A Timely History Lesson

I had an exam the other day which warranted a lot of studying on my part. I mean, I have never in my life studied for any test like I did for this one. Mostly, I studied history.

I had never liked social studies or history too much during my school years. There were some years, I thought it was pretty OK, usually thanks to a good teacher. Most of the time, though, I struggled to remember what I had to learn for tests and I didn’t do too well. It was usually my worst subject every year.

So, I needed to study. And as I studied, I became enthralled by what I read and watched. I saw history in a new light — not as a series of facts I need to know for a test, but as a series of events that led to the world today. But, being enthralled doesn’t necessarily mean I enjoyed all that I had re-learned. There were some things that made me angry and disheartened — things that made me want to go back in time and ask people why on earth they thought that way.

In 1619, the first slaves from Africa set foot on American soil, and from that point, slavery stayed in the US for almost two and a half centuries. Between 1619 and today, slavery was a norm in the south and some other states for 61.8% of that time. Yet, that isn’t what made me angry. The anger that I felt stirring in my heart was from Christian slave-owners.

Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America actually said, “[Slavery] was established by decree of Almighty God…it is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation…it has existed in all ages, has been found among the people of the highest civilization, and in nations of the highest proficiency in the arts.”

How could people actually believe that God was totally OK with it if you took ownership of someone else and treated them as less than human? Did these people actually believe in Jesus Christ? Do they not know He died for everybody? Whatever happened to loving your neighbor as yourself?

It hurts my soul to think about a time when slavery was prevalent. It hurts me to know that slaves were “people of color” — that, based on the color of their skin, their destiny in this life was decided by someone who bought them from someone else. It bothers me to my core to see that slave-owners actually treated slaves as less than people based on the amount of melanin in their skin.

And then came the Three-Fifths Compromise, the one time when slave-owners felt their slaves should be counted as people, and the non-slaveowners up north turned their cheek and insisted that they should not be part of the population. So, in came the compromise: every black slave will count for 3/5 of a white person.

Every black slave will be considered 60% human.

Somehow, for me, there’s a difference between being treated poorly by your owner and having the national government declare that you’re 40% less human than your owner — the one who doesn’t even believe in your humanity.

For anyone who knows American history, there was eventually a war. The southern states did not appreciate Abraham Lincoln’s stance on slavery and keeping it out of new territories and seceded from the union, which caused a civil war — the outcome of which was slaves being abolished.

I’d like to think we’ve come a long way since then. I’m not naive enough to say that racism doesn’t exist. But, I feel like pro-slavery activists then were victims of groupthink (the practice of thinking or making decisions as a group in a way that discourages creativity or individual responsibility) — deep down, they knew that their treatment of other people was wrong, but everybody else was doing it, so their judgment was clouded (this is my opinion — not stating this as a fact).

I know desegregation and the Civil Rights Movement didn’t come about until almost an entire century passed after slavery was abolished. I know that this is still recent in the light of things.

But most people, most people, aren’t so bold as to think that people of color are less than human. Right?!?

And then I saw the news about what happened on Saturday Night, an attack by white nationalists after a rally which started with the planned removal of the statue of the Confederate general from the Civil War — the one that was lost by confederates over 150 years ago.

I don’t understand it. I don’t understand why people want to still honor a man who lost a war for a very good reason. I don’t get why people who weren’t there for the war could get so worked up about it. I don’t know how people in the twenty-first century can actually think they are above another person simply because of their skin color. I don’t know how people can be so evil today. This is stuff I read about in my history books. This is all over and done with. We know better now.

Yet, sin remains in this world, unleashed, launching its attack on every one of us in different ways. It’s why I can’t let my first reaction — one of anger and even hatred towards the people who committed this violence — dictate my actions. It’s why I have to surrender the human emotions that I have right now, however righteous they feel. Christ is the only One who can cancel sin.

Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. (Matthew 5:44)

Lastly, I pray that no one is made to feel like 3/5 of a human. One hundred percent is made in the image of my God (Genesis 1:27). Jesus loves every single part of you; He died for your entire being (John 15:13).

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