As we celebrate Black History Month in 2012 – its leaders, its lessons, and its lasting impact on American history – we must also be diligent to remember Black history as it pre-dates the civil rights movement of this generation.
Today, arguably, we are witnessing civil rights history in the making; LGBT Americans are fighting for their right to marry their partner to have the same legal rights and privileges granted to heterosexual couples. This debate has sparked a modern day culture war over the rights of an oppressed minority, bringing God and bible to the forefront. But, this scenario has occurred in American history before, and what better time to be reminded of it than during Black History Month.
It’s been almost 150 years since the Civil War ended, and yet America’s bloodiest war is relevant to today’s national discourse on civil rights. It was a war about more than just slavery, or even a state’s rights issue. Slavery in America in the days leading to succession would shed light on the ugly underlying religious principles justifying the twisted beliefs of southern religious conservatives. Confederate states took this battle beyond a debate about the Constitution, and made it a war over their rights endowed by their supreme being. Thus, the flames that fueled the Civil War became a fight that could not be won in the courts. This severe disagreement over the privileges granted by God would be fought in the lines of fire and in the lines or scripture.
Southern Baptist ministers successfully made the moral case for slavery with the bible on hand with quotes from both the Old and New Testament:
When a slave owner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished. But if the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner’s property. (Exodus 21:20-21)
Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. (Matthew 24:45-46)
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. (Ephesians 6:5-6)
Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect; they are not to talk back, not to pilfer, but to show complete and perfect fidelity, so that in everything they may be an ornament to the doctrine of God our Savior. (Titus 2:9-10)
Realizing that the Civil War also had to be won in the battlefield of faith, President Abraham Lincoln issued an executive order, the Emancipation Proclamation, calling for all slaves to be free, both in regards to the state and God himself:
And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God. (January 1, 1863 Emancipation Proclamation)
This chapter in American history and Black history contradicts the sheer hypocrisy of contemporary Black religious conservatives practicing the same bible referencing that argued for slavery. History proved that campaigns of ignorance, even backed by scripture, lost the Civil War, and it will ultimately lose the culture war on the rights of LGBT Americans.
So as proposition 8 is overturned in California, New Jersey’s Marriage Equality law is vetoed by Governor Chris Christie, and GOP presidential hopeful Willard Mitt Romney vows to “fight for an amendment to our Constitution that defines marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman,” we can all agree that will be a long fought culture war. African Americans at large understand the language of “separate but equal,” and so does President Obama, the most successful LGBT rights advocate to date. So quote your heart out Black conservatives. The same Bible quoted by some of you today to deny Marriage Equality was the same Bible quoted during the Civil War to justify Blacks as slaves granted by God. The same practice that failed to keep you as slaves will also fail to keep gays as second class citizens.