Speaker links slaves’ suffering to religious questions

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 2, 2000

The murder of four little girls in a Birmingham, Ala., church in 1963 and the suffering of slaves illustrate how the innocent have suffered, Albert Raboteau told participants in the Natchez Literary Celebration Thursday.

Raboteau, a native Mississippian, spoke on &uot;The Meaning of Slave Suffering&uot; at the Natchez Community Center. This year’s NLC theme is &uot;The Sacred South: Stories from the&160;Bible Belt.&uot;

&uot;The meaning of human suffering has occasioned the deepest meditation of the suffering as one of the central themes of Christianity,&uot; Raboteau said.

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Simply put, Raboteau asked if there is a God that is good and all knowing, why do the innocent suffer?

This, he said, &uot;touches the universal dimensions common to all human experience: the deep river of our common humanity.&uot;

Raboteau reminded the audience of a fateful day in 1963, when a bomb exploded at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, killing four young girls. Raboteau said the event sparked an outrage echoed with the cry, &uot;My God, we’re not even safe in church.&uot;

In a sermon at the girls’ funeral, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. reflected upon the suffering of the innocent.

Raboteau said the relationship of slave to owner sometimes inspired the fear of equality for the converted slaves after they became &uot;brothers and sisters in the Lord&uot; with their white owners.

Following the program, NLC participant Aaron White said he enjoyed the speech.

&uot;I liked what he said about if you gave a slave religion then he could be looked upon as your equal,&uot; White said. &uot;He really kept on the historical facts of religion and slavery.&uot;

Leine McNeely of Natchez called the speech &uot;eloquent.&uot;

&uot;It was like reading literature,&uot; McNeely said. &uot;I was really moved by it and I think he went to the heart of Christianity – not just for slaves, but that we are brothers and sisters in Christ, and Jesus is our deliverer and how important forgiveness was and is. It was just incredible.&uot;