Gregg Jennings: No Songs of Freedom!
From Gregg Jennings for Fredericksburg Today
You read that exactly right. This week, the Museum of the Bible, in Washington D.C. tweeted an image of an artifact that is not only repugnant, but to those of us who actually handle the Holy Bible, is a vandalization of the great Exodus message of liberation. Like a Declaration of Independence without a “John Hancock” this is a censored Bible without the signature of the author. The title page touts, “Parts of the Holy Bible, selected for the use of Negro Slaves in the British West India Islands.”
We may need to read that again slowly: “Parts of the Holy Bible, selected for the use of Negro Slaves in the British West India Islands.” Yes, they had the audacity to still put “Holy Bible” on the title page. Let’s be clear, there is nothing holy about the removal of all references to freedom and deliverance. The entire book of Exodus was removed in the hopes that “dutiful” slaves would not get any ideas. A Bible stripped of freedom is a version edited by white supremacists and the Devil himself. Printed in London in 1808, this alteration is hard to get my mind around ant it’s pure evil.
Lets take a moment to look deeper into our own world. It’s 2018, February to be more precise. It’s Black History Month. Just a few weeks ago, on Martin Luther Kings Jr.’s birthday, flyers supporting the KKK were disseminated like poison onto the driveways of many of our neighbors. Just this week, at city schools, my son took a social studies test where he needed to know about the Civil War and our American heroes like Harriet Tubman, John Brown, and Nat Turner.
It’s that last name that gave me pause, Nat Turner, a preacher. Is it possible that he was forced to preach with a Bible like this one? A Bible with no Exodus, no promise of ultimate emancipation, no words from Isaiah, “I have come to give sight to the blind, to set the captives free, and to declare the year of the Lord’s favor.” If that is the case, consider this miracle though, even without an Exodus story in his Bible, Nat Turner would say the following in 1831, and excerpt from his Confessions:
“By this time, having arrived to man’s estate, and hearing the Scriptures commented on at meetings, I was struck with that particular passage which says, “Seek ye the kingdom of heaven, and all things shall be added unto you.” I reflected much on this passage, and prayed daily for light on this subject. As I was praying one day at my plough, the Spirit spoke to me, saying, “Seek ye the kingdom of heaven, and all things shall be added unto you.,’ Question. “What do you mean by the Spirit?” Answer. “The Spirit that spoke to the prophets in former days, and I was greatly astonished, and for two years prayed continually, whenever my duty would permit; and then again I had the same revelation, which fully confirmed me in the impression that I was ordained for some great purpose in the hands of the Almighty.”
Whether he had ever read the Exodus account or not, Nat Turner’s faith was in a God who could part waters. He wouldn’t have baptized a white man in the river, with screaming onlookers, if you don’t have faith in a God who broke down the wall of hostility with his own broken body. Yet then, as now, there is so much more work to be done.
When will we have eyes to see?
Perhaps, when all of us, like Nat, see our divine ordination as having a “great purpose to be used in the hands of the Almighty.” Used to seek justice. Used to walk humbly. Used to love mercy. Used to end racism! Used to fight oppression! Used to denounce every KKK flyer and sentiment in Fredericksburg. Used in the hands of the almighty, trusting that all the darkness in the world cannot extinguish a single light.
Gregg Jennings thinks Fredericksburg is a pretty great place to live and he wants everyone else to love it too. He’s a transplant from Missouri, which explains the St. Louis Cardinals support group at Common Ground, the church he has been pastoring for the past decade. An advocate for the homeless and a champion of our local breweries, he takes his faith serious, while trying not to take himself too seriously. He is a Dad, a Dylan fan, and a beard-grower.