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Seeds of Freedom in the Midst of Slavery

In the television series Hell on Wheels, the backstory of the character Elam Ferguson is explored in this flashback. In the episode entitled Revelations, he is shown as a boy reading scripture to his slave owner who has placed a bet upon his ability to read but not understand. Following this scene we see him hiding with other slaves in a barn and reading to them from Exodus chapter 6. This illustrates the dynamic of Scripture in the antebellum South in the history of the United States of America. Where scripture was used to enforce slavery, using citations such as Colossians 3 from the beginning of the clip, scripture was also an asset to abolitionists and to slaves themselves who found solidarity in the stories of Exodus.

To read the account of God’s action to free the Hebrew slaves from Egypt, dispossessed people have found the power to live with strength and dignity, while rejecting the assertions that their inferior status is God’s intention. The Exodus narrative becomes the foundation of Liberation theology and other interpretive models as it presents the fundamental expression of God’s action in the world- to provide justice for the oppressed, not restricted to a solely spiritual or futuristic sense, but a new reality of human existence where all people can live in freedom.

Discussion Question:

In your community, how can scripture be used to support existing power dynamics? How can it be used to challenge the status quo?

(Use of copyrighted material is intended solely for informational and educational purposes.)


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