For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against
the rulers, against the
authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces
of evil in the heavenly realms.
Mr. Gore then, without consultation or deliberation with
any one, not even giving Demby an additional call, raised his musket to his face,
taking deadly aim at his standing victim, and
in an instant poor Demby was no more.
—Autobiography of Frederick Douglass, an escaped slave
As Frederick Douglass wrote in his autobiography more than a century and a half ago, Mr. Gore, a slave overseer, decided that the slave Demby needed discipline—needed the whip. A cruel weapon, the whip had a handle about three feet long—the butt end of which was weighted with lead—and cowhide lashes six or seven feet long. It took little effort for the practitioner to tear the flesh and leave deep, gruesome scars—stripes. It was with such a whip that Mr. Gore disciplined Demby. But after receiving only a few stripes, Demby plunged into a shoulder-deep creek and refused to come out. Mr. Gore grabbed a musket and told Demby that if he didn’t come out after the third call, he would be shot. As the excerpt above testifies, Demby remained in the water, and Mr. Gore made good his threat.1
Now, these many years later, that same cold, sudden, merciless death still stalks us. And just as the cruel Mr. Gore cloaked it in the guise of “essential discipline,” it now shadows our neighborhoods masked as gang shootings, domestic violence, and child abuse. Of course, my predominantly African American neighborhood in south San Diego is not immune, and when this menace assaults us—no matter what the heartrending circumstances—I always hope the victim’s funeral will initiate a season of much-needed emotional and spiritual healing.
It was not to be so this time. Not at the funeral that followed the terrible drama I am about to describe. Instead of hearing the solemn prayers and grief-cleansed memories whispered over the coffin that day, I heard a sound I have heard far too often—the distinct glacial crack of that same flesh-gnawing whip—this time wielded by the New Slavemasters.
THE NEW SLAVEMASTERS
This tragedy erupted from the clash of four family members. First was Edward. At age thirty, he was deeply troubled, his life twisted and wounded by his own irresponsibility and drug use. Edward lived with his mother, Rachel—a small Christian woman who wanted nothing more than to see her younger son drug free, productive, and safe in the arms of Jesus. But so far her frequent prayers seemingly had gone unanswered.
Next was Edward’s father, Robert. Many years earlier he had left his wife and two sons and moved to South Carolina. Rachel repeatedly asked him to take Edward to live with him, but Robert always refused.
The fourth was Edward’s older brother, Jacob. Jacob was a respected deacon in our church, St. Stephen’s of the Church of God in Christ, in the San Diego, California, Jurisdiction. Like his mother, Jacob loved his brother and prayed for him often. He and Edward had been close as children, which made the vigil over Edward’s self-destruction that much more painful.
Edward somehow had got hold of nearly $2,500 in cash. He decided to transform the money, a “nickel bag” at a time, into crack cocaine and ride its smoke all the way to death’s door. Hiding the money in his room, he began to work his plan. It didn’t take his mother long to notice Edward’s decline, and a quick search uncovered the money. When Edward came home, she put herself between her son and the cash.
Edward became unhinged. When his frantic shouts and threats failed to dislodge her, he attacked his mother. My wife, Jean, and I have five sons, and I have no idea what it would be like if one of them attacked either of us. But Rachel knows, for she experienced it as Edward grabbed her by the shoulders and tried to push her out of the way.
But this diminutive woman would not be easily pushed. She was literally fighting for her son’s life. She knew if he got into that bedroom he would hide the money somewhere else and use it to kill himself even faster. Frantic to prevent that tragedy, she struggled with the very soul of desperation to keep herself between her son and his money. But no matter how hard she fought, she was no match for the much larger man, and she knew that any second she would be thrown out of the way like a rag doll.
Just then, Jacob stepped through the front door. He could never be sure what he would find when he visited his mother’s house, but he never expected to discover an all-out war. Crossing the room in a few quick strides, he positioned himself behind his brother and wrapped firm, restraining arms around him. But Edward would not be restrained.
Maybe the drugs “kicked in,” or maybe a reservoir of bottled-up rage broke loose, but whatever the reason, Edward released his mother and spun ferociously in Jacob’s arms. Now facing him, without a heartbeat’s hesitation, he plunged his thumbs into Jacob’s eye sockets.
Having charged into a firestorm, Jacob was instantly overwhelmed— emotionally and physically. This was his brother, the kid he had grown up with, helped, taken the blame for, shot hoops with, and loved—and now such savagery—all focused on one aim, to destroy him. And the pain. Searing. Like none he had ever experienced. Survival instincts blistered and erupted. Reacting blindly, Jacob brought up flailing arms to beat at his brother’s arms and wrists. His counterattack must have worked; Jacob abruptly found himself behind Edward, his arm beneath Edward’s chin pressed against his neck. “Stop!” Jacob cried.
“You have to stop!”
But Edward wouldn’t stop. Jacob, determined to remain behind his brother, held Edward even tighter, then tighter still. When Edward finally did settle down, Jacob released him, and Edward dropped to the floor breathing heavily. After lying there a moment, he began to vomit.
Jacob, his eyes still on fire, figured the worst was over and started looking after his mother. Neither realized, until it was too late, that Edward had stopped breathing. The struggle had overtaken his drug-depressed system; he had choked to death on his own vomit.
