God did not create man to dominate other men. Humans were created as sovereign beings with direct access to his and her Creator. We were created to be sovereign leaders of ourselves, partners in marriage, examples of right living to our children and upright representatives in our communities. We were created to live with the knowledge and understanding that God is our King, our Lord, our True Sovereign Leader. He occupies a throne no man can usurp.
Until we attempted to take the throne for ourselves, or alternatively, put someone else upon the throne to rule us. No man can usurp our authority, but we can certainly surrender it.
The most pivotal Bible moment for me in understanding my life today as a black woman in America who is constantly in remembrance of my country’s history of slavery and its legacy of racism, is when I read how Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery because of their jealousy of him. And how that one hateful act eventually led to four hundred years of indentured servitude (slavery) for the Israelites. What struck me in this story is that the Israelites made themselves slaves. They were not conquered. There was no war. No battle happened. The hatred and jealousy of ten brothers led them to commit a despicable act against their younger brother. That one act has had repercussions that we still feel today.
How does that compare to enslaved Africans in America? Africans did the same as the Israelites. They sold themselves into slavery. Intertribal wars, in some cases, led to the victors enslaving and selling off the losers. They warred against each other and in many cases the victors stole the natural freedom of their defeated foes. However, the arrival of the white man added a whole new dimension to the slave trade on the African continent. Before that, people were enslaved through conflicts and for service primarily to the enslaver. However, after the white man got involved, people were captured and enslaved for profit as a part of a transatlantic industry. This would not have happened if not for the will of the people who sold their own.
In 1999, Matthieu Kerekou, then president of Benin, put out a message to African-Americans: “His compatriots are sorry for their ancestors’ complicity in the slave trade. During December, he’s going to tell them that at a special Leadership Reconciliation Conference on his soil.” He said intertribal hostility over the slave trade still exists. Many of his people have never seen descendants of their forebears who were shipped off to the Americas (Wright, 1999). He says the problem is in human hearts. ” ‘All have sinned,'” he claims, quoting the New Testament. “All of us need to confess our wrong and appeal to [God] for forgiveness.”
Quite honestly, I don’t remember hearing about this at the time. I studied African-American literature and history in college and I don’t recall this apology ever coming up in conversation. I don’t recall seeing it in the news. I’m certain I would have remembered. It received so little media attention, even now it’s hard digging up stories online. In July, 2003, Benin Ambassador Cyrille Oguin toured schools and churches in the United States to offer an official apology from: “In the name of the government and the people of Benin, on behalf of President Mattie Ke’re’kou, I say to you all, we are sorry. We are deeply, deeply sorry…. We believe it is easy to say that those other people did it, but we also believe that if we are not helping them, if we did not assist them, if we did not play a role in it, it would not have happened.”
“The president of Benin, the people of Benin have asked me to come here and apologize for the government, for the Benin people and for Africa for what we all know happened. Where our parents were involved in this awful, this terrible, trade…. Reconciliation is the first step to healing old wounds and opening economic development. [President Ke’re’kou] knows the damage on our side that came from slavery. He knows how this robbed our own society at home, how it turned us against each other.” (Miller, 2003)
Often, humans are unaware of their own strength and power. If you have no awareness of your own power, how can you imagine yourself a king? How can you imagine yourself as a created vessel of the Lord God Almighty, knitted together in such a way that God can channel His creative power and purpose through you without destroying you? How can you imagine if you aren’t even aware?
In our ignorance, we seek to put others above us. In the process of putting others above us, we dethrone God in our lives. We may look to our own self to be everything we need. We may look to ideals, institutions, governments to provide everything we need. We may hold other people up as examples of what is good and worthy for us to be. We may look to leaders or loved ones to save us. We may put our hope in religious practices and traditions while expecting the leaders of such to guide us.
Time and time again, the Israelites put a man between them and God. They had direct access to the source of life but they wanted it diffused. They asked for a leader. They sought other gods. They asked for a ruler (judge). They asked for a king. God took this as a direct rejection of Him as their King (1 Samuel 8:7-9).
Today’s king is celebrity culture. Many are voluntarily enslaved to it. The pervasive idea is: You’re no one unless a lot of people know you and want to be like you. People worship at the altar of images. People aspire to wealth for no other reason than to consume at a more extravagant level. People condition their bodies for exposure to the masses. This is all in the pursuit of self-glorification or other-idolization. People either want to be idolized or they want to idolize others. Such fanaticism is an affront to God. And because it’s an affront to God, it is also an affront to humanity. You cannot raise up a few without keeping the masses down.
My reasoning may appear to be a direct contradiction of the instruction to “value others above yourselves” but it’s not. The first part of that verse instructs us to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit” (Philippians 2:3). In addition, giving the best of myself in service of other people has nothing to do with their status, income, social standing, physical attributes or what they can do for me personal. Giving the best of myself to the people I encounter has everything to with my True King, my Heavenly Father and everything He channels through me that represents His Character, Nature and Spirit.
When we are not channeling God, we are essentially channeling the spirit of the world that is represented by whatever culture we are predominantly exposed to. Two thousand years ago, we were forever saved from the dominance of the ruler of this world, when God gifted us all with a Savior King for eternity.
I hope to post more in the coming weeks to address our choice for indentured servitude (either by hurting others or demeaning ourselves), and the King God has made available to everyone. King Jesus came to lead the world out of bondage and into eternal freedom.
Reconciliation: Benin Conference (transcribed speeches): http://www.dbq.edu/library/FacultyPubs/JohnHatch.cfm