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Jesus, You, and the Fight for Human Rights, Part 2

From the series Jesus Skeptic

Two hundred and fifty years ago, Thomas Jefferson penned the phrase, “all men are created equal.” In this program, guest teacher John Dickerson continues his series “Jesus Skeptic.” He’ll reflect on the ways Christians fought for human rights throughout history… and how the equality we enjoy today is a product of their convictions.

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Message Transcript

As ye would that men should do to ye, do ye also to them, likewise. That was the Quaker's mantra.

We call it the golden rule today and in modern English, it sounds more like this: Do unto others, as you would have them do to you, or at an elementary level: Treat others the way you want to be treated. That was their whole thesis.

And the Quaker Christians within the United States started this spread of people who could read the Bible for themselves. Becoming convinced that even if I don't have slaves, I need to be an activist in ending slavery as a whole. The Quaker Christians knew that the largest slave empire at that time was the British empire because Britain, at that time, controlled Australia, South Africa, colonies all around the world, including parts of north America. And so, the Quakers started to create, at great expense to the themselves, these propaganda coins, anti-slavery propaganda coins with scripture on them.

On the left, you see a slave kneeling, and he says: Am I not a man and a brother? That is a Bible verse from the book of Philemon, verse 16. On the right side, you see their Quaker mantra: Whatever ye would that men should do to ye, do ye to them also. In fact, the Quakers sent so much literature and so many activists over to England and to the British territories to petition against slavery, that we have a modern term that was coined by their huge propaganda push to end slavery. And it's the term campaign when someone campaigns for office, or if you campaign for a cause that term was coined by the Quakers campaigning to end slavery.

Here's that verse, Philemon 1:16. This is all the way back about 30 years after Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven in the New Testament church. The New Testament church was this first ever in history where you had men and women worshiping openly together, where you had all the different races, in an incredibly racially divided world, gathering together.

Paul, the apostle would write things like: Here in the church there is not male or female, barbarian, Scythian, slave, or free but Christ is all and in all. This was revolutionary 2000 years ago. And within that context, Paul the apostle wrote to a man who had a slave who had become a Christian. And he says this: He's no longer a slave to you. He's now a beloved brother, especially to me. Now he will mean much more to you.

In other words, keep taking care of him physically, but he's not your slave now, he's your brother. He's a man made in the image of God and a brother in the Lord. These are the kind of passages the Quaker Christians would quote. Well, as the Quakers campaigned and sent their literature to the British Empire, a young man there named William Wilberforce who had been fairly wealthy and a lawmaker, and didn't really care about the cause to end slavery because he had constituents who were making money off of it.

William Wilberforce became a born-again believer - a follower of Jesus. And it so changed him that he looked at the nation around him. He said: People, you can't call yourself a Christian, unless you're actually reading the words of Jesus and doing what He said. And so, he wrote a book called Real Christianity. And that book, over about 30 years, swayed the entire population there in England to overthrow slavery, to make it illegal, not only in England, but in all of the British territories. William Wilberforce, after he became a believer in Jesus, got exposed to that Quaker propaganda, if you will, the campaigning against slavery.

Okay, so now slavery's outlawed in a good part of the world where the British Empire is, but here in the United dates, it still exists. We're into about the 1800s now. And in the 1800s, we know exactly who the people are, who led the charge to end slavery.

We know it because their publications and books still exist today. You can go to university libraries and you can see original copies of these documents that I'm showing you. For example, the declaration of the antislavery convention. So, a group of thought-leaders who gathered and said, “We are going to give our lives to end slavery.” It's about 30 years before the Civil War. Now, we know everyone who signed this document because within it they wrote, we know we might get killed for this. We know it might cost us our fortunes and our homes, but we are so convinced that this is God's will. And we fear God more than man, that if we die as martyrs, we die as martyrs, we're going to end slavery in the land that we call home.

We know exactly who signed it, because their names are still on there. And if you were to survey those names, you'd more than half, in fact, the majority, say “Reverend,” these were pastors. These were clergy who were riling up their entire congregations to say, we must overthrow slavery. Now let me show you on this document. Just a little bit of the scripture. If you look in the highlighting here, everything that's highlighted. There, there are eight different Bible verses. So, on the top half of the declaration to end slavery in the U.S., their whole justification is from scripture.

In fact, even that picture in the middle is a man kind of strangling evil. And under it is this quote where Jesus said, my followers: You're going to go do greater things. You're going to tread the serpent underfoot. In other words, you're going to extinguish evil. The serpent is a of picture of Satan. And these abolitionists, they saw it as a spiritual high calling as their eternal destiny to do the work of God on earth by extinguishing slavery.

The signers are a beautiful mix of European-descended, Caucasian Americans and African-American Americans who had been freed from slavery, or who had bought their freedom, or who had been born in the north. One of those is the Reverend Theodore Wright. Theodore Wright had been born in the north, never was a slave himself, born into an orphanage run by Quaker Christians, an orphanage that had a school. So most African Americans didn't know how to read, but because he'd been born into a Christian orphanage, he was taught to read. He became highly educated, a Presbyterian Reverend he's one of those many signers of that anti-slavery convention.

