Frederick Douglass on authentic Christianity

frederick douglass

A few months back the twitters and blogosphere erupted over a song by hip-hop artist, Propaganda. I wrote about it as well.

The song is entitled “Precious Puritans” and is, in a Grand Canyon of understatement, thought provoking. Concerning well beloved puritan theologians, he raps:

How come the things the Holy Spirit showed them in the valley of vision didn’t compel them to knock on they neighbors door and say, “You can’t own people!”?

Your precious puritans were not perfect.

You romanticize them as if they were inerrant. As if the skeletons in they closet was pardoned due to the they hard work and tobacco growth.

As if abolitionists weren’t racist and just pro-union.

As if God only spoke to white boys with epic beards.

You know Jesus didn’t really look like them paintings. That was just Michaelangelo’s boyfriend.
Your precious puritans.

Dr. Anthony Bradley, addressing the response to the song (too often White and negative), tweeted this:

The link is to a scholary paper from Cambridge University Press entitled, “Language, Discourse and Power in African American Culture.”

One African-American who used language, discourse and power to rip the church the proverbial “new one,” was Frederick Douglass. Douglass (1818-95), a prominent American abolitionist, author and orator, launched a critique at the American Christianity of his day the comprehensiveness of which has scarcely been equaled. The intensity, analysis and truth shames many an attempt that have followed.

My friend Alan Cross, who blogs at Downshore Drift, recently made me aware of an excerpt from Douglass’ autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. In it the former slave writes:

I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of the land. Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity. I look upon

frederick douglass

Frederick Douglass

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 everywhere 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 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.


The Kindle version of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is available free below. Just click the Amazon link.

Marty Duren

Just a guy writing some things.

  • Powerful stuff man. Should compel us to examine our culture anew to look for signs of such devils dressed in angels robes today…and make sure we are not they.

    • martyduren