At the age of nine, she was separated from her family when she was sold to another owner. As a slave, she had no rights. Even her husband was chosen for her. Her children were not hers, but her owners, to do with as he chose.
Sojouner escaped slavery in 1826.
She became a Christian, and began to agitate for the abolition of slavery and for women’s rights. Until her death in 1883, she continued to advocate for the rights of women, for property rights for freed slaves, for prison reform, and for an end to capital punishment.
Although many had used Christianity to, not only oppress women, but also to justify slavery, Sojourner found in Jesus a source of strength and purpose.
Like many women, she had looked past the cultural traditions she had heard about in the Bible, and instead focused on the essence of Jesus’ teachings. These women heard Jesus talk about the meek inheriting the earth; they heard him say that the merciful receive mercy, and they know that the peacemakers will be called the children of God. (Matthew 5:1-11)
They listened to what Jesus told them when he was asked what is the greatest commandment:
“’The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
These women understood that Jesus would tell us to include our enemies in those we should love, and we should pray for those who persecute us. (Matthew 5:43-48)
Jesus didn’t accept the status quo just because it had become tradition. He spent time with women and Samaritans; he talked to tax collectors; he overturned the tables of the money-changers in the temple. He stood up for those people who could not stand up for themselves, like an adulteress about to be stoned, and warned against emulating the Pharisees. He took a stand on those issues which he knew would make a difference in the world, but didn’t get involved in issues which didn’t trouble him, like paying taxes to Caesar, and he advised those scorned to turn the other cheek.
Women like Sojourner could take comfort from Jesus’ words that there is but one master, and that those people who humble themselves shall be exalted. (Matthew 23)
According to the cultural tradition in the times of the Bible, slavery was an accepted practice. Women were considered mere chattels along with the slaves. First they were the property of their fathers to be sold into marriage with a bride-price, thus becoming the property of their husbands. Men had intrinsic value, but women’s only value was their abilities to bear sons for their husbands. Animals were valued only for their ability to carry men or to feed them.
We have come a long way since Biblical times. Thanks to women like Sojourner Truth and men who listened to them, we now live in a society where slavery is becoming a thing of the past. Women are seen as having intrinsic value, just like men, regardless of their child-producing ability. Even some animals are valued.
We create a genuine outcry when whales are slaughtered for their meat and blubber, and even complain when we hear of dog on the menu in Asian restaurants. We are particularly concerned when we hear of cats or dogs being cruelly treated, but somehow manage to turn a blind eye to the cruelty that creates most of the meals on our plates. Far better not to know what goes on. We can’t be judged for something that we are ignorant of, can we?
Daisy has had many babies. Even though she is forced to become pregnant over and over again, she loves each one of her offspring dearly. She never gets the chance to see her babies grow – they are taken away and slaughtered in their first week of life. She bellows and cries for each of her babies, but no one listens. The men take her milk which she produced for her babies, and give it to human children. The children see pictures of contented cows grazing on a green hillside. If only they knew about Daisy’s pain, they would ask their mothers to please bring them soy milk, or rice milk, or almond milk instead.
Paul McCartney is quoted as saying:
If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian.
A group of grade 5 children who were taken on a school field trip to a slaughterhouse, were certainly traumatised by what they saw.
We are born as sensitive empathic beings. As children, we feel the connection with every other sentient being and we feel it when another being suffers. It is only as we grow up and are educated in our cultural traditions, that we can overlook the suffering of humans of a different race in slavery, or of animals in our factory farming industries. It is not that we lose our sensitivity; we just suppress it.
I believe it is this suppression which leads to many of the dis-eases which we see in our society today. Perhaps the reason that a vegan diet is healthier is more to do with what we are not eating, than with what we are. We are not eating pain and suffering.
As we learn to love God with all our hearts, with all our souls, with all our minds, and with all our strength, we come to understand that God is one, not only with all of human life, but with all of God’s creation. As this love pours between us, between God and each one of us, it also connects us with all of God’s creation. As we love our neighbour as ourselves, we realise that our neighbour may be male, female, black, white, red, or yellow. She may be covered in fur, or scaly skin. She may stand erect, swing from the trees, or swim in the ocean.
Just as Jesus stood up against the cruel stoning of an adulteress and the iniquities of the Pharisees, Sojourner Truth stood against the cruelty inflicted on slaves, and the oppression of women. In our time, in our society, there are still many injustices to be challenged.
Every human being, and perhaps every animal being, has a God-given mission in life, just as Jesus and Sojourner did. Our mission may not be as grand as saving the world, or even as being a voice for the oppressed, but whatever our mission we can follow their example. Let us not allow cultural traditions, and the desire to fit in with those traditions, to keep us from our missions.
We can stand between the adulteress and those who would stone her; we can stand up for the rights of women and slaves. The adulteress we save may be a pig. The women and slaves may be cows and calves.
Our mission may be to raise the sons of men to know where their meat and milk comes from, and to tell them that they can choose a different way.
Image courtesy of chrisroll / FreeDigitalPhotos.net