“The Good Ship Jesus”

Slave Ship Jesus

 

One of the most popular church songs during my teen years had these lyrics:

“Jesus, Jesus, Jesus; there’s just something about that name.”

Master, Savior, Jesus; like the fragrance after the rain…”

The song was one of the hundreds of holy hits put out by the Gaithers – sung in churches all through the South.

The song reminded us of many attributes of Jesus.

Jesus:  Love, kindness, justice, gentleness, humility.  These are the words that come to my mind when I think of Jesus.

But how about these words?

Jesus:  Horror, suffering, injustice, slavery, torture.

The name of the first slave ship to kidnap Black Folks and take them to America was…are you ready?

“The Good Ship Jesus”

Yep, there was a slave ship named “Jesus.”  A place of suffering, injustice, slavery and torture, named after Jesus.

“The Good Ship Jesus” was captained by Sir John Hawkins.  Hawkins was considered to be a “religious gentleman” who insisted that his crew “serve God daily” and “love another.”  Worship services were held on board twice a day.

I’m pulling out my hair, right now.

A “religious gentleman”?

“Serve God” by enslaving people?

“Love another” except people of another race, I guess.

That was 1562.

Let’s move forward 300 years and look at and listen to Frederick Douglass – America’s most famous abolitionist.  According to an article in the January/February 2018 issue of Christianity Today, Douglass escaped slavery when he was 20.  Standing on the banks of the Chesapeake Bay one Sunday morning he cried out, “I am left in the hottest hell of unending slavery. O God save me!”

“I will run away…God helping me, I will.”  He did.

Douglass settled in Bedford, Massachusetts.  In 1841 he became a lecturer for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society.  His assignment was to convince the American public of the immorality of slavery and the necessity of the anti-slavery cause. Douglass had a catchphrase.  You know, a catch-phrase is a well-known statement or phrase from a famous person or character, like these:

Harry Carry – “Holy Cow!”

Jack Buck – “That’s a Winner!”

The Terminator – “I’ll be Back.”

Han Solo – “May the Force Be With You”

Sheriff Brody in Jaws – “You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat”

Here is Douglass’ catch-phrase – a line he repeated in almost every address:

“Between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible differences.”

In the Appendix of his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Douglass condemned “corrupt, slaveholding women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity.”

Quoting from the Christianity Today article, “As Douglass knew from direct experience, the cruelest slaveholders were also often the most ardent church goers. ‘The man who wields the blood-clotted cowskin during the week fills the pulpit on Sunday, and claims to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus.’”

Douglass continues with words that break my heart, “The slave auctioneer’s bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master…The slaveholder…covers his infernal business with the garb of Christianity.”

Douglass lays it out there pretty plainly doesn’t he?

Here’s our “come to Jesus” moment:

What “infernal business” are we covering with the “garb of Christianity”?

Is there a difference between our Christianity and the Christianity of Christ?

What are we doing that Jesus wouldn’t do?

What are we doing to which Jesus would never attach his name?

I’m pretty sure Jesus would not want a slave ship to be named after him.

How did people in the past, who called themselves “Christians,” do things that, today, we so easily and readily recognize are nothing like Jesus?  Is anyone else besides me asking, “How could they have done that?!”

What things are we doing today, that people in the future will so easily and readily recognize are nothing like Jesus? Will someone in the future ask about us, “How could they have done that?!”

Jesus gave us some pretty good guidelines, which if followed, will keep us from today’s version of naming a slave ship after Him.

“Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

“As you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me.”

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. And love your neighbor as yourself. Do this and you will live.”

“Do not neglect the weightier matters of justice, mercy and faith.”

“Love one another as I have loved you.”

“…he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor…to set the oppressed free…”

So, by our lives, by our values, by our words and actions, what characteristics do people who know us attach to the name of Jesus?

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Don’t Know Much About History

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Happy Columbus Day. It’s not a big holiday.  There are no Columbus Day parties, unless you’re a school kid.  Any day that school is out is a party.  Some people take advantage of some Columbus Day sales, but that’s about it.

Some people didn’t realize it was Columbus Day until they went out to their mailbox and found it empty. “What’s up?” “Where’s the mail?” “Oh yeah, it’s Columbus Day.”

I grew up in a time when Columbus was seen as a hero.  Do you remember this line from a poem, “In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”  How cute.

And then I was taught by Christian leaders who described in glowing terms Columbus’ commitment to Christ and sense of mission to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the people who were “living in darkness and the shadow of death” (A quote from Columbus’ journal).

Columbus’ writings, though, show another side to the guy who got a holiday named after him.  Alongside claims that he is doing his work for God’s glory, he writes in his journal on October 12, 1492, the first day he encountered the native people of the Americas, that “they should be good servants…I, our Lord being pleased, will take hence, at the time of my departure, six natives for your Highness.”  Columbus promises, in a report to the Court in Madrid, “as much gold as they need…and as many slaves as they ask.”  He even gives God credit for his “success”: “Thus an eternal God, our Lord, gives victory to those who follow His way over apparent impossibilities.”  When a large percentage of the Indians died in transit, Columbus wrote, “Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold.”

In the prologue of his journal, Columbus writes, “Your Highnesses, as Catholic Christians and Princes who love the  holy Christian faith, and the propagation of it, and who are enemies to the sect of Mahoma (Islam) and to all idolatries and heresies, resolved to send me, Cristobal Colon, to the said parts of India…with a view that they might be converted to our holy faith…Thus, after having turned out all the Jews from all your kingdoms and lordships…your Highnesses gave orders to me that with a sufficient fleet I should go to the said parts of India…”

Columbus was familiar with persecution and murder before arriving in the New World.  The day before Columbus left Spain, all of the Jews in Spain were required to leave.  During the time that Columbus was preparing for his voyage, an estimated 30,000 Spanish Jews were burned at the stake for their failure to convert to Christianity.  That’s some strategy for evangelism.

The list of gruesome acts attributed to Columbus against the island natives go on and on – rape, torture, sex-trade – things that just don’t jive with “spreading the Gospel” or “bearing the light of Christ” (the meaning of the name “Christopher”), and things that just didn’t make it into Little Johnny’s history books.

I realize I’m treading on sacred ground for some.  It is not my intent to disrespect or cast dispersion on someone who has been revered by so many.  It is my intent to face honestly any evidence uncovered by historians.  The title of the post applies to me.  I don’t know much about history or many of the other areas of study mentioned in the song from which that line is taken.  But I don’t want my preconceived ideas to prevent me from facing whatever truth is revealed.  For some  historians’ perspective, check out these links:

http://www.history.com/topics/columbus-controversy

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2006/aug/07/books.spain

Reading Columbus’ own words from his own journal,  and seeing the evidence uncovered by historians, what do we do with this?

1. Remember the line, “Those who don’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

2. Some say Columbus was just a product of his time and culture.  Does that excuse behavior that goes against the character of Jesus?   What am I doing that may characterize me as a “product of my culture” but that contradicts the character of Jesus?

3. How do I see people?  Columbus obviously didn’t see the islanders through the eyes of Jesus.  How about me?  Through whose I eyes do I see people?

4.  In some way, Columbus’ journeys played a part in the founding of the United States – the freest country on earth.  That’s a good thing.   I’m glad to be an American.  I’m also a Christian – living in the kingdom of Christ.   I have to make sure my values and behaviors are determined not by my citizenship in America but by my citizenship in His Kingdom.

Happy Day.