This past fall my family and I travelled to see Amazing Grace on Broadway. I was saddened when Amazing Grace closed so quickly, even as I was grateful to be able to see it. This sadness was assuaged somewhat by the announcement of an impending National Tour and a confirmed cast recording. The album was released in late February and I purchased shortly after it arrived on iTunes.
I am struck most deeply by two songs from the soundtrack.
The first is “Testimony,” which is Newton’s celebration of his conversion and brilliantly echoes the life-long testimony of his historical counterpart. When I play this song I am greatly encouraged.
The second is “Determined,” which unveils the motivations of the abolitionist movement to Polly Catlett 1. The second verse, in particular, strikes my heart.
Now we must search
for the courage
is this worth our lives?
Can we live
with the knowledge
that we could not bear
to break the chains our consciouses wear?
I’ve listened to this verse on a loop since I was first able to play it at home. Historically, it is a brilliant depiction of late 18th Century Evangelical Social Conscious. On that point alone I appreciate the composition. Too often Evangelicals are depicted in historical fiction as being hopeless dupes who knew little and did less. This was not the case. Evangelicals were key to many societal reforms on both sides of the Atlantic in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Public education, child labor laws, societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals, and the call for abolition all had their roots in evangelical religion. Their goal was to bring people to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, but often did so by giving away power. It’s good to see that depicted on stage.
This verse also, however, serves as a prophetic witness against Evangelical religion in 21st Century America – a tradition which has essentially lost it’s social conscious. By this I mean Evangelicals have grown so accustomed to having cultural influence they seek to hold power, rather than extend it to others. This desire to be in the cultural driver’s seat has led to an alliance which may have some of the most devastating consequences for the cause of Christ in over a century. In supporting Donald Trump, or in opposing him with violence, we are putting chains on our collective conscience. Chains which declare being a public Christian is simply an extension of the desire of worldly power.
Will we dare to look at the bile spewed by by both Trump’s supports and their candidate, as well as the fury of those protesting them, and allow Newton’s own words to sting us?
Are these the fruits of love? Is it thus we would do as we would wish to be done by? Surely the Son of Man came not to destroy men’s lives but to save them?”
Will we dare to break the chains on our consciences?
Dear Lord, I hope so.
- While the song is stirring, and accurately portrays the motivations behind the abolitionists, it’s also an example of the compressed timeline. At the time Newton was living as a slave agent in Africa there was almost no cry against slavery. The practice was simply accepted. The song, therefore, would be more accurately set in Wilberforce’s time. ↩