Frederick Douglass is not a saint in the official sense, but the work he did is definitely something we in the church should recognize and strive to emulate. Frederick Douglass was born in slavery in 1818. It was rumored that his father was the slave-owner of his mother. While he was a slave, Frederick secretly taught himself to read and write realizing how essential an education was to freedom. Frederick would try multiple times to escape slavery but was unsuccessful until September 3, 1838. He would dress as a sailor and using identification papers borrowed from a free black seaman made his way to an abolitionist safe house in New York.
Once free, Frederick tried to integrate himself into the community and a local church. However, he found many of the local churches to still be strongly (sometimes bitterly) segregated. He would eventually join the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and become a licensed preacher in 1839. Frederick grew as a public speaker and was often asked to share his story of life as a slave in abolitionist meetings. In 1845, his autobiography was published, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. While some would question whether a black man could write so eloquently the book went on to be best seller and was reprinted and translated many times.
Frederick Douglass would spend the rest of his life speaking and working for freedom and equality for African Americans. He would also be a big proponent for education of African Americans as he realized that this was essential to their freedom and integration into society. Douglass would not only work for the freedom of African Americans but he also fought for woman’s equality and suffrage. Douglass realized that equality was something that everyone needed and if he was fighting for African American rights he should also stand up for women as well. Douglass would famously say, “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.” Douglass would die on February 20th, 1895 after giving a speech at a meeting for the National Council of Women in Washington, D.C.
Frederick Douglass has strong words we in the church would do well to heed. Many church leaders at the time would defend slavery and the segregation of African Americans. Douglass realized that the message he saw in the Bible was not matching with what these leaders were saying. In response, Douglass would say,
“Between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference — so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ; I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity.”
I pray that we, like Frederick Douglass, would stand up for the enslaved, oppressed, under-represented and misrepresented. I pray that we would use our freedom not for our benefit but to show greater love for others. I pray that we would not be afraid to speak prophetically to hypocrisy, deception and partiality.
Wikipedia – Frederick Douglass
Common Prayer – Reading for February 21st
Huffington Post – What Every American Should Know About Frederick Douglass, Abolitionist Prophet