Smart people saying smart things

Morgan Guyton: “Unpaving the Romans Road”

Here’s my test for you to see whether you have buried Jesus under your Romans Road. When Jesus tells the Samaritan woman to go get her husband and then answers her reply that she has no husband by saying, “The truth is you’ve had five husbands and the man you live with now isn’t your husband,” is he (1) convicting her of her sin or (2) expressing sympathy and acceptance to a woman who got rejected and divorce-slipped by five men (which was not adultery under Mosaic law …)?

If you automatically answered  No. 1, it’s because you or whoever interpreted this text for you in the past superimposed the Romans Road paradigm for Christian conversion on top of the text. … For the woman to “get saved” according to this formula, she has to be convicted of her sin, throw herself at the mercy of Jesus, and then accept His salvation. The problem is that words like sin, forgiveness, repentance, or salvation do not occur anywhere in the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. There is no reason to conclude from the words as they are written in the text that Jesus couldn’t have been sympathizing with the woman rather than rebuking her when he told her the truth about her love life.

Rachel Held Evans: “I love the Bible”

The Bible is a sacred collection of letters and laws, stories and songs, prophecies and proverbs, philosophy and poems, spanning thousands of years and multiple cultures, written by dozens of authors and inspired by God. It is teeming with metaphor and imagery, tension and contrast. It defies our every effort at systemization. It defies our every attempt at mastery. Indeed, it forces us into community — with God and with one another — precisely because it is difficult to understand, precisely because it was never meant to be read alone.

Scott Paeth: “Church for Freaks II”

In Christ’s crucifixion we see both the reflection of our brokenness and the consequence of our brokenness, since in our woundedness we wound in return. We as broken creatures harm those who are least worthy of harm, and bring to grief those towards whom we owe the greatest love. And in the cross, this reality is made manifest to us. At the same time, we’ve been wounded in our turn, and in Christ we see the reflection of a God who is with us in our woundedness, who suffers both for us and because of us, and in whom our hope therefore must rest.

Jarm Logue: Letter to Mrs. Sarah Logue, 1860

You say you have offers to buy me, and that you shall sell me if I do not send you $1,000, and in the same breath and almost in the same sentence, you say, “you know we raised you as we did our own children.” Woman, did you raise your own children for the market? Did you raise them for the whipping-post? Did you raise them to be drove off in a coffle in chains? Where are my poor bleeding brothers and sisters? Can you tell?

Who was it that sent them off into sugar and cotton fields, to be kicked, and cuffed, and whipped, and to groan and die; and where no kin can hear their groans, or attend and sympathize at their dying bed, or follow in their funeral? Wretched woman! Do you say you did not do it? Then I reply, your husband did, and you approved the deed — and the very letter you sent me shows that your heart approves it all. Shame on you.

"Especially when you haven't even brought the kid back, and are just promising not to ..."

And his own received him not
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"As expected. Let's make sure the deception doesn't stick."

And his own received him not
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And his own received him not

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  • Does the text actually say the Samaritan woman was divorced? She could have been widowed. 

  • vsm

    Having five men die on you would be some outrageously bad luck, though.

  • quietglow

    The first one dead would make her not a virgin, probably making her less able to find desirable matches. So that could be in the history.

  • Kenl

    Hi Fred, if you haven’t seen this, I thought it was pretty smart. Ken

  • Kenl
  • Anon

    From the last, an excellent rule: Have you got to learn that human rights are mutual and reciprocal, and if you take my liberty and life, you forfeit me your own liberty and life? Before God and High Heaven, is there a law for one man which is not law for every other man?  

  • Ursula L

    I do wonder about the economics of the slave trade as described in the last section.

    Did the woman in question really have an offer of $1000, in 1860 dollars, for the legal ownership of a slave who had escaped, and who she did not have custody of, and whom she could not actually deliver to the new owner?  Why would anyone pay $1000 for legal ownership of an escaped slave?  Particularly in 1860, on the eve of the Civil War, when cooperation in regaining custody from a free state like New York was unlikely to be forthcoming?  When the escaped slave in question was under the protection of abolitionist activists, and very close to the Canadian border and certain freedom?  

