Eugene Cho

the courage and convictions of frederick douglass

frederick douglasOne of my heroes is Frederick Douglass.  I have a list of folks whose stuff I regularly read on and read about and Frederick Douglass is one of them.  Words in today’s world have grown to be an interesting sensation.  I believe in the power of words via teaching, preaching, blogging, writing, etc.  At the essence, I do believe in the adage that “the pen is mightier than the sword.” I just think that claim is tested today like never before because in our digital and social media world, it’s easy to be posers, pretenders, and well, people full of words and lacking in the deeper context and story of meaning, substance, labor, pursuit, perseverence, and conviction.  What am I saying? Words are nice but  actions need to accompany words.

Why do I admire Frederick Douglass?  It’s not just his words but it’s his life and struggles and his perseverance, courage, and faith in the midst.

Frederick Douglass (1818 – 1895) was an American abolitionist, women’s suffragist, editor, orator, author, statesman and reformer. Douglass is one of the most prominent figures in African-American and United States history. In 1872, Douglass became the first African American nominated as a Vice Presidential candidate in the U.S., running on the Equal Rights Party ticket with Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for President of the United States.

There are others whose voice and courage are incredibly noteworthy including Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and even contemporary voices such as Cornel West.  But Douglass, for me, stands out.  His faith came from his convictions as a follower of God and thus, sought to love God with his heart, soul, body, and mind and took to heart the call to love mercy, seek justice, and walk humbly.  He was also a licensed preacher and wasn’t shy of calling the church out on its hypocrisy.  This quote is a must read for all Christians, leaders, and pastors:

I find, since reading over the foregoing Narrative, that I have, in several instances, spoken in such a tone and manner, respecting religion, as may possibly lead those unacquainted with my religious views to suppose me an opponent of all religion. To remove the liability of such misapprehension, I deem it proper to append the following brief explanation. What I have said respecting and against religion, I mean strictly to apply to the “slave holding religion” of this land, and with no possible reference to Christianity proper; for, between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference–so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of the one, is of necessity to be the enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slave holding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed.

I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity. I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels. Never was there a clearer case of “stealing the livery of the court of heaven to serve the devil in.” I am filled with unutterable loathing when I contemplate the religious pomp and show, together with the horrible inconsistencies, which every where surround me. We have men-stealers for ministers, women whippers for missionaries, and cradle-plunderers for church members.

The man who wields the blood clotted cowskin during the week fills the pulpit on Sunday, and claims to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus. The man who robs me of my earnings at the end of each week meets me as a class-leader on Sunday morning, to show me the way of life, and the path of salvation. He who sells my sister, for purposes of prostitution, stands forth as the pious advocate of purity. He who proclaims it a religious duty to read the Bible denies me the right of learning to read the name of the God who made me. He who is the religious advocate of marriage robs whole millions of its sacred influence, and leaves them to the ravages of wholesale pollution. The warm defender of the sacredness of the family relation is the same that scatters whole families,–sundering husbands and wives, parents and children, sisters and brothers,–leaving the hut vacant, and the hearth desolate. We see the thief preaching against theft, and the adulterer against adultery.

We have men sold to build churches, women sold to support the gospel, and babes sold to purchase Bibles for the POOR HEATHEN! ALL FOR THE GLORY OF GOD AND THE GOOD OF SOULS! The slave auctioneer’s bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master. Revivals of religion and revivals in the slave-trade go hand in hand together. The slave prison and the church stand near each other. The clanking of fetters and the rattling of chains in the prison, and the pious psalm and solemn prayer in the church, may be heard at the same time. The dealers in the bodies and souls of men erect their stand in the presence of the pulpit, and they mutually help each other. The dealer gives his blood-stained gold to support the pulpit, and the pulpit, in return, covers his infernal business with the garb of Christianity. Here we have religion and robbery the allies of each other –devils dressed in angels’ robes, and hell presenting the semblance of paradise.

Here are couple more Frederick quotes I have on my wall in my home office:

  • “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”
  • “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
  • “One and God make a majority.”
  • “I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence.”
  • “To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker.”
  • “I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.”
  • “The white man’s happiness cannot be purchased by the black man’s misery.”

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24 Responses

  1. Sue says:

    Wow. You are right. Everyone needs to read that quote. I can’t get it out of my head.

  2. wow. amazing how relevant that excerpt is for today. btw the four brief quotes at the bottom are amazing too. i’m going to steal one for my blog. yoink!

  3. Kevin says:

    Man. That’s some heavy stuff. Thanks for sharing. I haven’t read much of his letters/work.

    What I personally took away from it is more of an understanding of where we’re at today, in terms of the church. Vince Antonucci spoke at our church Sunday night and some stats were shared about the decline of church attendance in America. Basically, the trend shows we’re just about 20 years behind Europe, which is at 5 percent attendance in many parts.

    Then you read something like this and realize the Church has faced far worse times and bigger challenges. I know there’s hypocrisy today, and it will always exist in the church, but I can’t imagine attempting to stand up to it during Douglass’ time. Then again, maybe having something to stand up against had its benefits for the church. If apathy is our biggest challenge today, it may be harder to overcome.

  4. gaius says:

    If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. – Frederick Douglass

  5. Kacie says:

    woah… that’s quite a quote. I think that that truth is often hidden in our history. we know we had slavery, but we sort of divorce it from our ideas of our grand christian history (which I personally don’t buy). Douglas is one of the only people who is calling out the church back WITHIN the time that this is happening. Way cool.

  6. eugenecho says:

    this is my favorite:

    “I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slave holding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed.”

    Gulp.

  7. Tim says:

    Hear Hear Fred. To be a Christian is to be constantly tearing down the false idols that purport to be Christian. -misquote of Pete Rollins.

  8. dritta says:

    My favorite Frederick Douglass quote is this:

    “It is easier to build strong children than it is to repair broken men.”

  9. mike says:

    Many would say that we face an evil as great as slavery today, yet because it hides behind a pristine health clinic facade and a white coat, we ignore its presence…

    How will future generations view our complicity?

  10. […] from prison, and I always keep my MLK anthology by the reading chair.  Might have to add some Frederick Douglas to the […]

  11. Andy M says:

    My “must read” list just got longer. That his words, written so long ago, can speak to today so strongly is amazing to me.

  12. That was so great! I’ve never considered Frederick Douglas, probably because I’ve never been exposed to any of his writing. He’s kind of the Mark Twain of his time – seeing the obvious contradiction between the religious climate of the time inside the churches and what’s considered acceptable outside the churches. I’m definately going to have to read more.

  13. alison says:

    Thank you for the gift of this quote.

    I would love to know its source: book? sermon?

    Thanks!

    • Dadofiandi says:

      I believe this is from or can be found in The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas. I read this in high school many years ago and it still lingers in the back of my mind. And excellent book.

  14. […] in kids.  Believe in kids.  Love on kids.  Build them up.  I was reminded of a quote from Frederick Douglass: “It is easier to build strong children than it is to repair broken men […]

  15. Shera says:

    I prayed for 20 yrsand recieved no answer until I prayed with my legs that is beautiful and powerful but I want to get a full understaning of it. help!!!

  16. chrisbscott25 says:

    Really good stuff. Why is he not more famous?

  17. j.j says:

    would somebody tell me what Fredrick Gouglass meant by “i prayed for twenty years but receive no answer untill i prayed with my legs”

  18. What an incredible narrative. I could not help but think that so much of it can still be addressed to the church today.

  19. Deb says:

    It seems to me that praying with your legs means putting your prayer into action — participating actively in manifesting (co-creating with God, if you will) the blessings you seek.

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