In his introduction of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Alfred Kazin writes, “The influence of a great book can have amazing repercussions in the life and mind of a country.” Uncle Tom’s Cabin certainly had some spectacular repercussions – it helped to start the Civil War which ended slavery. Apparently, the author, Mrs. Stowe, always intended to write for a deeper purpose. Kazin says that Mrs. Stowe, “was the first to maintain that in writing it she was less concerned with producing a work of literature than with the urgent need to persuade people through literature that slavery was wholly immoral.” The purpose of this article is to highlight the way Stowe dealt with a major social issue of the day. Her strategies for facing evil are still ones we should be applying today.
Biblical obedience over political correctness
One of my favorite conversations in the book is between Mr. and Mrs. Bird. Mr. Bird is an exhausted state senator who has worked to pass fugitive slave laws in his Northern state – laws that would make it illegal for anyone to assist an escaping slave. Though against slavery himself, Mr. Bird helped to pass the law in order to make peace between his state and Kentucky, a slave state. Mrs. Bird is described as a meek, gentle woman, but as soon as she hears about this law she flies into a flurry:
“Now, John, I don’t know anything about politics, but I can read my Bible; and there I see that I must feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and comfort the desolate; and that Bible I mean to follow.”
“But in cases where your doing so would involve a great public evil – ”
“Obeying God never brings on public evils. I know it can’t. It’s always safest, all around, to do as He bids us.” (Page 90)
Americans face the same choice today: Biblical obedience or political correctness. With issues like abortion, gay marriage, sexuality, and even welfare, Christians must choose to either obey the Bible or follow the mainstream. The Bible is crystal clear on these issues, but many Christians refuse to take a stand because they are scared of the potential backlash. But as history shows, God’s way is truly the only safe way.
Recognize the humanity of those being wronged
In chapter 12, a young man witnesses a slave wife tearfully saying goodbye to her husband who has been sold. The man has some powerful remarks for the slave trader who now owns the man:
“My friend,” he said speaking with thick utterance, “how can you, how dare you, carry on a trade like this? Look at those poor creatures! Here I am, rejoicing in my heart that I am going home to my wife and child; and the same bell which is a signal to carry me onward towards them will part this poor man and his wife forever. Depend upon it, God will bring you into judgment for this.” (Page 141)
This man was a master of empathy. He acknowledged that the slave being carried away had the same feelings as his own. We should carry the same mindset especially when facing social issues. Using abortion as an example, those who are pro-choice argue that the fetus is, “just a clump of cells”. One of our best weapons to counteract this argument is simply acknowledge that a fetus is a human being who can feel pain as early as eight weeks. Regarding the modern day sex trade, we can recognize the suffering and pain of the women and children whose bodies are being sold. Their sexual safety is worth protecting just as much as our own. When we put ourselves in the place of those being abused, we can fight more effectively for them.
Doing the right thing means sacrifice.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin introduces us to a community of courageous Quakers who are helping slaves escape to Canada. This operation was quite dangerous and the father in this scene has already been caught once. The family is discussing the potential consequences when one of the fugitive slaves speaks up, expressing his concern for his protectors. The father of the family, Simeon, says, “If we would not meet trouble for a good cause, we were not worthy of our name.” (Page 161)
More often than not, Americans refuse to do the right thing for one of two reasons: the consequences or the inconveniences. Taking a stand for Biblical values will gain you many haters in our world. It might even hurt you financially or land you in jail. If we are not too afraid to voice our convictions, then sometimes our fear of inconvenience causes us to talk instead of act. Taking action on our convictions is often disruptive to our normal lives. In a conversation with his pious Christian cousin from Vermont, St. Clare, a southern man with slaves, admits to her that he actually detests slavery. Despite his strong anti-slavery opinion, he argues that pointing fingers at the problem is easy, but taking action to solve the problem is a whole other matter.
Like Mrs. Stowe, we need to pull our heads out of the sand and face our glaring social issues head on. The Bible is always our authority on social issues. Every other voice will only lead us astray. We must learn to see people – whether they are born yet or not, captive or free – as individuals who God hand crafted and loves dearly. Finally we must take action on our Biblical convictions, because convictions without action are entirely useless. Even when we do find the courage to speak out, we must follow that up with movement. There is still hope in our fight. After all, America managed to abolish slavery. If we can do that, then we can certainly see more victories in present social issues.