love our neighbor? We know that all things will eventually pass away. Money, power, our own personal achievements – these will all pass by. Love God. Love our neighbors.
Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. I Corinthians 13:13
Author: Julie Martinez