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Resistance to Oppression and Tyranny: Sermon

The Underground Railroad as a Mode of Resistance to Oppression and Tyranny




Ernest Fremont Tittle (1926)

We cannot too often remind ourselves that Christianity began as a revolutionary movement. Jesus himself realized that men could no more accept his teachings and still cling to certain of their former beliefs and practices than a wine merchant could pour new wine into old wine-skins without causing the old wine-skins to burst.

And during the first four hundred years of its history, when it maintained its character of a revolutionary movement, Christianity conquered the world. Neither Roman militarism nor Roman imperialism was able to prevail against it. Tertullian could truthfully boast that the more Christians were persecuted, the more numerous they became. During all those heroic years when there was a real distinction between the church and the world -- between what the church stood for and what the world stood for -- the gates of hell could not prevail against her. She suffered, but became convincing. She died, but she was more than ever alive.

But when, at last, the church accommodated herself to worldly standards, when she began to think as the world thought and to do as the world did, she lost her power.

Coming down to more recent days, has not Burnett Streeter of the Anglican Church sadly but only too truly confessed that “the greatest blot on the history of the church in modern times is the fact that, with the glorious exception of the campaign to abolish slavery, the leaders of social, political, and humanitarian reform of the last century and a half in Europe have rarely been professing Christians: while the authorized representatives of organized Christianity have, as often as not, been on the wrong side."

Of the church in America, during the last century and a half, a somewhat different confession is called for. For, on this side of the Atlantic, at least some of the leaders in social, political, and humanitarian reform have have been professing Christians.

It was the church people of America who outlawed the liquor traffic in America. And it was the church people of America who denounced the abolition of the twelve hour day and the seven day week from the industries of America.

But in those fateful days preceding the Civil War, more than one denomination in America cautiously side-stepped the greatest moral issue of the age. Fearful of the loss of financial support, even missionary societies refused to place themselves on record as being unalterably opposed to the institution of slavery.

Coming down to the very present, who among us does not experience considerable difficulty in meeting the objection, so often urged, that membership in a christian church makes little difference if any difference in the lives of the members, that persons within the church are, for the most part, ruled by the same motives, swayed by the same passions, devoted to the same ends, as are the great majority of respectable persons outside the church?

There are, to be sure, and always have been, some very wonderful exceptions. Would it be putting the case too strongly to say that of the rarest souls of history, by far the larger number, during the past nineteen hundred years, have been professing Christians and devoted church men?

But the fact remains that since the close of the fourth century, when the church made her fatal alliance with the world, Christian morality, so-called, has been different from respectability -- the general average of morality in the world as a whole. Christianity, which began as a revolution, has become as conventional as afternoon tea.

Is not this precisely the reason why Christianity failed to prevent the World War, and the disastrous “Peace” which followed the War? And is not this precisely the reason why organized Christianity, even now, is exercising no more influence upon the thinking of individuals, and the policies of nations?

As a revolutionary movement, challenging current traditions and current institutions, calling for different motives and different methods, Christianity would be taken as seriously today as it was in the days when the Roman Empire tried to destroy it. Churchmen might suffer, only to discover that they were at last becoming convincing. Local churches here and there might die by reason of the withdrawal of financial support, only to discover that the Church of the Divine Revolutionist was never so much alive.

Christianity as a revolutionary movement would again conquer the world. But Christianity as an afternoon tea is as impotent as the prayers of the priests of Baal.