Join Me on a Journey!!

ARE YOU READY??

Go to the MENU PORTION of this blog and check out the syllabus on Church History 101 and get the text. Then listen to the 6 lessons and view the resources available to enhance your study. There is no hurry to rush through this course (like you did in school) and feel like you are taking a drink out of a fire hydrant. Proceed at your own pace and LEARN SOMETHING.

Persecution and the Church… Then and Now

I am in the process of developing a Church History 101 course for those who want to learn more about the church since its inception. This course will be about the Early Church, from the first to the fifth-century. One of the things we will be looking at will be the persecution of many early believers. This will be the first of six courses that I will put up on this site. They all will be totally free. Here is a sampling:

Christians, at first, were not seen as distinct from the Jews in the eyes of the Romans. It wasn’t until Nero (around 64 AD) singled out Christians as those to blame for the great fire in Rome, which, by the way, many historians believe Nero himself had set. In this first mass persecution, many Christians died as scapegoats. This was to be the nature of the early persecution of the church—sporadic and local. It grew out of the animosity of the populace towards believers, rather than a deliberate government policy. Pliny the Younger, who was the governor of Bithynia (N. Turkey) and who wrote to Emperor Trajan for clarification on what to do with Christians brought before him by neighbors or local authorities simply because they were Christians. Trajan replied that Christinas should not be sought out, but if they were accused of being Christian and refused to recant, they should be punished. Those who were willing to worship the gods of Rome were to be pardoned and all anonymous accusations were to be ignored. It was the original don’t ask don’t tell policy. But there were still martyrs: Ignatius, the Bishop of Antioch, whose last words were, “I am the wheat of God and am ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of God.” And then there was Polycarp, the aged Bishop of Smyrna, who said when asked to swear by the emperor and curse Christ, “For eighty and six years I have served him, and he has done me no evil. How could I curse my king, who saved me?” He was burned at the stake.

A more universal persecution of Christians did not begin until around 161 AD under Marcus Aurelius. Many more died, including the consecrated widow (worked for the church) Felicitas and her seven sons. She was asked to recant and she replied, “For while I live, I shall defeat you; and if you kill me, in my death I shall defeat you all the more.” Then, persecution suddenly ended in 180 AD when Aurelius died. It began again under Septimus Severus in 202 AD and many more more suffered death in the Coliseum, such as a 22 year old nursing mother, Perpetua, and her servant girl, Felicitas. They were whipped by gladiators, run through by a wild bull, and eventually put to death by the sword.

Then persecution abated for fifty years only to start up again in 249-251 AD under Emperor Decius—it was the first one that was empire-wide. Decius used a different method of persecution, because he realized that killing Christians had only succeeded in making more Believers, as the Christian apologist Tertullian had said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Some even volunteered to die, believing that all post-baptismal sins of a martyr were forgiven. Thus, Decius had Christians perform just one pagan observance and they would receive a certificate of sacrifice, with which they would be perpetually safe from harm. Some Christians bribed officials to get certificates without having to sacrifice. However, if they refused to burn incense to the gods, they were beaten and thrown in jail—no longer to the wild beasts. Origen, a famous church apologist, was arrested, tortured, and then released. He died a few hours later. Then there was the persecution under Valerian in 253-260 AD, and another under Diocletian in 284-305 AD. This was called the Great Persecution and it was designed to extinguish Christianity from the empire. It prohibited all Christian gatherings and places of worship, and all clergy should be hunted down. The persecution continued into the reign of Galerius and then suddenly stopped in 311. In 313 AD, Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, which ended the Roman Empire’s persecution of Christians for good.

It has been estimated that by 325 AD there were 7 million Christians (est. of a total population of 130 million- 40% of the world’s population) scattered throughout the Roman Empire and as many as 2 million martyrs. Why were Christians persecuted? Christianity was considered an “illicit sect” and was on a “no fly” list with the Roman authorities. They were considered dangerous and counter-cultural. They were considered “superstitious.” This word does not mean what you think it does. The Romans were superstitious in the way we understand it with all their gods and legends. But “superstitious” then meant strange, weird, odd, which was part of the reason Christianity was on the list as an illicit sect. Christians refused to worship the gods of the empire and that caused great consternation because of all the superstitions regarding the anger of the gods leading to crop failure or military defeat, etc. They were accused of being atheists because they did not worship an acceptable god (of the empire); they were accused of treason, because they would not burn incense to Caesar or recognize him as Lord; they were accused of immorality, incest, even cannibalism because at their “love feasts” they would call each other brother and sister, greet each other with a holy kiss, and eat the body and blood of Jesus.

