Apr 21, 2016

Jack Lew Endorses Radical Christian Direct Action and Violent Insurrection Against Injustice?

Tubman: Christian Insurrectionist to be Honored
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew had previously announced his decision to replace a dead white male president with a woman on U.S. paper currency. Hamilton was initially to be the sacrifice, but  Lew indicated Hamilton on the Ten was saved by a Broadway musical.

So, deferring to lovers of show tunes, Lew has now announced that Andrew Jackson -- whose resume includes being teenage veteran of the Revolutionary War (when, in addition to gaining a nasty saber scar, he lost his mother as a military nurse to cholera and both brothers to battle and imprisonment); leader of many now embarrassing military campaigns on behalf of his country; founder of the Democratic Party back when it opposed the banking interests; President; in short, just another very-white-very-male doubleplusungood populist whose sacrifices and achievements aren't the kind we honor anymore -- is to be relegated from the Twenty in favor of Harriet Tubman. As a woman and African-American, she starts at doubleplusgood and moves up from there for her direct action against injustice as conductor on the Underground Railroad.

Despite the bizarre selection criteria for choosing whom to replace, Lew has made a very interesting selection for whom to honor. Lew has explained that his selection of Tubman was strongly influenced by last year's book by Prof. Catherine Clinton: Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom. As Lew observes, and I confirmed while perusing Clinton's book, the real Tubman, while not Nat Turner, was also not at all the M.L.K.-style peaceful civil resister we all read so many required hagiographical books about in elementary school. For one thing, I was surprised to learn that she was a Christian prophetess, moved and moving others with her accounts of visions, dreams, premonitions and words from God to take direct action against the state and slaveholders.

She was also, according to Clinton, an active, paid, co-conspirator with John Brown. She had a prophetic vision of meeting Brown before their first encounter. He recruited her, and she became directly involved in his well-funded conspiracy to establish by military insurrection an independent free state, pursuant to a provisional constitution penned by Brown. She worked to recruit and equip the forces for the attack on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry, which aimed to gain the weapons for the broad slave insurrection need to launch the independent government. While more pacifically minded Christian abolitionists shied away from his history of killings, proposed military methods and goal to overthrow the government, Tubman did not. According to Clinton, "... under Brown's influence, she came to perceive slavery as a state of war.... Tubman endorsed his agenda." Brown called her "General Tubman" and she was only saved from being lost in the attack because an illness kept her from joining the attack, despite the previous logistical help she had offered and her desire to be involved in the armed raid. See, Clinton, Chapter Nine, Crossroads at Harpers Ferry.

Final Words of Tubman's Co-conspirator: I am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood.
In short, she is exactly the kind of person who would be absolutely excoriated and loathed by the left as a "religious terrorist" if she were a non-"diverse," male Christian. She was the kind of person who thinks the Bible and the voice of God to her own soul should be followed even if it means working violence against the government and civilians in the way of change, like the poor freeman that Brown's men shot on the train at Harpers Ferry. If the government had wanted to honor peaceful resistance to unjust slavery laws, our rulers had a host of other options, like Frederick Douglass who refused Brown's pleadings to join in bloodshed.

So, should we read the selection of Tubman as an endorsement of those whose Christian views lead them to plot violent uprisings against unjust governments? Is it a general endorsement of the use of direct action, rather than civil resistance, against government actions that one perceives as unjust? Is Edward Snowden or Randall Terry next for the Five dollar bill? Is the government telling us that if we really believe the government is acting unjustly, there is no moral principle -- only cowardice and love of comfort -- that is preventing us from taking matters into our own hands?

It's really hard to believe that Lew's choice of Tubman was intended as more than a P.C. sop. But then Lew did say he read Clinton's book, which makes Tubman's position toward direct action and even violent anti-government insurrection perfectly clear. And, the current government has not exactly clamped down hard on those who use patently illegal means to promote results in keeping with its own agenda. Whatever the intent, words and symbols have an objective public meaning apart from the motivations that led to their selection. Tubman's life of worship, prayer, Scripture, direct action against injustice, participation in violent insurrection against a regime she regarded as departing from the standards of Scripture, this is the life that is to be honored on the Twenty.

Accused spy, Edward Snowden, who is charged with his own direct action of taking and releasing documents from the NSA revealing massive unconstitutional governmental surveillance of the American people, tweeted his own judgment of the meaning of the selection. The parallel he personally draws seems clear:

I am more than a little troubled by the implied theory of resistance in Brown and Tubman's lives. But others, others who are actually in line to exercise sovereign authority, disagree and highlight her use of violence. Interesting things for a future president to say.

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