Break every yoke

“[We] may well feel ashamed that we were not in the vanguard of the liberation movement, and that we did not develop an evangelical liberation theology.” John Stott


The following quote is from the Jubilee Centre website, from John Coffey’s essay, ‘To release the oppressed’: Reclaiming a biblical theology of liberation.

“The Glorious Revolution of 1688–89¹ was … acclaimed as a divine deliverance from political and religious slavery; William [the Dutch stadtholder William III of Orange] and Mary [Mary II of England] were compared to Moses and Miriam. By the mid-eighteenth century, English-speaking Protestants were convinced that God acted providentially within history to promote the spread of liberty. When the American colonists rebelled against the British, their preachers saw them as re-enacting the biblical Exodus. Jefferson and Franklin even suggested that the national seal should bear an engraving of the Hebrews crossing the Red Sea.

Yet even as they praised God for political deliverance, white Americans held hundreds of thousands of Africans in chattel slavery, and the English had become the world’s greatest slave traders. [Emphasis in red type by SH]. As this moral contradiction became increasingly glaring, an abolitionist movement coalesced on both sides of the Atlantic. Evangelical preachers began to argue that the liberation of black slaves was on the agenda of God. Abolitionist iconography was emblazoned with biblical texts: ‘I have heard their cry’ (Exodus 3:7), ‘Let my people go’ (Exodus 5:1), ‘Liberty proclaimed throughout the land’ (Leviticus 25:10), ‘Break every yoke’ (Isaiah 58:6) and ‘Deliverance to the captives’ (Luke 4:18). In America, the leading abolitionist journal was called ‘The Liberator’, and for fifteen years its masthead carried an image of ‘Jesus, the Liberator’, under the text ‘I come to break the bonds of the oppressor’.

Moreover, as black slaves embraced evangelical Christianity, they were drawn to the Bible’s message of emancipation. Exodus became the most important text for African-American identity. Negro spirituals voiced the longing for both spiritual and civil liberation: ‘When Israel was in Egypt’s land / Let my people go / Oppressed so hard they could not stand / Let my people go.’ The most important black abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, spoke of ‘the God of the Oppressed’, and repeatedly cited the Jubilee, Isaiah’s call to break every yoke, and Christ’s Nazareth sermon. The black church clung on to these biblical traditions of liberation, and they were to provide vital inspiration for Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement.”

¹The Glorious Revolution, also called the Revolution of 1688, was the overthrow of King James II of England (James VII of Scotland) by a union of English Parliamentarians with the Dutch stadtholder William III of Orange. William’s successful invasion of England with a Dutch fleet and army led to his ascension of the English throne as William III of England jointly with his wife Mary II of England, James’s daughter, in conjunction with the documentation of the Bill of Rights 1689. -Wikipedia

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