Tag Archives: Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass on American Religion

At the conclusion of yesterday’s staff meeting, Diane Langberg read to us from the appendix of Douglass’ slave narrative. He felt compelled to clarify his views on religion, and Christianity in particular. As with all great literature, this piece is timeless and ought to be revisited by us from time to time.

His main point? American Christianity practiced in the South is/was not authentic Christianity. In fact, it is another religion altogether. Here are some tidbits:

…between Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference–so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked…. I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed, I can see no reason,  but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity. I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels…. We have men-stealers for ministers, women-whippers for missionaries, and cradle-plunderers for church members…. The dealers in the bodies and souls of men erect their stand in the presence of the pulpit, and they mutually help each other. The deal gives his blood-stained gold to support the pulpit, and the pulpit, in return, covers his infernal business with the garb of Christianity.

Douglass then goes on to connect Jesus’ description of the Pharisees to American Christians.

“They bind heavy burdens, and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers…. But woe unto you scribes and pharisees…you devour widows’ houses…You blind guides! Which strain out the gnat and swallow the camel.”  

Where is Douglass’ assessment of the hypocritical nature of American Christianity still true today? Where do we accept things that should not go together? It is always hard to see it for ourselves. We need those irritating prophets who offend us but make us think. Douglass was such a prophet. Unfortunately, we tend to ignore these prophets in their lifetime and then other prophets forget that the message they have been given is not for their own personal gain.

Should you want to read the whole appendix (and if you haven’t–read the whole book!), here is the link to the text.   


Filed under Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, church and culture

What letter would you write to your former abuser?

Last night I was perusing a treasure I re-discovered on my bookshelf. Back in the dark ages my wife took a Black literature class at UConn and had the foresight to keep the books. This treasure, Dark Symphony: Negro Literature in America (Free Press, 1968) contains works from great writers such as Langston Hughes, W.E.B Dubois, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Ralph Ellison, and of course Frederick Douglass.

It is Douglass’ Letter to Thomas Auld (sometimes entitled, “To my old Master”) which first appeared September 22, 1848 in the Liberator. Thomas Auld was Douglass’ master before he escaped and gained his emancipation. Here’s a link to the whole letter but consider for a minute what you might write if you were writing to a past abuser. Continue reading


Filed under Abuse, Great Quotes, Racial Reconciliation, Repentance, suffering