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Uncle Tom’s Creed

“It’s undoubtedly the intention of Providence that the African race should be servants, kept in a low condition,” said a grave-looking gentleman in black, a clergyman, seated by the cabin door. “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be,’ the Scripture says.”

The sentence is confronting. But the next is better.

“I say, stranger, is that ar what the text means?” said a tall man, standing by.

I’m with the tall man. I wanted to ask the same question. And a few more. I didn’t know that Canaan was in Africa? I didn’t know that Canaan had dark skin? I didn’t know that a curse made by a drunken man was seconded by God above?

But I already know what the clergyman would reply: “Can the Ethiopian [Cushite] change his skin, or the leopard its spots?” (Jeremiah 13:23). Cush, he would say, was the older brother of Canaan, and Canaan was therefore black.

I can follow the point, but I cannot follow the logic, nor the conclusion, nor the application. What I can follow is this: How wickedly clever it is to take a Scripture text that is meant to make a heart look to its Saviour, and twist it, to make the heart look in the very opposite direction.

And I can follow this too: How amazingly clever it is for a Saviour to take a heart that is unchangeable in its prejudice and pride, and to alter its orientation. To which old Uncle Tom would say, “Amen!”

DM 6th October 2015


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