Listen to a different voice

Published 9:07 pm Friday, March 28, 2014

By Chris Surber

Old spirits don’t die easily. I’m convinced that some old dark spirits live in the swamps, fields, streets, hearts, and homes in Suffolk.

Whether you want to call them actual spirits in keeping with a biblical and ancient understanding of the spiritual realm or you prefer to simply speak of the Zeitgeist — the dominant attitude or essence of a place and time — some spirits are hard to kill.

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I’ve become intrigued with the spirit of slavery in America. I’m a student of history, anyway, so when some research I was doing on Colonial-era western history led me to information about the African slave trade that I was unfamiliar with, I started digging through it. The facts are interesting, albeit in a disgusting and revolting kind of way.

What I find even more fascinating is the frame of mind that allowed people to hold other people in bonds, often treating them in a manner unbefitting an animal.

Many, perhaps even most, of those who owned slaves in pre-Civil War America claimed to be Christians. They were at the very least men who held basic Christian religious convictions and were yet disposed to all manner of wickedness and cruelty.

Granted, it is unfair to judge history by modern standards. We benefit from the perspective of the present. We have learned from the mistakes of the past. We have grown in our understanding. Or have we?

At the end of the day, the spirit — the zeitgeist — of slavery was one of domination and control. The pervasive sentiment of the American era in which slavery existed alongside worship of a merciful savior was one of control and domination. To be frank, I believe that spirit still lives in these swamps and in many homes and churches in Suffolk.

It is a spirit of control that allows a man to push down his wife’s opinion and disregard a woman’s voice in the church. That pervasive spirit of domination of women by men has led many women to fight for their voice.

When any people live for a long period of time with their voices silenced or their opinions utterly disregarded, they will inevitably push back against the oppression.

Could the seeming brashness and assertiveness of so many women in this region be the consequence of living for years under a subtle and sometimes overt spirit of domination by the so-called stronger sex? I’m convinced it is.

Those old dark ugly spirits of control that whispered words of affirmation to slave owners are alive and well. They still whisper in the ears of those accustomed to oppressing others.

But if we claim Christ, then we must listen to a different voice. Jesus came to set the captives free from sin. Is there any greater sin than revoking the freedom of another?

“Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:34-36 ESV)

Chris Surber is pastor of Cypress Chapel Christian Church in Suffolk. Visit his website at www.chrissurber.com.