And what I document in the book, Jesus Skeptic, and what you just need to know is that if you go one by one through those signers and you read their own writing and you say, were they motivated by Islam, or by Karl Marx, or by atheism, or by Buddhism, you'll find things like this from Theodore Wright: Blessed be God for the principles of the gospel - the gospel is essentially Jesus’ life and teaching - were it not for these and for the fact that a better day is dawning, I would not wish to live. Blessed be God for the anti-slavery movement. Blessed be God, there is a war waging with slavery.

He stood side by side with people like Elijah Lovejoy. Elijah Lovejoy was a pastor and a Reverend. He was also a new newspaper printer and writer. And he would often write things like this, 1st Timothy 1, verse 9 says in the Bible: We know that the law is made for law-breakers and rebels. What are some categories of law breakers and rebels? Slave traders and liars. And so those are contrary to the gospel.

And Elijah Lovejoy, as a pastor and writer, would take passages like that and he would write books and pamphlets that would say: You can't call yourself a God-fearing person and allow slavery. Well, Elijah Lovejoy lived in St. Louis. And so, on one side of the river was slave territory and on his side was free territory. And it was not uncommon that the pro-slavery rebels from the south would cross the river and burn down his house, which was also his publishing headquarters. They did this on three occasions and on the fourth, they brought a shotgun with them and a mob broke into his house of those who wanted slavery. And they shot Elijah Lovejoy five times with the shotgun. They killed him.

These followers of Jesus would go and paint towns with posters like these: I don't know what weakness may overcome me but I don't believe I will ever deny my Lord, Master Jesus Christ. And I would deny Him if I denied my principles against slavery. They'd put up posters like this: What is life or rest to me, so long as I should hold a commission direct from God Almighty to act against slavery? The will that it took, the will that it took and the motivation.

Now, I'm going to go through very quickly a number of these leading books from the time that swayed the northerners who were kind of complacent and saying, Well, I don't have slaves. What does it have to do with me? It was books like this, The Bible Against Slavery, or The Testimony of God Against Slavery, or An Anti-Slavery Manual, An Examination in the Light of the Bible and of Facts into the Moral and Social Wrongs of American Slavery with a Remedy for the Evil - that's written by a pastor, John Fee.

John Rankin started as a pastor in Kentucky. He got up in front of his church and he said, “Slavery's evil. You all need to set your slaves free.” And they ran him out of town. They didn't want to do what Jesus said. It was one of those quote churches, quote, Christians who weren't following Jesus. So, the Reverend Rankin sold everything he had in Kentucky, he moved to the other side of the Ohio river and in Ohio, slavery was illegal. So, John Rankin bought a house. This is his house. You can go visit it today in Ripley, Ohio. And you can look out his window and that's the Ohio river.

And what John Rankin would do is what's called the underground railroad. These safe houses that escaping slaves could stay in his house was the first safe-house north of the Ohio river. And there are dozens of true stories of him looking out that window in the winter months, when the river was iced over and slaves with children, barefoot are running across the river and he would grab that lantern that you see there. And he would run down and he would bring them to his home and he would clothe them. And he would feed them because he believed in a God who said, all people are made equal and whatever you've done for those who are the most hurting, you've done unto Me.

Harriet Tubman, who is well documented as a great hero of the faith, who not only escaped slavery, but then risked her life to keep going back in and leading others out. Her very final words documented in her official obituary are these: Give my love to all the churches - because these churches, the good churches, were so interwoven with this cause - ‘I go to prepare a place for you,’ she said, ‘that where I am, ye may also be.’ If you know your Bible, she's quoting Jesus. This is a quote of Jesus and how beautiful to know that Harriet Tubman and all of these heroes of the faith, we're going to get to meet in the kingdom of heaven, for those of us who follow Jesus.

Frederick Douglas, another well documented hero, who also escaped from slavery, bought his freedom, but then went back to help others traveled around the Northern states as a lecturer and an author, turning the national will against slavery. There's a passage in his book, his autobiography, where he describes his conversion at about age 11. He was hearing the good news of Jesus preached. And he decided to believe in Jesus for himself. And after he became a Christian, and in the south, he saw these people who claimed to be Christians.
He wrote this, “Between the Christianity of this land,” those people who would justify slavery for their income, but don't actually read the Bible, “and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference.” And you'd think that that would turn him away from being a Christian at all, but quite the opposite. He said: No, I'm a true Christian. I'm one who actually follows Jesus. And in his autobiography, when he describes his moment of conversion, he talks about this old man who was there, who prayed with him. “And the good, old man had told me that the Lord had great work for me to do.”

