A few weeks ago, on a women’s prayer call, I watched a video retelling the powerful story of the Businessman’s Revival in the United States.
It started off as a small prayer meeting among a dozen businessmen upstairs in a nearby lodge. Posters scattered across the city humbly invited the public to pray for 5, 10 or 15 minutes a day whenever and wherever was convenient. Within a week, the New York City noon-day prayer meeting drew over one hundred persons. Three months later, multiple venues (including theatres) were deployed as prayer meeting sites with patrons spilling over into the streets. By the sixth month, prayer meetings gathered hundreds of thousands of persons across different cities and states.
I was inspired and challenged by the video … until a simple clarification made me recoil in horror.
One panellist asked another which year the revival took place. When she responded, the dots took seconds to connect, and they painted a hideous reality.
The revival took place in 1857.
But slavery was still practised in the United States until 1865.
Which means that every participant at these meetings would pray, worship, witness powerful manifestations of the Holy Spirit … and then go home to flog, chain and ruthlessly subjugate their slaves.
Cut to the Core
I retched at the glaring hypocrisy. They flogged and chained their slaves on a daily basis, threatened and punished them using heinous and perverse methods of torture. They sent slaves to “breeding camps” to forcibly reproduce, traded and treated them worse than cattle, and worked them to death before most of them they could turn 30-years-old.
I’ve always viewed Christians who actively participated in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, at best, as massively misguided and ignorant, and at worst, duplicitous imposters that made a mockery of true born-again believers.
It’s one thing to begrudgingly acknowledge the legitimacy of a slave-owner’s faith. But the notion of lauding them as an example to emulate cut me to my core.
God expressly forbids certain actions and attitudes that damage and destroy the children whom He loves dearly. Some acts (like murder and torture) are far more gruesome and brutal than others (gossip and jealousy). However, the essence and immorality of sin is not based on how much (physical) pain it inflicts on a person. Sin is defined exclusively by falling short of God’s standard of holiness.
I am by no means trivialising the brutality of slavery in the Western world (or anywhere else for that matter). But when it comes to falling short, Scripture is clear that we are all guilty, with or without slaves in our yard or whips in our hands (Romans chapter 3 verse 23).
Political to Personal
To protect our self-image (i.e. self-righteousness), it's easy to politicise this issue and merely compare the slave-owning Christians of old with pro-abortion Christians of today.
Both are wrong. Both have innocent blood on their hands. Both are grossly out of line with God’s heart on how His image-bearers should be dignified and treated.
Many of us are not guilty of practising or endorsing abortion, far less slavery. However, there are other sins we have committed so often en masse that we have become blind to their wickedness, like disobeying our parents or disrespecting our government leaders.
In the days of the Old Testament (and in some Eastern cultures today), it is an egregious sin to dishonour and disobey one’s parents (especially one’s father). Also, David was more concerned about dishonouring King Saul by secretly tearing his robe than he was about losing his life (1 Samuel chapter 24).
We may have diluted the gravity of those sins over time. But in God’s eyes, those seemingly innocuous actions are still worthy of being put to death.
Pick your flavour
Yes, God is deeply grieved and horrified at the atrocities suffered by millions for centuries of slavery, in the Western hemisphere and during other chapters of history in other parts of the world.
But that’s not the only thing He’s grieved by. He feels the same way about all sin. Every generation of the church has committed appalling sins, and has become dull to their stench in God’s presence. Every generation is sinful, we just each pick a slightly different flavour of sin.
Moreover, my anger at oppression (however justified) and my ego (however bruised) have no bearing on God’s exclusive and unique right to determine who He will use to bring about revival. God mercifully speaks to and works through the lives of slave-owners, and less than the least of all the saints (Ephesians chapter 3 verse 8). Likewise, He mercifully does the same with me, though I am equally sinful and undeserving.
May God, in His mercy, make each of us increasingly aware of our own flavour, and give us the grace to serve God’s purpose in our own generation (Acts chapter 13 verse 36).
Kacy Garvey is a Christian poet, speaker and activist. In 2011, she launched "Rahab", an outreach to prostitutes in Geneva, Switzerland. She is a USAID certified HIV Testing and Counselling Provider and has also successfully completed training in Trafficking in Persons conducted by the International Organisation on Migration (IOM). She performs original pieces of spoken word poetry to various audiences, and in 2014 and 2018, she launched “Undone” and “Water Jar”, the first and only Christian poetry albums published in Jamaica thus far. As a founding member of the Love March Movement (since 2012) and #MarriageMattersJA (since 2018), she is a regular presenter on the science, politics and biblical worldviews on sex and sexuality. In January 2021, Kacy launched Caribbean Christian Response, an online movement that reviews the news from a biblical worldview and gathers millennials across the region to pray together and seek God’s heart on these issues.