Be Active. . . Christians Let This Work Be Thine

Be Active. . . Christians Let This Work Be Thine February 11, 2021

Answer jingoism with patriotism. Answer quietism with Christian activism. Never mix motives, but be active in this life in light of the world to come. One  reason to deeply read Black activists before the Civil War is that they got this balance right and did justice in the Republic inspired by the Kingdom.

A Christian must be active for justice, read the prophets, as subjects of the King of Kings. An American citizen should be active for justice, defending what is best in our ideals, as citizens of the Republic. These two obligations can be in tension and then the Christian must choose the higher law of God over those of the Republic. As a Christian, the subject knows that his nation is one of many that will come and go in time. As a citizen, he will love his motherland, because this is his home. He will work to bring justice to the systems of this nation, informed by his deeper calling to the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.

Black leaders before the Civil War had to reject jingoism: they knew how imperfect American democracy was. The were patriots not nationalists, as all should be.

Frances Ellen Watkins regularly appealed to American founding principles and Christian beliefs. She did not confuse the two. How could she? America was keeping millions in slavery and so she could not believe in our superiority. Watkins also was an American born and working in the this country. She had a right to the best ideas of that are the heritage of any citizen. She aspired to hope in her motherland. 

Watkins knew that the nation then (as now) had a Christian super-majority. Millions of Americans claimed Christian ethics and she saw the inconsistency of cruel race based slavery with global, traditional, Christian orthodoxy. The Christian here and globally should be called to resist the peculiar institution. The law of God must trump any earthly allegiance and so Watkins could stand in judgment on the United States from that perspective.

She also knew that slavery was profoundly inconsistent some of the values of the American founding. Slavery was accepted, if grudgingly, in the American Constitution, but the ideals of the Revolution and Founding were often inconsistent with each other because of this tolerance of race based slavery. The nation could embrace white supremacy or rational freedom, but not both. One could not say “all men were created equal” and easily justify a cruel inequality to some men based on skin color. The United States claim to be the “land of freedom” and a great slaveholding power were in obvious tension. Frances Ellen Watkins called the “sons of freedom” to choose freedom over slavery and ultimately white supremacy.

As a Christian she could judge the nation, as an American patriot she loved her land enough to work to save it and have hope the nation could be saved.

Watkins possessed this binocular vision: the eye of the subject and the eye of the citizen. The Christian vision must be active, the citizen’s vision must be active. When a vision for activism can be united in a person who is both Christian and a patriot, then there will be depth to activism. There will a unique perception when such people  “set to work the moral forces, that are yours of church and state. . .”

Be Active

By Frances Ellen Watkins

The Weekly Anglo-African,

July 30, 1859

Onward, onward, sons of freedom,

In the great and glorious strife;

You’ve a high and holy mission

On the battle field of life.

See oppression’s feet of iron

Grind a brother to the ground,

And from bleeding heart and bosom,

Gapeth many a fearful wound.

Sit not down with idle pity,

Gazing on his mighty wrong;

Hurl the bloated tyrant from him—

Say my brother, oh, be strong!

See that sad, despairing mother

Clasp her burning brow in pain;

Lay your hand upon her fetters—

Rend, oh! rend her galling chain!

Here’s a pale and trembling maiden,

Brutal arms around her thrown;

Christian father, save, oh! save her,

By the love you bear your own!

Yearly lay a hundred thousand

New-born babes on Moloch’s[1] shrine;

Crush these gory, reeking altars—

Christians, let this work be thine.

Where the Southern roses blossom,

Weary lives go out in pain,

Dragging to death’s shadowy portals,

Slavery’s heavy galling chain.

Men of every clime and nation,

Every faith, and sect, and creed,

Lay aside your idle jangling,

Come and staunch the wounds that bleed.

On my people’s blighted bosom,

Mountain weights of sorrow lay;

Stop not now to ask the question,

Who shall roll the stone away?

Set to work the moral forces,

That are yours of church and state;

Teach them how to war and battle

’Gainst oppression, wrong, and hate.

Oh! be faithful! Oh! be valiant,

Trusting, not in human might;

Know that in the darkest conflict,

God is on the side of right!*


Notes [1] – In the Old Testament, Moloch was a Canaanite god to whom children were sacrificed.

*Voices Beyond Bondage . NewSouth Books. Kindle Edition.

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