The police said later that Jacob had acted in self-defense. Even his mother, distraught at one son’s death but now focused on the other’s emotional recovery, said that Jacob had reacted the only way he could.
But Jacob would not be consoled.
“Because I’ve killed my brother,” Jacob told anyone who attempted to console him, “I cannot forgive myself.” He was determined to sweep all comfort and encouragement aside so that he could bear every ounce of deep withering guilt and spiritual confusion. And through it all, he just couldn’t stop asking God: “Why? How could I have done this? How could You have let me do this, Lord?”
Edward’s funeral was held a few days later, and by that time Jacob and I had spent several difficult hours working to shore him up spiritually and emotionally. Although I saw nothing in the tragedy for which Jacob could be blamed, it took a lot of counseling to bring him anywhere near a place of comfort and acceptance. As the day of the funeral dawned, Jacob had nearly forgiven himself and had decided, as a way of saying good-bye and expressing what tenderness he could to his brother, to be one of Edward’s pallbearers.
But that was not to be.
His father, Robert, flew in for the funeral, and the moment Jacob moved to touch Edward’s casket, Robert sprang angrily from his seat.
Pointing a finger at Jacob, he cried out bitterly: “Murderer! Get away from my son. How dare you touch that casket? You murdered him. You murdered my son.”
Jacob, shocked by the sudden assault, battered again by the intense guilt, pulled his hand back as if from a hot stove. Finally, buried beneath waves of remorse and despair, Jacob shrank away and joined me at the edge of the gathering; his hope to somehow reach out and touch his brother once more swept away.
THE CRACK OF THE WHIP
Does this look anything like your family? I sincerely hope not. Of course, your family dynamic may be even more difficult. But whether you have just recognized the seeds of destruction being sown or whether the New Slavemasters have invaded your life as completely as they invaded the lives of these four people, this book has been written for you.
In the following pages, we will discover exactly who these Slavemasters are; but first let’s take a look at why they have slithered back into our neighborhoods.
In Ephesians 6:12, Paul writes that we are engaged in a mammoth spiritual struggle, one that pits us “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” You have just read about a battle in that war, and if you didn’t think so before, I hope you realize it now— this war is serious. Our enemy plays for keeps. Lives, both physical and spiritual, teeter in the balance, and Satan, the opposing general, is anxious to shove us over the edge into oblivion.
One potent way he has managed to exert his hellish influence over the African American community was to cruelly enslave us. For centuries he tore us away from our native lands and held us in the most vicious circumstances. At the beginning of this chapter I gave you just a glimpse of its horror. His strategy was simple—keep us weak, alone, and in pain, so we would lack the focus and energy to search for God. And if we found Him, we would be so sick with rage and loathing we would reject His influence over us—no matter how tender and benevolent it might be.
For Satan, the stakes couldn’t be higher. When he loses this war, he and his followers will be tossed into an eternity of complete darkness where not a single ray of God’s loving radiance will ever find them again. Therefore, for him, this is total war.
Keep that fact in mind. The moment you begin to think that Satan is merely playing a game with us, that his goal is just to disrupt our lives, you will be reminded that our enemy wants to destroy us (John 10:10). Satan’s goal is not just to disrupt the communications between you and your spouse; he aims to destroy it. And those discussions you now have with your children? Satan would like to see those tender moments of training and instruction change into angry, violent, polarizing confrontations (Ephesians 6:4). In fact, he won’t be satisfied until you have given up on God and His divine plan for your family.
Satan does not want us to rely on God—or on Jesus, our only pathway to Him.
Just as centuries ago his strategy was to have slaves suffer the flesh-gnawing, spirit-breaking whips of slavery, today his strategy is the same. He wants to enslave us. Like Mr. Gore and his kind, our New Slavemasters work cruelly and tirelessly to keep us alone, weak, and in pain. Whenever possible, they whisper in our ears that it’s all God’s fault. Edward, Rachel, Jacob, and Robert were all victims of these vicious New Slavemasters.
Let’s meet them now individually.
WHO ARE THE NEW SLAVEMASTERS?
They are the plagues of our inner cities, the plagues of our suburbs, the plagues of our youth and wage earners and even our well-to-do—all those who are physically and spiritually broken and emotionally bruised and depressed. We have met one of the New Slavemasters already—drugs. And there are others, among them materialism, the mindless pursuit of pleasure, the drive for instant gratification, and racism. All of them sow the seeds that lead to perhaps even more destructive New Slavemasters: teen pregnancy; domestic violence; adult and child pornography; gangs; and overpowering, step-directing rage.
Within these pages, we will examine each of these forces, how each enslaves, and how we can keep from becoming ensnared by them—or, if we have already been enslaved by them, how we can break free. This book is about our journey through a treacherous landscape, one that seeks to isolate and weaken us as it did Edward and, I believe, his father, Robert. Ultimately, our story will be about Jesus, the One who accompanies His people along the way. He was there for Rachel and Jacob. And because He was with them, both are now on their way to emotional and spiritual healing.
Our goal is simple: to bring true and absolute freedom. And our journey to that goal begins on the next page.