Monday, March 07, 2005

A tribute to a Crazy Crusader

I have no idea why I am posting this, except to publicly acknowledge a hero of mine. Although I consider myself pacifistic (in the sense that a vegetarian wants to be a good vegan but likes milk and eggs), but am not a complete pacifist (I know it is right, but, to quote St. Stanley- "I'm a mean SOB"), I have found some of those people I am drawn to are not pacifists.

I love King, but respect Malcom X and understand his "by any means necessary" attitude (yes, I understand this was early in his career before Mecca). I find Bonhoeffer much more fascinating for his contribution to the plot to assassinate Hitler. As an Irishman, I am repelled by and drawn to the IRA and Michael Collins is one of my favorite leaders of the 20th Century.

However, a hero I am compelled to mention is John Brown. Depending on who you are speaking to Brown is a hero, a saint, a nutcase, a Eric Rudolph-type, a traitor, the harbinger of the Civil War, an insurrectionist, a revolutionary, a deeply committed Christian and abolitionist who took his belief to the logical conclusion.

In 1859, John Brown led a group of young men to Harper's Ferry, WV in an attempt to overtake its armory and start a violent revolution of the slaves in the south against their masters. As a Christian abolitionist (who happened to be white) he felt so strongly that slaves were being stripped of their God-given dignity that he was willing to kill (and die) for these beliefs. His men were captured and he was hanged within weeks.

During that time he wrote some of the most eloquent letters of Christian faith I have ever read (along with some disturbing things that remind me of radical right wing groups willing to kill abortionists, hence the Rudolph comparison), he was a model prisoner and he sparked debate amongst many who had never taken abolition or an upcoming war seriously. Only later was history changed and he became crazy (how I heard about him in school), so as to make his actions less revolutionary.

I mention this because:
1) more Christians should know this man and understand his contributions to the abolition of slavery
2) a lot of history regarding him is skewed
3) I struggle with my belief in the principles of Jesus and MLK (and Wilberforce) regarding disobedience and my fascination with this man who was willing to do whatever necessary to free slaves
4) as a white man, it is good to remember that, although our history is littered with horrible role models in the area of race relations (and very few publicized Christian role models in the civil rights/ abolition movements), there have been those willing to die for those with no rights
5) As a minister I struggle because I cannot hold him up as a hero to many people and still not justify what he did
6) I want a movie about this guy to be made (I see it like Braveheart, but better). If I were a screenwriter or producer, I would get this done.

As Frederick Douglass said about Brown, "His zeal in the cause of freedom was infinitely superior to mine. . . . Mine was as the taper light; his was as the burning sun. I could live for the slave; John Brown could die for him." Man, I am such a bad Southerner.

putting it out there for you peeps.


Anonymous said...

Hey Rick. I'm listening to the long version of his acceptance speech as I write this. Another "crazy"... that made me think of you:

- Mike

DLW said...

Have you read Loder's "The Politics of Jesus"? He summarizes a significant amount of biblical scholarship that shows how Jesus was political in revolutionary non-violent way.

I don't think we can see the fruits of Brown as that good. They were more of a frustration with the incompetence of the abolitionists that tried to stop slavery with the same tactics used to win personal converts. See my notes from Mark Noll's speech at the "Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience" conference. dlw