    It’s an interesting bit of extortion.  She got the horse back, but wants him to pay for it anyways?  Or she’ll sell her ownership rights to him, rights which she only has on paper but doesn’t actually have control over?  

    The actual threat seems to be “I sold your siblings, and I’ll sell your mother if you don’t pay me off.”  

    But, of course, even if he pays her off, she still has the right to sell his mother, and they both know it.  Which makes the threat somewhat hollow.  He can’t actually buy his mother’s safety.  

    Effective extortion would be to say “Pay me $1000 for ownership of your mother, or I’ll sell her to someone else.”  Demanding a lot of money for something she has, but which is probably of limited cash value (an older woman slave, towards the end of or past her childbearing years, and with declining ability to do other work, particularly given the harsh conditions slaves lived under, which could lead to premature weakness as they aged) but of great emotional value to the person she’s extorting money from.  

    And if an escaped slave received a letter from the person who legally owned them, why would they respond?  Doing so would only confirm their location and their status as an escaped slave.  Receiving such a letter should be a reason to move and hide, not respond.  


    I suspect there is something else going on here.  Things that are very political, and very much about promoting the abolitionist cause.  

    At the very least, the response letter was written, not to be sent as a reply, but for publication.  Publication along side with the letter written by a very naive and confused slave-owner who thought her letter was an effective threat.  As a purely private response, it makes little sense. 

    I would not be surprised if the recorded and published version of the letter from the slave-owner was edited to obscure the identity of both slave and slave-owner, to protected the escaped slave from being detected.  Any publicity of the plight of escaped slaves would need to be done in a way that protected the people who managed to escape.  Change names, change the location of the slave-owner.  Don’t provide evidence that could be used to reassert control over someone who has barely had a taste of freedom and safety.  

  •  Ah that’s true!

  • Hey Fred, check out my latest and tell me what you think. I think I’ve found a way to talk about divine wrath that gets past the idiocy of the fundamentalists: thinking of God’s wrath as the spiritual immune system of the universe, responding wherever there is injustice and disrespect for creation.

  • gjm

    Nitpick: the word “salvation” does in fact occur in the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman in John 4.

  • It sounds very much in the same genre as: 

    So there may be a good chance the names were not changed. The basic point holds in any case, though. 

  • Ursula L

    It sounds very much in the same genre as:… 
    So there may be a good chance the names were not changed. The basic point holds in any case, though. 

    Same genre, certainly.  A reply letter intended not merely as a reply but for publication along side the letter from the slave owner.

    The different dates are important, however.  Jarm Logue was writing in 1860, while Anderson was writing in 1865.  The Civil War happens in between.  Which changes the safety dynamic for the escaped slaves doing the writing, as at the time of the earlier letter there was still a real risk of re-enslavement.  And also the power, as we see, of a slave-owner using relatives of an escaped slave as hostages in a negotiation or threat.  

  • everstar

    I don’t think the economics are supposed to make sense.  I don’t think she’s making an offer in good faith.  I think she’s trying to threaten him by reasserting her right to buy and sell him, his brother and sister, and his mother as she pleases.  She’s also reminding him that according to the Supreme Court, if she sends people to have him arrested and returned to her as a fugitive slave, there’s nothing he can do about it because he’s her property.  Her entire letter is a clumsy attempt to alternately bully and guilt him into returning to her, which he recognizes and calls her out on.

    I’m confused about why you think either letter was edited to protect Mr. Loguen.  It’s signed by him and the biographical details given in Mrs. Logue’s letter correspond to known facts of his life.  Moreover, from Mr. Loguen’s response, I think he would have scorned any attempt to “protect” him by hiding information.  On the contrary, he sounds to me like he’d relish a chance to defy slavetakers.

