Hero to Zero.

Sometime years ago whilst doing historical research going through old newspapers on microfilm up in Inverness Library I came across an article recording an historic incident that I had not previously heard of. It was in the Inverness Advertiser of April 13 1860 and reported that there had been an adverse reaction in the Southern States of America to remarks made by Charles Haddon Spurgeon disapproving of the institution of slavery. To put it in its historical context this was on the eve of the American Civil War which broke out the following year. The Southern States felt themselves under increasing pressure to abandon slavery. Today the South is often referred to as the Bible Belt and there were no less a Christian sentiment in those days and many were fellow Baptists who had previously been avidly buying copies of his books. Now there was no demand for them anymore, so incensed that he was apparently actively supporting those who threatened the economic basis of the South. And that was on the more moderate end of the scale of reaction with others threatening to lynch Spurgeon should he venture to cross the Atlantic. The Christians in the South had argued that because slavery was mentioned in the Bible, therefore it was “Biblical” and were blind to the obvious evils that arose from it. All in all it was not the Southern Baptists finest hour. Spurgeon had gone from hero to zero overnight.
This story has a number of potential lessons that can be drawn from it. Firstly, from the point of view of Spurgeon and those who find themselves in the reproach of others, and secondly from the viewpoint of the Southern Baptists who had a moral blind spot. It should be remembered that Spurgeon was speaking in a country that had abolished both the slave trade and then slavery itself throughout the British Empire several decades previously and therefore it was unthinkable there that he would think that slavery was a good thing. One question that we could ask ourselves is how much of our interpretation of Scripture is coloured by the society in which we are brought up in? The economy of the American South was dependent on the buying and selling of slaves. Once a person bought a slave the only way that they could recoup their investment was by selling that slave to someone else. Just abolishing it would leave all the slaveholders effectively bankrupt. Clearly this coloured the opinions of the Southern Baptists and their kneejerk reaction. Can we be equally guilty of a similar reaction when we meet people from different backgrounds? There are many theological issues that divide the Church today which can easily lead to strong differences of opinion not to mention the pressures on the Church to modernise/compromise on social issues. One can easily find oneself in a proverbial minefield to the unwary. Some people have very strong views on some issues, whether from creation to end times, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the role of women in the Church, etc. The list is endless. In this age of social media it is very easy to say something that which can easily be taken out of context and produce a barrage of abuse. Now nobody is perfect. We can all change our opinions on theological issues so we need to be gracious with others when they say something questionable after all Jesus said things which people wanted to stone him for. On the other hand it is easy just to stay silent and let things pass unsaid. As usual there is a question of balance and wisdom as to the right moment or approach to our concerns. There are many instances where we criticism is justified, equally there are many instances where criticism is mere gossip and if we respond to that and go in with all guns blazing then we are not doing God’s work but the Devil’s. Also when the Holy Spirit begins to convict someone on some issue or another our reaction tends to become defensive giving rise to the possibility of a kneejerk reaction. It is quite possible that many of the Southern Christians in 1860 knew deep down that slavery was wrong but could not handle the criticism of others, hence the reaction. With hindsight it seems perfectly obvious that slavery was wrong but to those living in the South at the time it was unthinkable as it was source of great wealth which even the poor whites aspired to. We have to ask ourselves are there not times when we have reacted against criticism which if we are honest we have to admit that there is some justification to it? It is like the example in the Sermon on the Mount of the person with the plank in their own eye. We are unable to see clearly, even if our reactions may not have been as extreme as the Southern Baptists. We all have certain areas of our lives where we are works in progress and are sensitive to things that prick our consciences and if we are not careful are liable to react strongly. Once we have uttered unwise words we cannot take them back, it is too late. We do not need to start a civil war do we?
David Rose, Aviemore.

About davidgrose

I am a Bible believing Christian, brought up in the Brethren Movement, and now find myself associating with charismatics even though I do not always agree with them. I am in full-time employment. I have interests in history and photography amongst others.
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