“My God, forgive us.”
These words were often on my lips as I visited the National Freedom Center in Cincinnati. For those unfamiliar with the museum, it is dedicated to telling the story of slavery across the world and the efforts of groups who fought to end slavery and participated in the Underground Railroad. I had been wanting to visit the Center for some time now, and took the opportunity today during the midst of the Kentucky Annual Conference. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to learn, and to think about how God is calling the church to still be concerned about slavery in the world today.
Within the first few minutes of the tour, you cannot help but have a prayer of confession on your lips. When you see the photos, hear the stories, see the house where they would sale slaves, your heart is burdened with pain, grief, and remorse. Even more, you are left to wonder how generations of people could have so little concern for the value of humanity, and put people into slavery simply for the sake of making money.
My God, forgive us for abusing your children. Forgive us for being more concerned about our own finances than the human in front of us. Forgive us, Lord, for thinking that someone is less than your’s simply because of their skin color. Forgive us, Lord, for being foolish to think we can ignore someone, use someone, and hurt someone because of their race.
We could go on and on.
The entire tour is an emotionally-gripping account of slavery in America and Europe. You cannot experience everything in one shot, and you should expect to spend at least two hours trying to take it all in. I don’t think I experienced everything, and it was still a moving time of reflection and education.
In my opinion, the Center tells the story well of slavery in America and Europe, and the response from many in the 19th Century to end the practice. It is hard to focus on any one moment in the Center, because there is just so much to see, experience, and to reflect upon. That includes this quote from William Lloyd Garrison, “My country is the world; my countrymen are mankind.” Sounds kind of Wesleyan, doesn’t? You cannot help but think about that quote, and what it would mean for all of us to engage the world with that mindset.
While the history of slavery and the Underground Railroad is an important aspect of the Center, it is not a place that is focused on the past. It reminds all of us that slavery still exists, sadly, in our world today. You are gripped by the stories of sex trafficking, child labor, poor work conditions, and debt burdens. Each of these, and more, enslave people to others and prevent the individual from having the basic freedom and life that we have come to take for granted.
There is an area where you can respond to what you have experienced on the tour. In our Twitter world, you are asked to write in 140 characters some response, and it is electronically posted on a wall in a room set aside for action response. My response was to pray and a call for us all to be the voice for the voiceless, which could, perhaps, be expected from a pastor who has a concern for public theology.
Yet, it was the response of a six-year old child that, I believe, really hits home what the church is called to do in response to the slavery that still exists in the world. This young child wrote that we should “create a safe place for children to learn.” I couldn’t agree more. I pray that this will be our call. That we will have a concern for all of God’s children written on our hearts, so that we may finally end slavery in our world.