Harriet Jacobs’ “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl”

Jacobs makes numerous references to “true Christianity” and Christian hypocrisy, to “churchgoers” and “true believers.” Using specific examples from the text (with page citations) define and explain Jacobs’ views on this issue. After you have defined and explained, imagine that Jacobs lived into the 20th century. Again, using specific examples to make your case, explain what her view would be on one of the events of our own century.

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Jacob’s reference to true Christianity and Christian hypocrisy to churchgoers and true believers

True Christianity: Authentic Christianity is a living relationship whereby the living Lord lives in us and through us. Authentic Christianity is receiving the life of God and living by the power of that life. It is allowing God to take charge. It is surrendering to his control.

Christian hypocrisy: people who claim to be Christians yet do not do what the bible instructs them to do or do not live up to the standards of the Christian faith are hypocrites.

Churchgoer: is a person who attends church, often regularly. He is not necessarily a born-again Christian or a believer.

True believer: is the one who trusts in God in totality. He or she does not have a wavering mind about who God is and what God can do.

True Christianity and Christian hypocrisy

In this book, Jacob views Christianity hypocrisy as inexistence, especially among the slaveholders and majority of parishioners, clergymen, and pastors. For instance, the idea of providing religious instruction to the slaves so as to make them not murder their masters is a high level of hypocrisy. If that was so then it should start with them first. They should not fear being murdered when they themselves batter their slaves to death. It is therefore clear that the slaveholders hide behind religion as a means of providing moral uprightness to the slaves.

The segregation of church members on the basis of their status in society by the Episcopal clergyman together with the Methodist and Baptist churches is another evidence of hypocrisy practiced by white ‘Christians’ the bible teaches that all true Christians are “one body in Christ” and that all men are equal before God’s eyes for they are made in God’s own image.

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The idea of slaves going to church on Sunday evenings while the slaveholders go there during the day is unbiblical. This is not true Christianity but rather what I may refer to as “Christianity for the sake of it.” We see the Apostle Paul exhorting each group of people how to conduct themselves as Christians and at no point does he tell the slaves to conduct a different service from their masters. Also, there is no single incidence like that recorded in the bible.

Rev. Mr. Pike epitomizes church hypocrisy when he relates to his favorite text that servants are expected to be conformists. This is specially extracted from Ephesians 6:5. While we should expect him also to tell the slaveholders to show love and kindness, he only, buts uses the name of God to have the slaves submit to the humiliations of their masters. In his sermon he claims the slaves are idle, they shun their work and accuses them of being liars, when it is evident that he is the one preaching lies so as to maintain the status quo of his fellow white antagonist. Indeed true Christianity does not bar people from interacting freely with each other. This is pure hypocrisy.

Another abuse of Christianity is depicted by this one dealer in the slave trade who serves as a teacher in a Methodist class meeting. He is the very person who humiliates those he so calls “brothers and sisters in Christ” by whipping them whenever wherever. One cannot expect him to provide hope and comfort to the slaves. This is seen by the way he handles the case of a bereaved woman who lost all children to slave traders. The constable only laughs her off and tells her to implore God so that every dispensation of his divine will could be sanctified to the good of her poor needy soul. I do not any true Christianity here.

The churches are guilty of hypocrisy for denying the ‘Fountain of life’ from souls that yearn for it. They have barred people from knowing the truth of what the bible teaches and instead forbid it. The missionaries go to preach in far lands and yet neglect those around them.

True Christianity was depicted by the new clergyman who replaced the Episcopal clergyman. He is the first one we see trying to bring both the slaves and their masters to a common service. In his service to God, he treats both the slaves and the slaveholders equally before God. This in turn puts him in trouble with the white parishioners who, because of dissatisfaction, demand for separate service to be held for slaves and slaveholders. The death of his wife was followed by his departure which was heartbreaking to the now lively slaves.

When he comes back after several years to preach to the same people, his message of hope to the colored people remains evident. He encourages them to live according to the word of God. He says irrespective of skin color, God judges all people by their hearts. Though he appears offensive to the slaveholders, he sticks to the biblical truth; all people are made in the image of God.