    Don’t provide evidence that could be used to reassert control over someone who has barely had a taste of freedom and safety.

      Jermain Loguen escaped from slavery in 1834.  By the time Sara Logue wrote to him, he’d been a free man for twenty-six years, five years longer than he’d been a slave.

  • Ursula L

      Jermain Loguen escaped from slavery in 1834.  By the time Sara Logue wrote to him, he’d been a free man for twenty-six years, five years longer than he’d been a slave.

    This is precisely my point.  

    Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough.

    I hope that the published version of the letters and accompanying articles was written in a way that protected the identity and freedom of Jarm Logue.  

    Especially since it was 1860 rather than 1865.  

    Because, if Mrs. Logue’s letter is genuine, even after over a quarter of a century, Mrs. Logue was able to track him down.  

    And even after a quarter century, federal law was on Mrs. Logue’s side.  Ignoring any “State’s Rights” arguments to deciding freedom and slavery at the state level.  Demanding that free states enforce a slave owner’s claim of ownership over people, even if slavery is illegal in a given state.  

    Even after a quarter century, Mrs. Logue had the right to recapture and re-enslave the person (or, really, any person) she claimed (or could get away with claiming) to be Jerm Logue.  And to have the courts and the law on her side.  

    And she seemed to be using that fact to try to extort money from someone she claimed was her escaped slave.  Because actually reclaiming and re-enslaving him would be troublesome.  

    But the power of having the law on her side gave her the power needed to give a try at extortion.  

    A minor crime, given her well established record, as a slave owner, of kidnapping, false imprisonment, wage theft, assault and battery, rape, and perhaps even murder.  Plus, tracking someone down who is from 25 years in your past and trying to assert authority and control over them is one heck of an example of stalking. 


    The Jerm Logues of the world deserve protection and support.  Yet their stories are powerful indictments of the Mrs. Logues of the world.  

    How can one use those stories as public indictments of the evils of slavery without putting the victims in the stories at risk of legal retaliation from their oppressors?  

    Anyone being stalked by someone who is known to have, and admits to, having committed the crimes of kidnapping, false imprisonment, wage theft, assault and battery against them deserves to have every effort made to protect them.  Particularly when the law is on the side of the person doing the stalking, kidnapping, false imprisonment, wage theft, assault and battery.  

    When the law is on Mrs. Logue’s side, then using pseudonyms in the story could be an important tool for protecting Jerm Logue while still exposing the evil threat that the Mrs. Logues of the world are to everyone.  


    There are a variety of things that might be done to preserve the truth of the stories while still protecting the individuals involved.

    Pseudonyms.  Changing locations.  So that the story is true, except the location of the slave owner and the location of the escaped slave and their respective names are altered.  So that the story of Joe escaping from Mr. Smith from Mississippi to Boston becomes the story of Paul who escaped from  Mr. Jones from Georgia to New York. These are straightforward, a completely true story with identifying details obscured.  

    You could also created fictional composite characters, from the stories of several escaped slaves.  Or, as in the case of the book Uncle Tom’s Cabin create fictional stories that tell the truth of the plight of even the most righteous and virtuous person caught up in the system of slavery.  


    Some escaped slaves, I am sure, were brave enough to take the risk of using their real identities and the real identities of the people who legally owned them when telling their stories.  

    And they deserve every honor and respect for taking that risk.

    But there is no dishonor or disrespect in an escaped slave wanting their story to be told in a way that protected them in their escape.  

    And there is every honor and respect in telling their stories in a way that protects them, whether the telling is by they, themselves, or by someone else on their behalf. 

    And, when looking at such records from a historian’s point of view, the need that escaped slaves had for protection needs to be considered when deciding how to read the document.

    A court transcript isn’t less true, or less valuable historically, if a juvenile victim of crime is named as John or Jane Doe rather than with their real name. It’s just something to be aware of. Completely justified if the risk of harm to the victim is ongoing.