After the persecutions were over and Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire under Constantine, the martyrs and confessors (those who suffered but who were not martyred) were loved, reverenced, idealized and venerated. They were appealed to as intercessors when praying to God. Their bones became relics of veneration. At the Seventh Ecumenical Council at Nicea (787 AD) it was decided that relics must be placed on the altar of a new church before it could be consecrated. (Christian History, Issue 27.) These who “overcame by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death” (Rev. 12:11)—these became a stumbling block to many in their development of a Christ-centered faith.

Today, we are also awed by the stories of those early martyrs as well as modern ones, and for the suffering church in different parts of the world. It has been estimated that in the very first decade of the twenty-first century, 1 million Christians have died for their faith , and average of 100K a year. (JL Allen, 9 Nov 2012, National Catholic Reporter.) We read their stories and hear from various ministries how the church has grown through their witness. Remarkable! But let us not fail to recognize that persecution has also devastated once vibrant Christian communities, especially in the Middle East in particular. Millions have suffered and have been displaced from their homelands. They are facing intense pressure from poverty and starvation, continuing threats and abuse, torture and inhumane imprisonment, and grief over lost loved ones.

One representative of a ministry that deals with the suffering church writes, “Sadly, one-sided stories and perceptions of persecution do not merely blur reality, but they also do damage both to the persecuted and non-suffering church. When persecution is only told as a story of heroism, it blinds us to the reality that Christians living under persecution are human beings who desperately need our care and support… They should not be pressured to share only their ‘heroism’ or ‘miracles’ and to hide from us the depths of their suffering and tears. Similarly, it creates an illusion of an other worldly Christian experience that we do not see in normal settings. The outcome of this is that people think their personal stories and faith do not mean as much as the celebrated persecution stories. They forget that it is grace that saves us all and only grace that sustains all of us. A persecuted Christians is a sinner just like a non-persecuted one. Both need Christ’s redemption….We lack a theology of persecution in the contemporary church.”

The issue for us today is not to idealize persecution or to seek after it if it comes…when it comes…wherever it comes. Our main concern today is to ask “am I willing to live for Jesus”—and to pray for those who are suffering for their faith, whether they have victory stories or not, that they would be comforted and cared for by the Holy Spirit and his church. We can also support ministries that do not glory in the story, but who provide care and material support for our suffering brothers and sisters.

Get ready for the journey into CH 101!

An Election Day (Waiting) Prayer

As I await the vote count from 6 remaining states with population totals of over 18 million and the total number of votes that separate the candidates only around 200K, here is my prayer:

Almighty God, Eternal Father, Lord of Heaven and Earth, we humbly come before you as a church and pray for our nation in throes of this unsettled election. We pray all of this against the background of acknowledging that you are the sovereign God of the universe who sees yesterday and tomorrow through the lens of your eternity, and knows the end from the beginning—ruling over the affairs of humanity just as you govern the earth, skies, and seas.

In spite of all we know to be true about you, Lord, many of us are still filled with anxiety, others of us are fearful, and others even angry. We are thankful for our democratic (representative) form of government and the opportunity we have to exercise a say in its direction. On the other hand, we also acknowledge our allurement to power and the tendency we have to consider our political opinion pre-eminent. We often fail to recognize or admit to our own blind spots and prejudices which could lead us to disregard the opinions of others with as much zeal as they reject ours.

We often put too much faith in “the system” rather than recognizing that it is but a tool in your sovereign hand for accomplishing your divine purposes, not ours. And we admit that such a trust in our own opinion opens us to the dire warning of our Lord Jesus, “Judge not lest you be judged.” We opine the the viewpoint and negative qualities of others, only to see that our sensitivity to such viewpoints flow from the dark crevasses of our own hearts where the same sin dwells.

