Two years ago, I posted this comic, presenting a certain hope that if the kingdom of God had demolished sinful institutions in the past, we can continue to hope that the kingdom of God can do this once again. This past weekend, on the day we celebrated the marriage of my awesome brother to his new wife, I was less than 40 miles away from white nationalists in Charlottesville expressing their outrage that statues representing Confederate General Robert E. Lee (and others) were going to be removed. I was less than one mile away from a plantation home designed in part by Thomas Jefferson, and at the back of my parents’ farm are 27 unmarked graves of slaves who had once worked on that property.
After the chaos of Charlottesville, and the festivities of my brother’s marriage celebration, I felt compelled do go way back in the woods and visit those graves, 27 human-sized depressions in the ground (caved in from the wood of the caskets rotting over time), marked only by piles of common river stones next to each one. They become more and more difficult to find as the years continue to pass by. The plantation home is as beautiful as ever, though. The plantation, which represents Southern charm, prosperity, and a simpler time to some, also represents the religious and economic justification of the kidnap, forced labor, torture, and overall dehumanization of an entire race of people on American soil.
Sadly, what happened in Charlottesville is completely unsurprising, and we can be sure events like this will happen again as long as the truth of our history continues to challenge the myths we have created about the greatness of our past.
What then, becomes our responsibility to work towards the kingdom of God in this real world where sin cannot just be a vague concept, but a named reality of racism? Men and women of all races are working hard every day, receiving no glory or press for the slow, hard work of changing systems. They are working side by side, receiving little pay, volunteering countless hours, to share human dignity with people who suffer from the fallout of the sins of our nation’s past. They are teaching and mentoring kids whose parents have to work multiple jobs to keep them fed. They are helping ex-cons find meaningful work to re-enter and contribute back to society. They are ensuring the safety and livable earnings of their workers. They are providing medical assistance for those who can’t afford it. They are listening to the voiceless and confronting the proud. I am proud of the counter-protestors in Charlottesville…the men and women who made a visible stand against the anxious animosity of white nationalism. We need the voices of the clergy, the poets and musicians, to direct us to publicly renounce evil in all its forms. I am also proud of the teachers, the community nurses, the farmers, the Scout Leaders, the unnamed masses who are digging their feet in daily to counter racism, to feed and house and love and reveal dignity to those crushed by the structures of this world…to put meat and bones, hands and feet to our belief in the idea that God is love.
Below is my text from the original publishing of this comic in June, 2015.
Jesus told a parable about farmer planting a mustard seed, the kudzu or crab grass of the Middle East. From one tiny seed, an entire field can be covered with the almost impossible to remove invasion of weeds. So one small action of faith can spread beyond what anyone imagined when the Holy Spirit brings the growth.
Anthony Benezet was a French-born Quaker in Philadelphia who became a loud opponent of slavery. He educated black children and published several tracts at his own expense to try and convince his fellow Quakers that slavery was antithetical to Christian discipleship. In 1772, his Historical Account of Guinea (read it here), became the spark that lit a fire in both America and Europe. Granville Sharp and John Wesley both republished Benezet’s tract in their own words. These two incredibly influential men were moved by Benezet to see the theological arguments against slavery, and used their power to spread his ideas. Benezet’s tract convinced Thomas Clarkson to become a leading British voice for abolition, and a spokesperson for the end of slavery worldwide. Clarkson would then influence Will Wilberforce, the member of Parliament who put the final nail in the coffin of the British slave trade. Wesley’s influence over the American Methodists led to the Methodist movement being known as an abolitionist movement, with many American Methodist societies boycotting slave-owners. John Wesley had always had a distaste for slavery, but Benezet convinced him that abolition was not only possible, it was scripturally crucial.
This Friday, June 19, 2015 marks the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth, when the last American slaves were set free in Galveston, TX. Benezet, Wesley, and Sharp all died long before abolition became a reality anywhere, but each planted seeds that eventually grew to its demise.
This is the first Wesley Bros comic I’ve done in full color. This story is important to me. I wrote a paper on the subject as a Duke student that won an award with the United Methodist Historical Society in 2008. I believe that the abolition movement needs to be reignited. My hope is that enough people will look up and see the ways our society continues to enslave the underprivileged through mass incarceration…that the pipeline from school to prison will be blocked off by people who care…that the love of the Gospel will bring true peace with justice.