David Ruggles


David Ruggles

Donald Trump has had a profound impact on the American church. The overwhelming support that he received from white Evangelicals has deeply troubled many, especially Black Christians. Those Black Christians thought that personal morality and an adherence to Biblical “family values.” They thought that the group of Christians that rose to prominence in American life as the Moral Majority prioritized Biblical morality. They also believed that nothing was more important to white Evangelicals than personal morality. After all, wasn’t their most prominent parachurch ministry name Focus on the Family? With these personal morality touting Christians embracing a compulsive liar, a misogynist, a xenophobe, and con man, it was hard to escape the lingering suspicion that race had a lot to do with their pathological dislike of President Obama. They realized that most of their white fellow Christians were against Black Lives Matter. They started to wonder if their Christian brethren really thought of them as mattering. They started to wonder if white superiority was really the ultimate idol for white Evangelicals. They started to wonder if the movement was hypocritical to its core. It turns out that, these are not the first Black Christians to wonder this about American white Christians. One 19th century Black who did so was David Ruggles.

David Ruggles was a Black writing prophet of the 19th century. Although born free, he devoted his life to securing freedom for slaves and stopping Blacks from being kidnapped and sold into slavery. An abolitionist and Christian, he used the pen as well as direct action in opposition to slavery and slavers. Conservative  Apologists for slavery often refer to Biblical passages where slavery is not condemned but accepted as a part of life. David Ruggles argued that slavery, as practiced in the United States, has led the American Christian church to set aside, abrogate, the commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” His pamphlet, The Abrogation of the Seventh Commandment by the American Churches is one of the most powerful condemnations of the church’s complicity in racial sin.

Ruggles appealed to southern Christian women who through their silence or complicity allowed adultery to flourish in their households. He suggests that they turned a blind eye to blatant sin because they benefited economically from slavery. Ruggles noted that white rapists were considered good Christians if the rape victim was Black. No Black person could charge a white man with a crime in court or in the church. This was true even if they were members of the same church. In those mixed churches, adultery was condoned by the fact that none of the Black members were allowed to legally marry. Ruggles also accused white women of the North of treating slave-holding southerners as good Christian brothers and ignoring their open participation in adultery. He challenged the women to stand up for their enslaved sisters by refusing to sit under the preaching or share the communion table with slaveholders.

David Ruggles, a 19th Century Black writing prophet, owned the first Black bookstore in America. It was burnt down three times. He was a writer, publisher, abolitionist, homeopathic physician, and a conductor on the Underground Railroad. One notable slave that he helped find freedom was Frederick Douglass who later viewed Ruggles as his mentor.

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