We are such weak and desperate creatures, willing to trust in anything that seems to serve us most immediately. O Lord, forgive us; revive us; stir within us a passion for your kingdom and glory. May we pursue justice and righteousness not because it is culturally relevant or a part of our party’s platform, but because it is what you desire from us. May we love mercy and kindness not because it fosters civility, but because it reflects you character who makes the rain fall upon the just and unjust. And may we be driven by the Spirit of humility, repentance, forgiveness, and repentance, thus shunning the way of anger and vengeance towards those who “in our minds” don’t deserve it—just like we dd not in your eyes..

For the Day is coming when every proud look will be brought low and you, Lord, will be exalted. All the glory of mankind will bow; all the pride of man will lie in the dust, and you will be exalted in all the earth. And all our political idolatry will be destroyed.

Holy Father, someday this most anticipated election of our lifetime will be be replaced by another. The election of 2020 will need to be googled to be remembered. But you, O Lord, will remain. May we then, as now, acknowledge with the prophet Isaiah, “Puny man! Frail as his breath! Don’t ever put your trust in him!” Through Jesus Christ. Amen.

As I finished writing this prayer the announcement came that Biden was being declared to winner, which still needs to be certified.

Luther or Khomeini? The Pandemic of Hope…

I am re-blogging this post from several years ago. It is about All Saints Day Eve (today), Martin Luther, and the Reformation. But it is also about God’s continuing work among Iranians. What I wrote (below) is dated but still relevant. I have included a more updated report that you can watch on YouTube called the Pandemic of Hope.  https://youtu.be/xMuZnvU3DF4

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On this day after All Saints, what does Martin Luther have in common with the Ayatollah Khomeini? Very little, except for each man being radically committed to his faith. The radicality of Khomeini has produced thousands of refugees fleeing Iran because of its religious oppression, while the faith of Luther has been a means of conversion for thousands of these Iranians immigrants to Christianity. Germany is home to the largest Iranian community numbering 150,000. In an article in Christianity Today titled The Other Iranian Revolution (July/August 2012), Matthias Pankau and Uwe Siemon-Netto chronicled the impact of the gospel on Germany’s Iranian population, especially among the Lutherans. Twelve years ago, a tiny independent Lutheran church in Leipzig began teaching German as a second language to refugees. The church used Luther’s German translation of the Bible as a textbook. Continue reading “Luther or Khomeini? The Pandemic of Hope…”

“What if” Abraham Lincoln were not shot…

As a theologian I do not usually engage in “what ifs,” because I believe in the sovereignty of God which not seem to comport with “what ifs.” However, as an historian, I allow myself, from time to time, to engage in a “what if” if that engagement brings a greater understanding of an historical event. And so, allow me to engage in such an exercise in order to gain a better grasp of what took place in African American history following the Civil War.

Abraham Lincoln believed that he was going to lose the presidential election of 1864. He was running against his former commander of the Army of the Potomac, General George McClellan, whom Lincoln had fired. The war was not going well; the Union casualties were mounting, the Confederate Army at one point had come within 5 miles of Washington, DC, and McClellan’s platform was for peace, even if it meant a continuation of slavery. Lincoln prepared for defeat and asked ex-slave and abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, to draft a plan to help as many slaves as possible escape the South before the November election.. Lincoln also made his cabinet sign a letter pledging their loyalty to the next administration.

Then, the tide of war suddenly turned just months before the election. General William T Sherman captured Atlanta and basically crippled the Confederate’s ability to wage war. In fact, Lincoln won the election by a landslide taking every state within the Union except for Kentucky, Delaware, and New Jersey. He won 55% of the popular vote and 212 electoral votes to McClellan’s 21. The majority of the Union Army (78%) even voted for him, in most cases by absentee ballots. Andrew Johnson was elected Lincoln’s VP. We could apply a “what if” here— what if Sherman did not capture Atlanta and Lincoln had lost the election, but let’s not go there.

