How do we overcome?

given on Sunday, September 18, 2011

Have you realized that this year is the 150th anniversary since the beginning of the Civil War?  The official start date for the war is April 12, 1861 with the attack on Ft. Sumner, in South Carolina.  Ft. Sumner was Union under the command of Major Robert Anderson and the attack was lead by Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard.  One shot started one of the most horrific periods of American history, lasting until the surrender of the Southern Confederacy on April 18, 1865 on the lawn of the Appomattox Court House, Virginia.

The war took a huge toll on America.  The PBS website article “Judgment Day” records it:

. . . 617,000 Americans had died in the war, approximately the same number as in all of America’s other wars combined. Thousands had been injured. The southern landscape was devastated.   (Accessed on Sept. 17, 2011 at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4p2967.html)

 

The battle was over, but the reconstruction was yet to come.

Closer to home, this weekend marks the 150th anniversary in Lexington.   The Battle of Lexington occurred September 13-20, 1861.  I have worked those days when the reenactments first began in the 1980s.  Crowds came through the homes and walked the battlefield, toured the Anderson house, and watched the re-enactors.  It was a huge event, and this weekend’s is reportedly the last one—we will see.

All the hype has triggered another entire line of thought for me.  I understand the fascination of the re-enactments, the historical significance of reviewing the Civil War.  Also, I understand that the events leading up to the war did not hinge on one simple issue—slavery.  Still the slavery issue is the most visible battle issue to date coloring the entire understanding of the Civil War.

Slavery was an industry during that time.  The lifestyle of the southern plantation owners has been the setting of movies, books, and tourism for years.  I admit to a certain fascination and interest in the antebellum and Civil War eras, but the issue of slavery remains beyond my full comprehension.  As a 20th century and a cradle Methodist, slavery is far beyond my belief system and simply does not make sense to me.

Still, as we noted in our scripture from Jeremiah 34, slavery existed long before America’s birth, even before John Wesley’s birth, and—believe it or not—before Jesus’ birth.  In fact, slavery was a prevalent social and economic part of life throughout mankind’s history.  Look at the Twelve Tribes of Israel and the history of their slavery.  Slavery is the complete control of one human over another human.  Slavery was part of battle when the conquerors took control of the defeated.  Why, the examples and the list of slavery experiences can be traced throughout the recorded history of humanity.

But humanity, as a quality, seldom is considered part of a discussion on slavery.  And today, as a neighboring community relives a battle remembered for the issue of slavery in our country, slavery continues to exist in our 21st world.  Slavery is addressed in the United Methodists doctrine, too:

Therefore, be it resolved, that The United Methodist Church officially support efforts to end all contemporary forms of slavery and bonded labor; and . . .

Be it further resolved, that The United Methodist Church actively champion anti-slavery efforts by petitioning the United Nations, United States Congress, the State Department, the Department of Justice, and the legislative bodies of all countries in which The United Methodist Church has an organized ecclesiastical structure, to demand the freeing of all subjected to modern day forms of enslavement and bonded labor;

(Accessed on September 16, 2011 at http://www.umc.org based on a search for

“slavery.”)

Slavery as referenced in this year’s anniversary continues in various forms around the world today.  And yes, it is right here in our own community.

Slavery can be defined simply as control of one over another one.  Slavery can be unknowingly created when one individual takes control of another.  Sometimes it is so subtle that the ‘slave’ does not even identify the reality of the slavery.  Manipulations, physical and/or mental, are forms of slavery.  Schools deal with it in terms of bullying.  Psychologists and other mental health professionals have other terms including con artists, frequently sexual con artists.

As Christians, what are we to do?  The answer is as simple as to follow the Golden Rule:  So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.  (Matthew 7:12, the NIV)

Do you really want to manipulate others?  Do you want to be manipulated by others?

This may seem an oversimplification of a very complex topic, slavery, but as you look around the neighborhood you see it happening.  You see the bullies.  You see the domestic abuse.  You see manipulation in all types of forms.  Yet slavery today is a real problem, a social problem for our communities in the most immediate situations.

Welsey was opposed to slavery, and in 1774, in his “Thoughts on Slavery” he opens the essay with the following two paragraphs:

I. 1. By slavery, I mean domestic slavery, or that of a servant to a master. A late ingenious writer well observes, “The variety of forms in which slavery appears, makes it almost impossible to convey a just notion of it, by way of definition. There are, however, certain properties which have accompanied slavery in most places, whereby it is easily distinguished from that mild, domestic service which obtains in our country.”*

2. Slavery imports an obligation of perpetual service, an obligation which only the consent of the master can dissolve. Neither in some countries can the master himself dissolve it, without the consent of Judges appointed by the law. It generally gives the master an arbitrary power of any correction, not affecting life or limb. Sometimes even these are exposed to his will, or protected only by a fine, or some slight punishment, too inconsiderable to restrain a master of a harsh temper. It creates an incapacity of acquiring anything, except for the master’s benefit. It allows the master to alienate the same, in the same manner as his cows and horses. Lastly, it descends in its full extent from parent to child, even to the last generation.   (Accessed on September 16, 2011 at http://gbgm-umc.org/umw/wesley/thoughtsuponslavery.stm)

 

Granted, this introduction is focused on the slavery that triggered the Civil War but consider slavery as a much broader definition.  Then ask just what other ways do humans control other humans.  Is it always the physical ownership of one human by another—bought and paid for—or can slavery exist in other forms?

Slavery is around us in a wide range of forms.  It can be as simple as the credit card or as complicated as the sex trade that exists around the world today.  Slavery, from my vantage point, means loss of independence.  God gave us the freedom to live independently from others’ control—including Satan’s control.  The issue is when humans take control using greed and power to make decisions one individual becomes subjected to another’s control—a form of slavery develops.

As Christians, our mission includes fighting slavery.  I am sure we all have been victims at one time or another, but the more we follow God’s law—the new one—we can overcome slavery.  The United Methodist doctrine identifies it and remains committed to opposing it through the 2008 Book of Discipline in #6021.Church Supports Global Efforts to End Slavery.

Today, as we step out the doors, review what is controlling your life or others you know and then ask:  What can I do to keep from being controlled?  The answer lies in that Golden Rule.  Can you do anything to make a difference?  Can you stop the slavery from money, from manipulation, from bullying?  I think the answer is yes.  The methods may not be easy, but with God’s help we can fight slavery.  With the connective power of our church, we can fight slavery in almost every form it takes on.  We simply must live by the Golden Rule and by staying focused on God.

Dear Loving Father,

Guide us in our daily lives.

Protect us from controlling factors

That take away our freedoms.

Guide us in our actions

So we do not control others

Making them slaves unknowingly.

Guide us in our Christian efforts

To assure that others know your love

And your freedom through faith.

Thank you for sending us Jesus

Who taught us the Golden Rule

Who demonstrated how to apply it.

May we follow his example

As we step out the door into our world

To practice loving one another.

Amen

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