Monthly Archives: September 2017

Francis Scott Key Was a Slave Master And Other Hard Truths

I am going to do something somewhat unusual for my blog post today and cover several distinct topics in one article, based on several issues that I have covered on my Facebook page in the last few weeks. Readers may find themselves agreeing with some points I raise and disagreeing with others. That is fine. In fact, I have come to expect it.

It May Be Biblical, But It Isn’t Christian

The recent Nashville Statement by over 150 conservative Christian leaders is a disgusting display of homophobia, transphobia, and sexism. (I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that some of the prominent signatories have also engaged in racist statements or behavior.) Those who hold bigoted attitudes have a right to express them in public. And I have the right to call those views out for exactly what they are. As a Christian Unitarian Universalist, I believe that while bigotry is consistent with some individual Bible passages, it goes against the overall spirit of Christianity. There is no possible way to treat people the way that you want to be treated while hurling bigoted statements at them and opposing their rights. It is a longstanding fact that, in the aggregate, Christians who treat the Bible as partly inspired by God but not infallible have generally been better at respecting people’s civil and human rights than Christians who believe every single part of the Bible is the pure word of God. This certainly does not apply to every individual, but it is true as a general rule. The abolitionist movement was a deeply religious one, but many of its adherents were theological liberals and, in some prominent cases, would not have even been considered “saved” from a fundamentalist standpoint. During the Civil Rights Movement, theologically liberal Protestants and Jews were far more likely than white fundamentalist or evangelical Protestants to march against segregation. Even MLK was a theological liberal. These days, it is the so called “cafeteria Christians” who are more likely to defend feminism and LGBT rights than Biblical inerrantists as a group. The great historian Eric Foner once said that in order to improve itself, America had to embrace the best parts of Abe Lincoln while rejecting the worst. The same is true of the Bible.

What Else Can We Unfairly Blame Bernie Sanders For? 

I want to propose a hypothetical and ask people to think about it. Let’s say that Bernie Sanders had managed to pull off a Hail Mary and win the Democratic Party nomination for president, then lost to Donald Trump. In this scenario, after the election, Sanders then wrote a book about why he lost in which he made some reasonable points but also claimed that Hillary Clinton was partly at fault for him losing because she accused him of sexism and not being liberal enough on gun control during the primary and tried to blame him for the actions of some of her supporters. Wouldn’t this have across as ridiculous? If you think so, then you can see how Clinton’s attempts to give Sanders partial blame for her loss looks to a lot of people, including me. Yes, Sanders made some attacks on Clinton during the primary. She made attacks on him also. That is how primaries work. You cannot win the nomination with the backing of the party establishment, partly by making the argument that your opponent is unelectable, lose in the general election, and then reasonably blame your loss partly on the candidate who DID NOT GET THE NOMINATION. Nor does the fact that Clinton was undeniably subject to a lot of sexism mean that all criticisms about her record are baseless. And trying to spread blame to Sanders for her loss is a pretty lousy thing to do after he swallowed his personal feelings and endorsed her for president. Perhaps some Clinton supporters feel that he should have campaigned harder for her, but he is currently serving as a U.S. Senator, which means he had other responsibilities besides being at Clinton’s beck and call 24/7. And finally, I do not know whether Sanders would have won. Maybe he would have, maybe he would not have, but the claim that Clinton had to be nominated over him because he was unelectable is looking very questionable since she herself lost. And I strongly disagree with the suggestion that somehow even suggesting that Bernie might have won makes me a bad feminist.

Land of the Free and the Slaves

As we observe the increasing number of people refusing to stand for the National Anthem, it might behoove us to take a look at Francis Scott Key, the man who wrote it. Key was a lifelong slaveholder. He called black people “a distinct and inferior race of people, which all experience proves to be the greatest evil that afflicts a community.” As the District Attorney of Washington, D.C. during the 1830s, he prosecuted abolitionists for exercising their right to free speech. At one point, he brought a man named Reuben Crandall to court to be “charged with publishing seditious libels, by circulating the publications of the American Anti-Slavery Society.” Key felt that Crandall should be executed for his “crime.” In another case, he pursued the death penalty for a slave named Arthur Bowen who was accused of trying to kill his de facto owner. Abolitionists, in Key’s view, were dangerous not only because they might cause slave rebellions but also because they wanted to “associate and amalgamate with the negro.” In still another case, he prosecuted a writer named Benjamin Lundy for libel after Lundy declared that, “There is neither mercy nor justice for colored people in this district of Columbia.” Indeed, the part of the “Star Spangled Banner” that we normally hear is only one part of a longer song. Another portion reads, “And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.” Some scholars have argued that the “slaves” whom Key gloated about being killed were black people who fought for the British hoping to gain their freedom. It is worth noting that while most white Americans (though not most abolitionists) at the time shared Key’s basic racial views, his views on slavery were quite controversial even in the 1830s. John Quincy Adams, for instance, hardly a fringe radical, spent significant time during that decade defending the free speech rights of antislavery activists that Key was trampling on. Slavery had become quite controversial by this point as well. It is important to remember, as those who refuse to stand for the National Anthem are criticized, that the person who wrote the song itself believed in neither free speech nor equality under the law. A great summary of Key’s iniquity can be found at the link I am sharing here:

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/wheres-debate-francis-scott-keys-slave-holding-legacy-180959550/

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