Our main focus now is on what if Lincoln had a migraine and decided to be a no-show at Ford’s Theatre that fateful Good Friday evening on April 14, 1865? U.S. Grant and his wife declined going, because they decided to take an earlier train home to see their grandchildren. History tells us that there were 13 others in the Lincoln circle of friends who also declined the invitation. What if Abe and Mary had as well, thus escaping the assassin’s bullet and living out a second term overseeing reconstruction of the South. I believe that we would be in a very different place than we are today in terms of race relations in our country. This is my thesis and not one that I have read about from another source. We will never know but here is why I think it could have.

Immediately after the Civil War , the US had 4 million previously enslaved people who were now free. Slavery had been abolished in the Union through the Emancipation Proclamation of January, 1863, but still remained institutionalized in the Confederacy until the end of the Civil War. The Appomattox Court House meeting when Lee surrendered to Grant took place on April 9, 1865, but technically the official end of the war did not come until May 9, 1865. (Even then there were pockets of resistance which remained until President Johnson’s proclamation of peace on Aug 20, 1866.)

It was the passage of the 13th amendment on December 6, 1865 that officially ended the institution of slavery (Lincoln signed it after it passed Congress just 5 days before his death, but it had to be ratified by the states.) Frederick Douglass had proclaimed in May 1865, “slavery is not abolished until the Black man has the ballot,” bur it would not be until 1868 that the 14th amendment was ratified extending citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the US (including former slaves) and guaranteeing them equal protection under the law. And it wouldn’t be until February 3, 1870 that the 15th amendment was ratified formally granting Black men the right to vote. (It is to be noted that they could vote before this, but for reasons soon to be discussed this amendment was still needed.)

Unfortunately (and here we are coming to the “what if”), Lincoln’s successor was Andrew Johnson from Tennessee. Although a southerner, he was on the Republican ticket because he wanted to preserve the Union—but he was not anti-slavery. In fact, he favored states-rights and although the Confederate states were forced to ratify the 13th and 14th amendments, it was with the agreement that Johnson would give each Southern state the liberty to carry out Reconstruction as they saw fit. Since racism continued to exist, many states developed very restrictive laws denying Blacks the right to vote as well as denying other rights. These laws were known as “Black Codes” and were in reality a new form of slavery created by old White slave owners: limiting ownership of property, taxation of salaries, unfair labor practices, etc., all designed to keep the Black citizen in check and use the money from their labor and taxes to pay back the debt the South owed the federal government for the war.

The Republican Congress finally took over Reconstruction in 1867 and forced the South to ratify the 14 amendment (and later the 15th) which President Johnson opposed. It was during this period of Congressional Reconstruction that African Americans in the South made significant strides economically and politically. PBS Pinchback, a freed slave, served for 43 days as Governor of Louisiana after its White governor was impeached. In South Carolina, there were 76 Black delegates out of 131 to the convention to re-write the state constitution. Both the speaker and assistant speaker of the SC House of Representatives were Black. John R Lynch became Mississippi’s first US Congressman. From 1870-1901, there were 22 African Americans in Congress (2 were Senators). Jemar Tisby adds, “During Reconstruction, 800 Black men took on roles in South Carolina government like postmasters, assessors, and custom officials.”

When Blacks were in the majority, they did not try to dominate or consolidate power, but sought for equal protection for all under the law. Most of them were Republicans and supported higher tariffs to protect American industry, federal aid to eduction, pensions for soldiers, and improving the infrastructure of the country. One Black Congressman from SC said, “I am being true to my own race…but at the same time, I would not have anything done which would harm the White race.”

Unfortunately, because compliance with Reconstruction was not federally enforced, by 1876 only 3 southern states had reconstruction governments: SC, Louisiana, and Florida. The other states had returned to their old ways and ordered redistributed lands the federal government had mandated for Black families to be returned to former slave owners, therefore, relegating African Americans to become share- croppers on those lands. Here is my point: There was a window of opportunity under Reconstruction for the nation to build a more perfect union and actually practice that “all men are created equal.” But that window was all but closed because of a racist president and the fear of southern Whites that power in the hands of former African American slaves would be used against them. So, here is the “what if”—what if Lincoln was not shot and was the president who directed the first 4 yrs of Reconstruction? Would it have made a difference to where our nation is today in terms of racial equality?

