“If you hold your hand closed, nothing good can come in. The open hand is blessed, for it gives in abundance, even as it receives” – Biddy Mason.
Biddy Mason was a child of God, a mother, a midwife, a specialist in herbal remedies, a nurse, a real estate developer, an entrepreneur, a humanitarian, and a philanthropist. She was also born into slavery in the American South.
The order of description above is purposeful. Many descriptions of her start with her being a slave. The story then builds about her later accomplishments. I state that she was born into slavery. Slavery was something imposed on her, it is not who anyone is.
The subject of this blog is how to be a Christian when there are many negative examples of those who call themselves Christians. These false teachers, deceivers, are the most dangerous type. Those who do not profess to believe are clearly stating who they are. Those who hide under the cloak of Christianity their true nature do damage to belief in faith, exactly what Satan wants which is to show Christianity in a negative light through deceivers. Many of my college students that I teach who were raised in faith say they no longer attend church or consider themselves religious because of the scandals associated with church leaders. They also tend to object to certain political stands of churches. One must always separate the pure example of Christ from the behaviors of even religious leaders. A church is composed of people. If you put your entire faith in only people, you will often be disappointed, including religious leaders of all ethnicities, nationalities, and races.
In American slavery, all Africans who were captured were not Christians at the time. Many of their captors claimed to be Christians and even selectively quoted the Bible to justify their slavery and cruelty toward their slaves. These passages will not be discussed here because they would need their own blog to explain how it was indeed a very narrow view, ignorant of the historical context, and not indicative of slavery as practiced in the Americas.
So here is the situation. Those who profess a faith are the ones oppressing you, beating you, raping you, killing you, and separating you from your family. In the 1960’s, there were several White religious leaders who were proponents of segregation and Jim Crow laws and demonized those who fought for greater freedom. They fought against anti-lynching legislation, and some were even members of the Ku Klux Klan. The family that Mason was with in fact left the South to California because of the slaveholder had a Christian conversion. In that 2000 mile 7-month grueling trip, he forced her to walk on foot while others rode on horseback or wagons. She did this with a newborn on her back which was believed to be his child. California was a free state and the leader of the Christian denomination he had recently joined told him he could not keep her and others as slaves. He refused and his reaction was to try to move everyone to Texas.
Mason filed in court for her freedom while in California and eventually was declared free by a judge, along with her children and other relatives.
Mason went on to have a historic making life. The information below was gleaned from many sources including Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biddy_Mason), the US National Park Service (https://www.nps.gov/people/biddymason.htm), Gold chains: The Hidden History of Slavery in California (https://www.aclunc.org/sites/goldchains/explore/biddy-mason.html) and Curbed Los Angeles (https://la.curbed.com/2017/3/1/14756308/biddy-mason-california-black- history) Mason, in her 30’s, was now free. Despite her treatment at the hands of people who claimed to be devout Christians, she kept, developed, and demonstrated her faith. Therefore, it is so important to read or have knowledge of the Bible directly, not ONLY through the lens of others. This is not to say that should not attend church or listen and read the words of Christian leaders, but one must ultimately have one’s own relationship with Christ. The Bible warns of false prophets throughout the Old and New Testaments. The Bible is, in fact, harder on these hypocritical religious leaders than just about anyone else. If look at the example of fellow humans, instead of Christ, you will often be lead astray.
Biddy Mason went on to serve others, to become an entrepreneur and financially wealthy, and to establish a church. After legally being granted her freedom, she continued her work as a midwife. As a midwife, she delivered hundreds of babies, from all races. She was also knowledgeable of herbal remedies. In her caring for the sick, she risked her own health tending to people in the LA smallpox epidemic. She became the nurse of a local White physician. In addition to her many talents, she was fluent in Spanish.
Her physician employer paid her $2.50 dollars a day to be his nurse. She worked and saved her money over 10 years. With that money she brought real estate in what is now downtown Los Angeles. She was one of the first African American women to own land in L.A. It is estimated that she eventually had $300,000 dollars from her real estate investments, selling some to buy even more, and renting out her properties. In the 1890’s, she was the wealthiest African American woman in L.A. She was generous in her giving, providing for the poor, feeding the hungry, visiting prisoners. She was one of the founders of a traveler’s aid center and a school for black children. She became, along with her son in law Charles Owens, the founding member of First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles, which is the oldest Black church in that city. She donated the land for the church.
Mason has post humorously been given many awards. She is in the California Social Work Hall of Distinction. On November 16th, 1989, the mayor declared that day forever Biddy Mason Day. Close to her home there is an 82-foot-long art installation in her honor, a concrete wall telling the story of her life.
Thus Mason, someone who suffered at the hands of those who professed the Christian faith, became an exemplar of true Christian life in words and actions. This life in Christ can only be known by having a personal relationship with Him, to know the word for yourself. With true faith, one can find strength through adversity. Mason knew the story of how God delivered the people of Israel from bondage in Egypt and thus the “bad guys” in the story were the slaveowners.
Perhaps Mason knew of this verse in Luke:
The spirit of the LORD is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor (Luke 4:18-19 ESV)
Perhaps Mason knew of Psalms and Proverbs:
I know that the LORD will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and will execute justice for the needy (Psalm 140:12 ESV)
She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needed (Proverbs 31:20 ESV)
The rich and the poor meet together; the LORD is the maker of them all (Proverbs 22:2 ESV)
Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needed, deliver them from the hand of the wicket (Psalm 82:3-4 ESV)
Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty (Proverbs 22:16)
Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needed honors God (Proverbs 14:31 ESV)
Perhaps Biddy knew of this quote from Zechariah 7: 8-10:
“And the word of the LORD came again to Zechariah: “This is what the Lord Almighty said ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other”
Perhaps Biddy knew of this quote from Isaiah 58:6-8:
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to lose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter- when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear, then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD be your rear guard”
Perhaps Mason knew of the works of the Minor Prophets, including Joel and Amos, who spoke eloquently on social justice issues and the oppression of those in power against others and rightly commend it.
And perhaps Biddy was aware of the entire book of Philemon. In this letter of Paul to the slaveowner Philemon, he pleads with him to see his former slave as his equal in Christ. The man, Onesimus, not only escaped slavery from Philemon but also stole from him. In this context, there was cause for severe punishment for a runaway slave who stole from the slaveowner. But this is what Paul says to him in Philemon 10-25 NASB
10 I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I fathered in my imprisonment, 11 who previously was useless to you, but now is useful both to you and to me. 12 I have sent him back to you in person, that is, sending my very heart, 13 whom I wanted to keep with me, so that in your behalf he might be at my service in my imprisonment for the gospel; 14 but I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that your goodness would not be, in effect, by compulsion, but of your own free will. 15 For perhaps it was for this reason that he was separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever, 16 no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
17 If then you regard me as a partner, accept him as you would me. 18 But if he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge that to my account; 19 I, Paul, have written this with my own hand, I will repay it (not to mention to you that you owe to me even your own self as well). 20 Yes, brother, let me benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ.
21 Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, since I know that you will do even more than what I say. 22 At the same time also prepare me a guest room, for I hope that through your prayers I will be given to you.
23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, 24 as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.
25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.