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The only way forward

The solution is spiritual if the goal is peace and fellowship

The only way forward

Africans sold as slaves to the colonists for the first time in 1619. (Howard Pyle/Lebrecht Music & Arts/Alamy)

Does the date Aug. 20, 1619, mean anything to you? It’s the day the first African slaves were traded into North America.

As recorded by Jamestown settler John Rolfe, a Dutch warship “brought not anything but 20 and odd Negroes, wch the Governor and Cape Marchant bought for victuale at the best and easyest rate they could.”  Rolfe made an honest mistake, as the ship was armed under Dutch colors. But current research identifies the White Lion as a British privateer that had confiscated the slaves from a Portuguese trader bound for the Indies. The stop at Jamestown was perhaps an afterthought. The sailors needed provisions and the “20 and odd” bought enough for them to get to Bermuda.  

The human cargo hailed from Angola, a Portuguese colony. Their countrymen had traded with Europeans for decades, and many were baptized Christians. Some earned their freedom after years of indentured servitude, on the same terms as poor whites. But too soon the expedient hardened into an evil system whereby millions of Africans were kidnapped and carried across the Atlantic as chattel. The system corrupted all it touched, kindling a slow fire that blazed into our most costly war, and haunts us still.

This month, on the 400th anniversary of the White Lion’s arrival in Jamestown, The New York Times Magazine introduced its “1619 Project,” with the stated purpose of reframing American history. Everything wrong about America, from “the brutality of American capitalism” to “the sugar that saturates the American diet” can be traced to August 1619. The Times is planning further essays on this theme, plus development of a school curriculum in cooperation with the Pulitzer Center.

The keynote essay by Nikole Hannah-Jones begins with her father, a WWII veteran who was discriminated against both in the Army and out, but proudly flew the stars and stripes in his segregated backyard. “He knew that our people’s contributions to building the richest and most powerful nation in the world were indelible, that the United States simply would not exist without us.”

Hannah-Jones then traces the black experience in the New World, with its many outrages and tragedies, concluding with, “Our founding fathers may not have actually believed in the ideals they espoused, but black people did.” The very concept of civil rights would be unthinkable without them. 

The essay is worthwhile, though flawed. While the history is largely true, it’s also selective. Those ideals, whether or not the founding fathers believed them, provided the rationale for emancipation and (much later) full citizenship. 

But the 1619 Project as a whole is likely to harm, not help.

Racism, rooted in the African slave trade, is said to be “America’s original sin.” An original sin is the primary fault from which every other fault stems. For that, we should look to the misapplication of American freedom, which translated into expanded opportunities to exploit as well as to succeed. Exploitation is not essentially racist. It is egotistic and acquisitive, and no one is exempt. America’s original sin is actually the Original Sin. Racism is an effect, not a cause.

What to do? Proposed solutions are mostly about money. But the problem is spiritual not material, and so is the solution: forgiveness.

Is forgiveness fair? No, but Someone who was owed a much greater debt showed us that forgiveness is the only way out of the bondage of sin. “For freedom Christ has set us free.” To forgive centuries of wrong, traces of which persist to this day, means to lay it down and walk away. The history still stings, but the farther you walk the less you will feel it, especially when walking toward the light.   

What do we want—fellowship, or alienation? Peace, or warfare? Our Father desired peace and fellowship with us enough to pay dearly for it. Guilt must be borne, and the one to bear it was His own Son. He considered the gain worth the price. God willing, may my brothers and sisters, so long out of Africa, make that reckoning. I can never compensate them, but Christ can.


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    Posted: Sun, 09/08/2019 08:59 am

    Janie B. Cheany's 8/20 column, "The only way forward", was enlightening and frightening for our nation.  This 1619 Project, is indeed, one more divisive nail in our history's coffin.  My thought was that HAD the entire race history been reversed - had it been blacks in place of whites - the entire world history would have been reversed.  Had it been black settlers using white slaves, nothing would be different - but simply reversed.  That's ONLY because SIN is resident in the HUMAN heart, not simply in the WHITE heart.  If all Americans can't recognize that, this destructive activity is going to be the death of the greatest country God ever conceived.

  • S Lewis
    Posted: Wed, 10/02/2019 02:37 pm

    Cheaney's argument is superb until the very end when it becomes laugh out loud funny for its self-serving irresponsibility. She says that racism is an effect, not the cause, and that the cause is spiritual. So far so good. She then asserts that since the problem is spiritual at its root its solution will also be spiritual. Again, that is solid biblical reasoning. But the spiritual causes behind racism produced physical, economic, and material effects. James 5:4 says these unpaid wages are "crying out against you." So any spiritual solution to the problem had better include some physical, economic, and material ripple effects. Cheaney's last line is a classic cop-out - "I can never compensate them [for the ills of slavery and racism] but Christ can." How, exactly, is Christ going to compensate them? Ultimately Christ will give His disciples a place in His Father's house in the world to come. In the meantime, might Christ compensate them by moving in my heart and Cheaney's heart, moving us to open our pocketbooks and share our questionably acquired wealth and privileges? "I can never compensate them." True. But that shouldn't keep you from trying. If my ancestors systematically mistreated your ancestors so that I have reaped economic advantages and you have reaped economic disadvantages, I shouldn't say, "I can never compensate you." I should say, "Please don't be offended by my small contribution, but here's my first payment on a long overdue debt that I'm finally admitting I owe."

  • MJ
    Posted: Thu, 04/09/2020 04:22 pm

    Unfortunately, your point of view is a  short-term solution. A band-aid can't stem the tide of gushing blood from an artery. That's what the "let's throw more money at 'em" is. The government assistance has been attempting to do that-but in all the wrong ways. They've hoped their guilt money would automatically teach them to leave dangerous communities or people behind-the very communities they relegated them to 70 years ago. Did anyone adopt a "teach a man to fish..." policy? Train and employ-equality in every way...the very thing MLK Jr. was fighting for? No. Guilt money. And to think that even if more money were given the hatred and grudges would go away is naive. It's generational now. I've hated. It doesn't leave a person's heart until you realize it as poison and God aids you with removing it. Simplistic? Yes. And incredibly hard to not only do-but teach someone else who's spent a lot of years hating as second nature.  I believe this is where Cheaney is coming from, motivating us to pray for God's restoration and healing. It's the recipe for individual healing and salvation as well as cultural and national.

  • MJ
    Posted: Thu, 04/09/2020 04:04 pm

    I appreciate your voice of objectivity. As Christians and conservatives, we cannot make a difference by turning a deaf ear or blind eye to our flawed history and rippling, negative effects on the black community. But the reality is, we cannot undo history. How we all wish we could-even individually. So to move on there must an acknowledgement of the wrong, forgiveness from those harmed, a plan to move forward with God's heart in mind, and most of all, God's Spirit to make ALL of that happen.