But God is still sovereign…

There are a few more questions that beg asking at this point: What did White backlash to Reconstruction look like and are there similarites to today? What happened to bring about the vote for Black (and White) women? (Did you know that women’s rights groups were originally opposed to the 15th amendment?) Why and when did the Democrats become the party of the South when it was the Republicans who stood for the end of slavery and who guided Reconstruction?

How can I please God?

Have you ever wondered whether God is happy with you? One could respond by saying that we can never please God and that is why our relationship to him is based on grace and not upon performance. While that is true, Paul counsels us to try and discern what pleases God (Eph 5:18) and challenges us to live in such a way that pleases him (1 Thess 4:1). Grace does not produce half-hearted performance, but a heart full of gratitude that simply wants to make our Father happy.

Haven’t you had such thoughts about others that you love? How can I make my kids happy today? How can I encourage my wife by doing something that I know will please her? Why does it seem performance-based when we want to do the same thing for God who has done so much for us?

So, what are the things that please God? Discerning the answer to that question will yield depth to our relationship with him. Here are some of the ways that I have found to please him: (I will list them for you but comment on the few that are especially meaningful to me.)

…Trusting in him (Hebrews 11:6) – God loves to be trusted. Over and over again in the Bible we see him responding to faith. Everyday there is something for me to trust him for and to remove from my worry list. Remember that the opposite of fear is not courage, but faith. Thus the areas of fear in our lives often highlight the areas in which we are not trusting our Heavenly Father.

…Spiritual Mindedness (Rom 8:8) – I don’t think this means having a daily beatific vision. Perhaps what we are doing right now describes it best—thinking how to please God, being concerned with what we know concerns him, being awed by him, being angry with the foolishness of people in power who think they are “tall poppies” (Australian for proud), and being sad when when God is not honored or when people of faith are ridiculed.

…Obedience to his commands (1 John 3:22)

…Doing good and sharing what you have (Heb 13:16) – My wife is recovering from knee replacement surgery and I’m on chemo and we don’t have a church community because of Covid. However, the Christians neighbors around us (who we don’t know very well because we moved here 9 months ago) have banded together and are providing meals for us. Something as simple as that pleases God (and me too).

…God’s people give him pleasure (Ps 149:4)

…He takes joy in those who reverence him, those who expect him to be loving and kind (Ps 147:11) – The force of this seems to indicate that he not only is happy but is worshipped when we have the expectation that he will be loving and good in whatever he does for us. In other words, we don’t deal with him like a tribal god who must be placated before he/she/it works on our behalf. We should not believe for an instant that we are bothering God with our request or must arouse his attention to our dilemma. We do not have a God who is unsympathetic to our pain but are encouraged to enter boldly into his presence and find grace and mercy in times of need. Why? Because he takes pleasure in his people, in their trust in him, and by their expectation of his love and kindness.

…A broken and contrite heart he will not despise (Ps 51:16, 17) – wherever we see genuine repentance evidenced, even in those who least deserve it (like King Manasseh), we see God responding in mercy and forgiveness. It almost seems that God has a default setting towards repentance. Whenever he sees it and in whomever he sees it, he responds in mercy.

…He is pleased with Jesus, and so those who follow Jesus please him as well (Matt 17:5)

…He is pleased when we praise the name of the Lord with a song and magnify him with thanksgiving (Ps 69:30, 31)

…He is pleased when we ask for wisdom and discernment and not power and riches (1 Kings 3:10)

…He is pleased with those who show mercy and kindness, just like he does (Matt 9:13)

…He is pleased when we live a godly life in our own household (1 Tim 5:3-5)

…He is pleased when we give cheerfully (2 Col 9:7) – He may take pleasure in our generosity but he LOVES a cheerful giver. Does it excite you to give your money away or do wish you had a rubber band on it so it would snap back to you? As for me, the offering is the most exciting part of a church service and that is why giving online or in a basket at the back takes away a very meaningful and vital part of worship. I’ve always loved the image of the little boy who did not have any money when the offering basket was passed, so he put it on the floor in front of him and stood in the basket. Perhaps that is why he loves a cheerful giver because the cheerful giver says, “here I am Lord, use me”. So as someone once said (I think it was me), “get in the basket before they put you in the casket.”

