For the past year I have pondered the issue of slavery in our nation’s history. This is partly from reflecting on two outings our family was able to take. One was a tour of Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home near Charlottesville, VA and the other was a trip to Mammoth Cave, in Kentucky. Both trips significantly impacted me.
I cannot get out of my head one of the tour guide’s comments from the slavery tour at Monticello. We were standing on Mulberry Row, which was, in Jefferson’s time, a literal row of slave quarters and shops. Now they have recreated some of those buildings. From that row, you can easily see Jefferson’s home. We were standing on the lot where the original “nailery” would have been. The guide suggested a possible story of a day in the life of a young slave boy who would have had to make so many buckets of nails or face being whipped or being moved to work in the hot fields. As he worked to make the nails, maybe he would look up at Mr. Jefferson’s house, where the author of the Declaration of Independence lived, in which he wrote, “All men are created equal.” What would that young boy think as he faced a life of slavery, never to leave its grasp? Ugh, that thought weighed heavily on me that day as it has many other days in this past year.
It has been recently revived in my thoughts from the news that I heard of archeologists finding the room that they believe was designated for Sally Hemmings. Sally Hemmings was a slave with whom Jefferson probably had 6 children. The fact is, no matter how many stories would like to romanticize the relationship between the two, and whether there was an element of romance with Mr. Jefferson or not, Sally Hemmings was his property, not allowed to leave his estate.
At Mammoth Cave National Park we took the historic tour which was absolutely fascinating yet disturbing, again because of the issue of slavery. Using slave labor rented from a neighboring county, saltpeter was mined in the caves.
“During the War of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain, much of the large quantity of saltpeter needed to fight the war was mined at Mammoth Cave. The cave owners relied on a work force of approximately 70 African American slaves to mine this valuable mineral.” (https://www.nps.gov/nr/twhp/wwwlps/lessons/35mammoth/35facts2.htm)
I love to learn about American History. But honestly, the slavery we had in this nation sickens me. It’s a blight on our nation that continues to leave its effects. This injustice, with the cruelty that was expressed to human beings, is a major part of the sins of this nation before God. What do you do when you see such an atrocity?
The solution is not found in trying to cover over the atrocity, somehow whitewashing our nation’s history, our forefathers, or even our own actions and attitudes. The solution is not found in having certain people do penance or get punished for what their former relatives may have done. The Scripture gives a clear prescription of what a nation is to do when they have sinned against God and turned their back on Him. I find it encouraging and comforting knowing we lean into the mercies of a God who can forgive and heal.
2 Chronicles 7:14
14 if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
This Scripture is in the context of God giving instruction to the nation of Israel when they would turn from God and then experience resulting crisis.
As we face the atrocity in our nation’s past we must not try to whitewash what has been an offense toward God. We don’t deny it happened. But we do as Daniel did with his nation; he identified with the sin and prayed to God for mercy (Daniel 9). We turn to God, ask for forgiveness, and offer forgiveness to others in that same vein. Without it the atrocities and injustice will continue in ignorance, vengeance, and retaliation.
God, we repent of our past sin. The atrocities that our nation has committed, the darkness we have embraced. We are sorry for slavery which infected our nation’s past and we are sorry for the racial wars, prejudice, injustice, and discrimination that continues today. God, help us to humble ourselves. To bow low and kiss the Son (Psalm 2) and say we were and are wrong. Help us to seek your face and know you, to know how you feel about all this, and to know what our current actions should be. Help us to forsake any wicked thoughts, motives, and actions. We ask that you would hear us and respond with the extension of your forgiveness and healing.
Matthew or Julie Wine