12 Years a Slave: Looking Back so that we may Work Forward

I recently had the opportunity to attend a showing of Steve McQueen’s film 12 Years a Slave. The film is based on the true story of Solomon Northup. Northup was a free African man born in New Jersey during the horrific period of chattel slavery in American history. He was deceived and captured and eventually sold into slavery. The movie tells his story based on his autobiography of the same name: http://www.amazon.com/12-Years-Slave-Solomon-Northup/dp/1492368288/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1384975818&sr=8-1&keywords=12+years+a+slave.

 The trailer for the film can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NYYtS9KSWNg

 Solomon Northup’s story is one that desperately needs to be told. The director, whose vision can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GgSzYe94FBQ, says the story is “the Anne Frank story of America.” The film honestly portrays the evil of slavery in American history. Northup’s story calls us as American people and particularly people of faith in America to be honest about the past here. The idea is similar to that of Anne Frank’s story in this: it puts a face and a name to the reality of an evil portion of history. I want to suggest here, however, that Solomon Northup’s memory, and the memory of thousands upon thousands more who suffered under the evil of slavery in this nation’s history should not be honored merely by this film being widely seen and proclaimed. Rather, we should honor the memory of Northup and those like him by looking to the past so that we may work forward. The notion is popular that we must learn history so that it does not repeat itself. My prayer is that people of faith would see this film and not only acknowledge the past, but acknowledge the reality that history is indeed repeating itself now.

 Chattel slavery in its brutal form as expressed in 12 Years a Slave has indeed been abolished in this country. An argument can be made, however, that its effects are still felt. Our purpose here is not to enter into that debate, but to express the reality that while chattel slavery in American history is gone, slavery in the world is not abolished. The International Justice Mission shares real statistics: 2 million children yearly are exploited in the global sex trade and 27 million men, women, and children are enslaved in some way in the world even today. Yes, those numbers are indeed overwhelming. When looked at from a different perspective, however, they become real. Consider this: every number has a name. Every name has a face. Every face has a story. In Northup’s life, if William Bass had decided that the problem of slavery was too overwhelming, or that being committed to justice was too dangerous personally to take action, or that helping just one would not make a difference, Solomon Northup  may never have had the opportunity to tell his story. How many Solomon Northups are in the world today? How many will we rise up and help?

 While we discuss the finer points of theology, argue over women in ministry, and exclude one another due to our particular understandings of the inerrancy of scripture, people suffer. We, however, have a hope. Jesus. May we seek unity in the One who lived in perfect communion with God so that we may be committed to the ideals of freedom, justice, and righteousness for all, thereby creating a world in which more people may experience communion with God freely. In so doing, may we work together, regardless of background, skin color, or political party to free the enslaved one by one by one.

 For information on how to become involved in fighting for freedom, check out International Justice Mission’s website here: (http://www.ijm.org/our-work/injustice-today).


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