…He is pleased most by his work in us (Phil 2:11, 12) – Since it is God who works in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure, whenever we want to do his will and whatever we do to please him flows out of his marvelous grace in our hearts. The very fact that we are having this conversation right now must make our Father so happy, because apart from his work in our lives we wouldn’t give a rip (wouldn’t even care) about him.

Just a few thoughts on making our Father happy…hope they are helpful.

The Most Pivotal Election in US History?

Is this election the most important one in our lifetime? We have been told it is, but when you have lived as long as me, you have heard that phrase many times. In fact, if you did a study of presidential elections in American history you would hear this same phrase repeated in almost every election.

That is why I have rephrased the question to ask what was the most pivotal election in US history? You can do your own study and arrive at your own conclusion, but for me, I believe that the most pivotal and divisive presidential election in American history took place in 1860. John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry a year earlier had brought the great American debate over slavery to a breaking point.

Four candidates were nominated. The Republican Party, which fielded its first candidate in 1856, was opposed to the expansion of slavery. Abraham Lincoln, the party’s nominee in 1860, was seen as a moderate on slavery, but Southerners feared that his election would lead to its demise, and vowed to leave the Union if he was elected. The Democratic Party split during their April convention, and the Southern delegation walked out in protest against the party’s failure to endorse a federal slave code for western territories. Northern Democrats reconvened in Baltimore, where they nominated Stephen Douglas, while the Southern faction of the party held their own convention in Richmond and nominated Vice President John Breckinridge for president. The Constitutional Union Party, a moderate party composed of former Whigs and remnants of the Know-Nothings and other groups in the South, organized just before the election of 1860 and nominated John Bell.

Bell carried Virginia and Breckinridge had the most votes in western Virginia. Lincoln won the election without carrying a single Southern state, the limited support he received in Virginia coming almost exclusively in the Northern panhandle. Almost immediately following his election, Southern states began withdrawing from the Union, setting the stage for a civil war and the creation of a new state.

Notice the above map – with four candidates in the field, Lincoln received only 40% of the popular vote but a significant 180 electoral votes (59%). This meant that 60% of the voters selected someone other than Lincoln. The next time you complain about the electoral college just think of this election as an example of its wisdom. With the results tallied, the question was, would the South accept the outcome? A few weeks after the election, South Carolina seceded from the Union. Since the North had a larger population than the South, it therefore had control of the Electoral College. Lincoln dominated the Northern states but didn’t carry a single Southern state. 

Douglas received some Northern support—12 electoral votes—but not nearly enough to offer a serious challenge to Lincoln. The Southern vote was split between Breckenridge who won 72 electoral votes and Bell who won 39 electoral votes. The split prevented either candidate from gaining enough votes to win the election. The election of 1860 also firmly established the Democratic and Republican parties as the majority parties in the United States. It also confirmed deep-seated views on slavery and states’ rights between the North and South. 

The night after all the results came in and it was clear that Lincoln had won, he went home only to find his wife, Mary, already asleep. He gently touched her shoulder and whispered her name, to which she made no answer. Then, as Lincoln recounted: “I spoke again, a little louder, saying ‘Mary, Mary! we are elected!‘ ” Minutes before, the final words his friends heard him utter that night were: “God help me, God help me.” (The Smithsonian Magazine)

Before Lincoln’s inauguration, eleven Southern states had seceded from the Union. Weeks after his swearing-in, the Confederate Army fired on Fort Sumter and started the Civil War. I would say the election of 1860 was the most pivotal in US history.

The most contentious election in US history?

Presidential elections are not nice. They are very IMPORTANT, but not nice. By the way, make sure you vote—I already have by absentee ballot.

One of the most contentious presidential election in US history was the election of 1800 between the incumbent John Adams and “frenemy” (they were friends and enemies at the same time) Thomas Jefferson. The main cast of characters in this election—Adams, Jefferson, Burr, Hamilton all had a mutual level of disgust for one another. In fact, just 4 years later the election, Aaron Burr (who was Jefferson’s Vice President), killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel. You can do your own research on this election, but I thought this brief video would an interesting watch. I wonder what things would have looked like back then with TV adds and Twitter?

