October 10, 2017
Wilberforce A!ert: Uncle Tom’s Cabin: A Powerful Tool for Religious Freedom
Harriet Beecher Stowe’s abolitionist novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, stirred the fire of the human rights debate about slavery in 1852. She opened the eyes of the U.S. about the horrors of this evil through powerful stories about heroes such as Uncle Tom. In the novel, we learn about family tragedies like the slave Eliza and her husband George endured. We read about the child Eva, who was tormented by this horrific evil, as well as the tale of the Quaker couple that risked everything in service to the slaves, Rachel and Simeon Halliday.
Readers of the novel find themselves seeing through the eyes of Eliza, the young mother, who already suffered the loss of two children. When faced with having to sell her only living child, she risked everything to save her son. Who has the right to take a child from his mother for personal gain? What mother wouldn’t suffer hardship, loneliness and physical suffering to get her child out of harm’s way? We begin to think of Eliza as a fellow human – rather than as a slave – and feel her helplessness and agony trapped in an unjust environment.
Stowe didn’t focus on the statistics of slavery or the economic benefit or loss. She refused to label slave owners as wicked and abolitionists as righteous. Rather, her characters illustrate a complacent nation accommodating a horrendous institution because its free people were indifferent to the suffering of the oppressed. She humanized the victims of the U.S. slave trade.
Why did society tolerate such an injustice? Slave owner Auguste St. Clare was troubled by his own fallen nature and summarized that the toleration of slavery was due to planters who profited from it, preachers who had to please the planters, and politicians who ruled it by warping and bending language and ethics using nature and the Bible to justify their positions.
Harriet Beecher Stowe followed the example of Hannah Moore, the famous writer and partner of British slave abolitionist William Wilberforce earlier in the same century. She used powerful stories to move the hearts and minds of readers. British citizens read hundreds of thousands of pamphlets that Moore wrote. In the U.S., 300,000 copies of Uncle Tom’s Cabin were sold in the first year. Slowly people began to see slavery for what it was.
How can we awaken the world to the horrors of religious persecution, which we at 21CWI believe to be the human rights issue of our day? We must listen to the stories of the persecuted by living among them, seeing life through their eyes, suffering with them and then courageously standing up for them. Pastors must tell their stories. Journalists must write their stories. Politicians must become their advocates. All of us must use reliable sources to share these stories with our families, our community and our social media connections as we seek to expose evil, change policy and set free the captives.
- Use the stories of the persecuted our team has met by going to our website, www.SpeakFreedomTexas.org, opening the Church Toolkit, and downloading the true tales about Arit, Mighty and others whose stories are highlighted under “Testimonies/Teaching Illustrations.”
- Engage your family to adopt one of these individuals and begin to pray for that person faithfully.
- Read Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe to get a fresh understanding of the racial tensions of our day as well as to be reminded of the powerful tool of narratives in standing up for the oppressed.