So, when Frederick Douglas would be showing up at a lecture hall and there was word that, Hey, there's, pro-slavery rebels coming. They're going to try to attack you. He had this fire inside him because of his own free will and personality, and the great hero he is, but also because he believed in a God who had called him to an eternal work. He says of the moment, right after he was converted, “I saw the world in a new light,” the light of the world, “and my great concern was to have everybody converted.”

Well by God's grace, these righteous followers of Jesus and thousands of others, prevailed in the U.S. Civil War and extinguished, at least the open, legalized slavery, the beginning of a journey that continues of true equality in our land. A journey that by the way, will probably not be fully completed until Christ returns. But here's where I want you to zoom out. I know as Americans, we get real caught up on America. After the Civil War, in 1890, the wealthiest nations in the world - who's that? The U.S., Britain, France, mostly western Europe, they gathered in Brussels to sign the 1890 Brussels Act.

This was the first time in all of human history. Thousands of years, this was the only time that the wealthiest nations gathered together. And they said, we declare slavery, illegal and evil, and we will not conduct trade, we will not do business, with any country that allows open and legalized slavery. It's as a result of that, that many other nations who were dragging their feet on slavery were more or less forced to come around. And what you can do is you can look at those nations in 1890, who signed that act, and you can look at their populations - how Christian were they? And they're all over 70% Christian nations.

Russia at the time, this was before the Bolshevik Revolution, I know I'm getting into history here, forgive me. Russia was an Orthodox Christian nation at the time, the western European nations, they weren't perfect, they were messed up, but they were trying to do what Jesus said and they overthrew slavery.

That's why we've been born into a world. This isn't even 200 years old, where slavery is a assumed to be an evil. And, of course, the fight for true human rights continues in modern history with people like the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. A Baptist pastor, a seminary graduate, who you can go online and you can listen to his speeches. And what you'll find, as you listen to them, is that the majority of them are sermons. And that the majority of them were delivered in churches on Sunday mornings.

He said things like this, “I want it to be known throughout Montgomery, and throughout this nation, that we are Christian people. We believe in the Christian religion” - of the entire logic and philosophy of him giving his life in uncomfortable ways, being willing to die as a martyr, if necessary. He said this, “If we are wrong, then Jesus of Nazareth was merely a utopian dreamer that never came down to earth. If we are wrong, justice is a lie and love has no meaning.”

I hope what you don't hear from me is some kind of assumption that everyone who's claimed to be a Christian is perfect. They're not, I'm not, we're not, but we’ve got to zoom out to realize only one time, in all the thousands of years of history, has slavery been completely made illegal and overthrown, and then spread globally. That's happened one time.

And we know the people who led the charge and we can read their motivations for ourselves. And it's not atheism, or Karl Marx, or Buddhism, or these other thought-systems that I'm not here to attack them, but you're just not going to find that in the logic of the people who led this charge - Jesus followers - those who truly have read His words and said, “We’ll do what He says, no matter the cost.”

Don't worry. I'm not going to unpack all this, but I always want to talk about our world today. How are women's rights in the world today? I'm not going to open this wide open. We've got a long way to go on all these things, because we're born into a world that's corrupted by sin and evil human nature has been corrupted. Jesus is the only one who can change people's very nature.

So women's rights in the world today. Aren't where they need be. But the world economic forum has ranked countries by their women's rights. And I've got the list for you here. So, I didn't put this together. This is from the world economic forum. And then what I did is I looked at those countries and I went to the Pew Research Center, which we've talked about a non-Christian group that tells you here's how many people are Christians in each of these countries.

And I put those lists together and I found that in the top 10 nations for women's rights today, the average population is 75% Christian. Now I just want to show you the other end of the list. Here are the 10 worst nations for women's rights in the world, today: Yemen, Pakistan, Syria. These are societies that exist today, where if a woman goes outside without her head covered, she gets beaten with a whip where she's not allowed to drive a car. She's not allowed to have an education. She's not allowed to vote where women are still sold in marriages, where deals are still made, where it says, Oh, you don't have enough money to pay? Then I'll take your sister as payment.

And these are nations, societies, where Christianity is not allowed and that is present. But it's also, if you were to trace back in these top 10 and lowest 10 nations, you could trace back 500 years and you'll see Christianity as a major influence in the top 10, and as total lack of influence in the bottom 10.

The point is this, Jesus’ followers though, imperfect, as they have followed Him have become a light in the world in a way that nothing else in history ever has. And the bottom line is this. If you really want to make the world a better place, we all say we do, if you really want to make the world a better place, then why not join the movement that has an irrefutable track record of these huge breakthroughs in society.

Back 2000 years ago, John, the disciple, wrote this about Jesus: In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. The true light that gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world and though the world was made through Him - He's the Creator - the world did not recognize Him.

My question for you today, have you recognized Jesus as the light of the world? Have you recognized Him? Have you invited Him to extinguish any darkness or evil within you, within your family? And then once you have, will you join us as a movement that says we'll be sincere followers of Jesus, and we're going to live under a God who is just, who has made all people equal.