Learning about African American History… 4

This is the fourth in a series of blogs of what I have been learning about African American History that I never learned in school.

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The period of 1820-1860 was one of great reform in the nation. Many White and Black philosophers, ministers, writers, orators, and editors spoke out for justice for the oppressed. It paralleled a world-wide interest in reform. It also coincided with the on-going (1820-1870) religious revival known as the Second Great Awakening which led to such social changes as asylum and penal reform, temperance, women’s rights, reforms in public education, and the abolitionist movement to end slavery.

From the beginning of the Civil War, President Lincoln made it clear that his main motive was to preserve the Union. Whatever he did against slavery and for Black people it was to preserve the United States. In 1862, he wrote, “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it.” And to prevent slavery from becoming an issue, the president ordered Union generals to turn away slaves coming to their lines for safety or to serve in the Army.

However, so many Black men, women, and children sought safety with the Northern troops that, unofficially, attitudes began to change. Slaves served as guerrillas fighting against the Confederates. They also passed valuable information on to the Union army. In May 1862, an African American boat pilot actually stole a Confederate gunboat with an all African American crew of slaves and surrendered it to Union fleet. The boat pilot, Robert Smalls, and his crew were recognized by Congress for their exploit, and Smalls was invited to Washington to meet with “Uncle Abe” as he was called by many Blacks. Thus before the year 1862 was half over and before the Emancipation Proclamation (Jan 1, 1863), Lincoln changed his tune and his policy. He told a member of his cabinet that the war was a military necessity and it was “absolutely necessary for the salvation of the nation, that he must free the slaves.

Before the end of the war, over 200,000 African American served in the Union army and navy. Black troops liberated Charleston, Petersburg, Richmond, and Wilmington, NC. Without these Black troops Lincoln said, “we would be compelled to abandon the war in three week.” The success of the African American soldier was all the more amazing considering they were usually placed under white officers who were often prejudice, they were sent into battle with less training and inferior weapons, and their medical facilities were worse and their doctors fewer. They also were paid half as much as White soldiers. In fact, many of them refused pay until it was made equal—they continued to fight anyway.

Black women along with White women served behind the lines in relief agencies and in medical facilities. A freed slave, Susie King, was one of many Black nurses who worked alongside Clara Barton tending the sick and wounded.

Col. Thomas Wentworth wrote about his experience as the commander of the first official regiment of ex-slaves: “They had more to fight for than the White soldiers. Besides the flag and the Union, they had home, wife, and children. They fought with ropes around their necks [metaphorically], and when orders were issued that the officers of colored troops should be put to death upon capture, they took a grim satisfaction. It helped their sprit de corps immensely.”

Thanks The war emboldened Black demands for equality in the North. Illinois and California dropped their “Black Laws” that denied equal rights. Congress voted to allow African Americans to testify in court and approved the hiring of Black mail carriers. But not everyone in the North was in favor of such equality. In New York City, many poor Whites (many of them recent Irish immigrants) blamed Blacks for the war and for taking all the available jobs. Roving bands of these poor Whites would attack and lynch African American men, women, and children (a Black orphanage was burned to the ground). This took place in the North, mind you. And to add insult to injury, when Abraham Lincoln’s funeral took place in Washington, African American troops were left out of vast array of White soldiers who followed the casket.

I close this brief lesson in learning things I did not know about African American history with the words of Ellen Watkins Harper, a widely known Black poet, who wrote a letter a few days after Lincoln’s assassination: “Oh what a terrible lesson does this event read to us . . . Well, it may be in the providence of God this blow was needed to intensify this nation’s hatred of slavery, to show the utter fallacy of basing national reconstruction upon the votes of returned rebels and rejecting loyal black men . . . . Mr. Lincoln has led us up to another Red Sea to the table-land of triumphant victory, and God has seen fit to summon for the new era another man. Let the whole nation resolve that the whole virus shall be eliminated from its body; that in the future slavery will only be remembered as a thing of the past that shall never have the faintest hope of resurrection.”

Coming soon, Church History 101: Take a journey with me through the first 500 years of the history of the Christian Church. More info to follow…