Albro S. Brown to Frederick Douglass, January 18, 1853
ELLINGTON, Jan. 18th, 1853.
MR. EDITOR:—There seems to be an opinion prevailing in almost every community, that ministers should have little, if anything to do with politics; and to stand aloof from all political responsibility, is regarded by some as a part of their ministerial duties and as equivalent to keeping themselves unspotted from the world. A majority of our theologians at the present day either fail to see that the Bible recognizes and inculcates civil governments, or they lack the moral courage to make an application of its truths. The Bible is explicit upon the subject, and evidently contains instructions which it followed would lead both ministers and laity to advocate the establishment of righteous civil government. There are probably over thirty thousand ministers in the United States; but few, very few, are willing to cry aloud and lift up their voices like a trumpet, in showing the people of this guilty nation their transgressions.
They discourse upon the sins of other nations-making stirring and eloquent appeals in behalf of the ignorant and degraded of foreign lands, and portray in vivid colors the folly and wickedness of the superstitious Hindoos in allowing themselves to be crushed under the car of Juggernaut-to burn upon the funeral pile of the husband, and to commit their infants to the river Ganges, in order to propitiate the favor of the heathen deities. True, such practices may justly be condemned, and should withal excite our commiceration; and while our ministers of the gospel are appealing to the benevolent for aid in sending the word of life to other lands, are they not to blame for not advocating the cause of the down-trodden and oppressed of our land?
Are they not verily guilty before God and the civilized world for leaving unrebuked sins and practices of a deeper dye and equally as revolting as those to which I have alluded amongst the ignorant but honest Hindoos? True, we have not a car of Juggernaut; but we have a system of oppression at the shrine of which three millions of God’s creatures are beings sacrificed! Neither have we a river Ganges; but yet we have a stream whose dark and turbulent waters are constantly bearing from the embrace of the fond and distracted slave-mothers thousands of innocent children who are to be used as beasts of burthen, and worn out in the rice swamps or cotton fields of the South! Far better would it be for those loved ones, could they be thrown into the river Ganges, or buried beneath the waves of the ocean, where they would be forever concealed from the grasp of unprincipled traders in human flesh!
American slavery is a concatenation of stupendous evils that are carried on in the name and by the authority of law; not in superstitious and degraded Hindostan nor China, but in civilized and Christian America, and that, too, at the noon of the nineteenth century, and in a land containing thirty-six thousand churches! In the Slave States, the sanctity of the pulpit, the garb of Christianity, the strong arm of the law, and the influence of political parties, are all thrown around it as a shell or bulwark of defence. Thus it is permitted to flourish and expand, while a large majority of our ministers and churches are silent upon the subject, many of whom are not willing so much as to offer either a prayer or vote against.
REV. ALBERT BARNS, of Philadelphia, says that there is not power enough out of the church to sustain slavery an hour—i.e., if influence were brought to bear against it, the institution would soon fall. Is it possible, that the “sum of all villainies,” that stupendous evil! the blighting curse of America! is fostered and sustained by the churches of Christ? If so, how great is her responsibility! and how will she answer to Jehovah in that great day of final adjudication, when God will lay His Almighty hand on every human act, and weigh it strictly in the balances of justice?
I apprehend that the minister and churches will not be condemned so much for what they have done, as for what they have not done. The final sentence will be that: “Inasmuch as ye have not done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me; therefore depart.” The priest and Levite were not condemned by Christ for any injury they had done the man who fell among thieves, between Jerusalem and Jerico, for they did not rob or wound him, but simply came and “looked on him,” and passed by on the other side.” It was the letting alone, or passing by on the other side, and neglecting to show compassion on him, for which they were condemned. So a majority of our ministers and churches of the North, as they look upon the three millions of slaves in our land, whose stripped and wounded forms are writhing under the torture of the lash and chain, “pass by on the other side,” doubtless consoling themselves with the thought (as did the priest and Levite,) that they have not robbed, stripped nor wounded them. And because they do not hold slaves, and have not anything designedly towards establishing slavery in our country, excuse themselves from all responsibility in the matter, and remain comparatively indifferent. God requires us to “Defend the poor and needy, and to rid them out of the hand of the wicked.” Again we are required to “Open our mouths, to judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy.” Says an inspired writer: “The cause I knew not, I searched out.” Can the clergy of our country excuse themselves from “pleading the cause of the needy,” from voting and praying for the “delivery of the captive,” the down-trodden and the oppressed, simply because they are accused by some of their church members with “dabbling with politics,” or with “trying to unite church and state?” Can they excuse themselves on the ground that because the means used for the overthrow of slavery are of a political matter, and that the parties are so corrupt that they cannot consistently co-operate with them?
The more corrupt a party, the more it needs the reforming and enlightening influences of good men to make it what it ought to be. It is because of sin and corruption that ministers were ordained to preach the gospel. God makes it their duty to “cry aloud—spare not, and lift up their voices like a trumpet,” in showing the people their transgressions. This they are to do whether men will hear or forbear. And when they neglect to rebuke the sins of men, whether those sins be of a moral, political or religious nature-whether they are committed by our chief magistrate, his cabinet and the members of Congress, in high places, or committed by men in the private and obscure walks of life, they neglect or fail to accomplish one great object for which they were com-
missioned, and will be held answerable to God in that day when all mankind will be judged according to their works. God’s commands are positive, and in the idea that in any sphere of human action a man may divest himself of moral responsibility and act independently of the divine will, is not only absurd, but dangerous-it is a door leading to the practice of almost every wickedness and wrong. If he may be irresponsible in a political sphere, he may in a religious or in any other and then adieu to all responsibility.
There is no ground of neutrality for intelligent beings; for Scripture teaches, and reason yields an intuitive assent that mankind are responsible, and will be judged for all their acts. Hence the requirement, that the minutest doings of life be in strict conformity with His will. “Whatsoever ye do, whether ye eat or drink, do all to the glory of God.”
Yours for Righteous Civil Government,
ALBRO S. BROWN