Recently, however, I have come across literature that portrays John Brown as an evangelical, Calvinistic Christian gentleman who believed in the inspiration and infallibility of the Holy Scriptures. Brown is presented as one who believed that he was 'an instrument of divine Providence' and it was his divine mission to end the sinful practice of slavery. It should seem obvious that many African-Americans consider John Brown a hero. Men like Frederick Douglas, Du Bois, and Booker T. Washington hail John Brown as a man of principle and conviction. But the author who has caught my attention is a modern white man, the Rev. Louis A Decaro, Jr., who has written Fire from the Midst of You: A Religious Life of John Brown. Rev. Decaro writes the following about John Brown:
If Brown is misunderstood by modern scholars and writers, it is (also) because of his strong religious beliefs. However different their political and social views, even his nineteenth-century opponents had a better understanding of his religious world view than do many biographers and scholars today. That (Brown) considered himself "an instrument of Providence" smacks of delusion and fanaticism in modern and postmodern perceptions. That he likewise believed that all of the Christian scriptures reflect the same God at work in the history of redeption is likewise indigestible to most people in a post-Christian society. All the more reason, then, for a religiously oriented portrayal of the famous abolitionist. Indeed, such an approach suits him, as he might have put it, "midling well."
Brown was a man of faith, and well read in the Bible and the Christian literature. Like many Christians, he was converted as a youth, and he grew up in a theologically conservative, evangelical and Calvinist home. Though his early intention to study for the ministry did not work out, Brown was a founding church member, Bible teacher, and a devoted layman throughout his life. Even after he committed himself full time to the abolitionist struggle, he remained a church attender and faithful Bible student. Furthermore, he and his family represente a unique strand of the abolitionist movement. A devotedly Christian people who believed the Bible to be the inspired and infallible word of God, they were also biblical egalitarians - radical dissenters from the racialist beliefs of many white Christians. The Browns applied the biblical docrine of humanity the image of God to the frontier as well as the slave market, and were thus righteously indignant at the social, political and ecclesiastical realities of a society steeped in white supremacy. Like many Christian abolitionists, the Browns understood the Golden Rule as a mandate to fight slavery by undermining it in overt and covert political acts, such as anti-slavery groups, participation in underground railroad, and support of candidates who held similar opinions regarding slavery. John Brown's war on slavery was undoubtedly an extension of the Christian legacy of his family.
It is remarkable to me that you are hardpressed today to find any evangelical Christian who would advocate slavery, yet in John Brown's day, his egalitarianism - in terms of race - was definitely a minority viewpoint among evanglicals, not to mention all United States citizens. I wonder if a century from now the concept of the equality of women, seemingly a minority viewpoint of modern evangelicals, might be considered as 'normal,' 'Christian' and 'biblical' as we now view the equality of races?
In His Grace,