The wife of the new clergyman also portrays true Christianity. We could see this at her deathbed. Though little is known about her, it is clear that she was a true Christian who espoused the sanctity of human life. Her last words to her slaves on her deathbed speak it all. The writer tells us that the colored people will long to bless the memory of that Christian woman.

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Churchgoer and True believer

Linda’s grandmother plays the role of a true believer in this book. This is depicted in the way she handles issues in a godly way. we always hear her mention the name of God in all these situations. For instance, in chapter 2 we see that when her daughter, Linda’s mother dies, she comforts her (Linda) by saying, “Who knows the ways of God?”……. “Perhaps they have been kindly taken from the evil days to come.” These words are similar to those found in the Bible in the Book of Isaiah ……Also, when she learns that her youngest son has fled from his master’s place, she just prays that the will of God may be done. When her son Benjamin says that his thought of her made him not commit suicide she humbly asks him is if he did not think about God also.

She encourages him to put his trust in God and that he should be humble. This is also in line with what the bible teaches in the book of Proverbs …… She tells Benjamin that when sore trouble comes upon her and she has no one to turn to, she calls on God, and her burden is laid off. We also see that when Uncle Philip brings the report about Ben’s freedom, grandmother lifts up her hand in praise of and thanks, God. We see her kneel down and pour herself out to God.

Uncle Fred is another example of a true believer. He wants to know all the truth from the bible about how he ought to serve God better and that he might be close to Him. This is true from what the bible says in Psalms ………… that, “Your word have I hidden in my heart so that I may not sin before you.” However, his limiting factor to getting the craving of his heart was illiteracy. He does not know how to read yet he wants to study the bible by himself and know the truth just like the white man is able to read. When Linda offers to teach him how to read we learn that irrespective of his age his learning rate is fast and he is able to read through the New Testament at the end of six months. His secret in achieving this is drawn from divine help. He prays for divine intervention before attending his ‘lessons.’

All along we see that most of the slaveholders are mere churchgoers who take no seriousness to the word of God. This is because most of them go to church to hear what their itching ears want to hear – that the message should be that which extol them while at the same time confirm the slaves. Most mere churchgoers find nothing good in the service unless what they expect to hear has been preached on. However they meet all the obligations of the church (but not from a pure heart) including partaking of the Holy Communion, offering, and tithing yet they continue to live in their evil ways.

If Jacob was to live in the 20th century I believe she will have a totally different view of churchgoers and true believers. Unlike her era when the slave trade was rampant and only slaves tended to put much of their trust in God, the 20th-century state is different. Everybody is free to do as he/she wills. Taking a country like Kenya which is believed to be about 80% Christian it will shock her that only about 20% are true believers in the word of God.

The majority of the people are mere churchgoers who fulfill all or some of the religious obligations of the church. Just like in her days, she will find most people partaking in the Holy Communion, baptism, paying tithes and offering, and maybe doing other charitable works. Despite all these, these people only have little on no time for God. They rarely have a day-to-day prayer life and they go to church only when they feel like it. These are the people who have no full trust in God though they claim to be Christians. They will seek other divine help from witchdoctors, sorcerers, fortune-tellers, and astrologers to determine the fate of their lives. They all the freedom but they choose not to be thankful to God for this.

The few committed Christians seem to walk their faith and not just brag of lip service. Their trust is in God alone and their faith, like that of Linda’s grandmother, will, is not wavered in times of difficulty.

I know she will have a slightly different perspective of the Christian faith and Christian life, from the one she grew up in and lived through compared to that free of oppression and persecution. Even though the slave trade was abolished long ago, she will still have to face some other challenging situations at the workplace and the general day-to-day life. I believe strict rules and regulations, unfriendly boss and workmates might appears intimidating and might lead to compromise to a Christian with wavering faith. The only difference is that she is not working for free or to purchase her freedom. I believe she will enjoy life but will she will be very much irritated with the so-called Christians who are just but churchgoers.

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Jacobs, Harriet, “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl”, 1st ed. New York: Dover Pubns, 2001.

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