Don’t you enjoy being around someone who is kind? There’s a tangible gentleness, peace, and feeling of belonging whenever you are experiencing or witnessing an act of genuine kindness. I believe this is evidence of our being made in the image of God. The women I am writing about in this third of a four-part series for Women’s History Month each exemplified this characteristic at great personal risk. Pharaoh’s daughter defied not only her father, but the “divine king” when she rescued baby Moses and took him as her own. Sarah and Angelina Grimké endured ridicule, hatred, and threats of violence because of their stand against slavery and sexism and yet they still welcomed their biracial nephews into their lives–virtually unheard of in 19th-century America. These exemplary foremothers deserve our attention.
My theme for this month’s blog posts is the same one used by Lucretia Coffin Mott in many of her speeches and sermons: Micah 6:8, “Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.” That second phrase –“love kindness”–seems to have a greater variety of translations in our English Bibles than the other two phrases. “Mercy” is substituted for “kindness” in the KJV, NIV, NKJV, and NLT. I like how the Amplified Bible expresses the phrase: “Love [and diligently practice] kindness (compassion); and also the Expanded Version: “Love being kind to others [mercy; lovingkindness].” Those last two communicate the need for more personal action. I encourage you to look up the phrase in various translations and see what you learn.
The idea of an active kindness, a compassionate mercy, and a diligent practice of lovingkindness is illustrated by the three women I want you to know about this week.
If you’d like to learn more about the first American women activists and how they used the Bible to promote gender equality and the abolition of slavery, come to my lecture, “Faith Gives Birth to Feminism: How the Bible Was Used to Shape the 19th-Century American Women’s Movement,” on
- Monday, March 27, 2017
- 2 pm
- Lake Travis Community Library in Lakeway.
Unnamed, yet not forgotten–Pharaoh’s daughter
The biblical record does not give us the name of Pharaoh’s daughter who rescued baby Moses out of the Nile River, yet the story of the rescue has been preserved and we can learn so much from it. Jewish tradition has named her Bithiah, which means “Daughter of God” because just as she claimed Moses as a son, God claimed her as a daughter. Many extra-biblical legends abound surrounding the event of Moses being taken out of the River Nile, and while those are interesting, they are outside my purpose here. I encourage you to review for yourself the passage in Exodus 1:22-2:10.
Points to ponder about Bithiah’s acts of lovingkindness:
- By rescuing the Hebrew baby, she–as an Egyptian princess–was defying an order her father, the king, had given to all the people: “Throw every baby boy born to the Hebrews into the Nile River” (Exod. 1:22 CEB). This is baffling to me. Why would she do this? We are missing many details to this story. Some Jewish traditions even claim that she was tortured for her actions and later left with Moses when he led the Hebrews out of Egypt.
- She–the daughter of the king–allowed a Hebrew slave girl (Miriam) to approach her with the suggestion of providing a Hebrew wet nurse for the baby boy, and she agreed. She even said she would pay for the service. This act of lovingkindness and compassionate mercy not only saved the baby’s life but allowed the baby boy to return home to his own Hebrew family until he was weaned, which could have been till he was about 2 or 3 years old, and provided an income for this Hebrew slave family who had 2 other children (Miriam and Aaron).
- She received the Hebrew boy into her family–and Pharaoh’s court–after he was weaned. Can you imagine the scene when this Hebrew mother brought her own baby back to Pharaoh’s court to give him to the ruling family who was oppressing her people? And yet, that environment was exactly the place Moses could receive the training and education he would need to prepare him for his leadership role later in life. God works in mysterious ways!
- Did you notice in the passage Moses did not get a name until he was brought back to the Egyptian princess? It was Pharaoh’s daughter who named Moses, meaning “drawn out”! So, one of God’s greatest leaders was named by an Egyptian princess, not by either biological parent, and not even by God.
- Bithiah was the adoptive mother of a child of another ethnic group, the ethnic group which served as the slaves for her people. We can only wonder what this did to her reputation within the king’s household. We also don’t know if she was married or had other children or if she was barren. All we know is that she chose to give Moses a home and a privileged life.
How Bithiah’s example can spur us on to lovingkindness today
- Consider the consequences for the other person if you don’t offer kindness. Bithiah saved Moses’ life!
- Look beyond the surface–skin color, outward appearance, cultural trappings–to the potential God placed in the person. Bithiah had no idea Moses would grow up to be one of the greatest leaders of all time.
- Understand that kindness may cost you, but never more than what God will provide. Bithiah was willing to defy the king and face cultural misunderstanding by taking in a child of another ethnic group and another social class, trusting in something greater and choosing to care for Moses anyway.
Lovingkindness produces other leaders centuries later
Sarah Moore Grimké (1792-1873) and Angelina Grimké Weld (1805-1879)
Sarah, the older sister, asked her parents if she could be the godmother to her new baby sister Angelina, and they granted that request. About 13 years her senior, Sarah was actually more of a mother to Angelina than her own mother was. Gerda Lerner’s book, The Grimké Sisters: Pioneers for Women’s Rights and Abolition, is a great biography from which many of these details come.
These two girls grew up in a prominent Episcopalian, slave-holding family in Charleston, South Carolina, where they witnessed firsthand the cruelties of slavery in the early 19th century. However, these two women developed hearts of compassion for the slave instead of a desire for ownership. Even as a child, Sarah taught the little slave girl assigned to her how to read, only to watch the slave receive punishment for Sarah’s good deed. Sarah was always committed to teaching slaves to read so they could read the Bible for themselves and learn of the Savior. However, Angelina, who witnessed the horrible scars on a slave’s body at a young age, was the first of the two sisters to become a vocal advocate against slavery and was the one to convince Sarah to join the abolitionist movement. They only had a few years in the public light, but during those years they produced some of the first and most influential anti-slave and pro-equality literature of the day. And yet, they are still virtually unknown outside academic circles where women’s history is the focus.
Sarah and Angelina Grimké have become two of my greatest sheroes outside the Bible. They were devoted Christian women who exhibited bravery and selfless sacrifices for the sake of others, and they left a legacy in their writings exposing the sins of racism, slavery, and sexism. Their written arguments against such cruelties are still applicable today because they are biblically based and thoughtfully presented.
Sarah and Angelina enjoyed all the privileges of the Charleston social scene as teens, yet chose to walk away from high society. As a young woman, Sarah was the one her father invited to accompany him to Philadelphia and New Jersey where he would receive treatment for an illness. During that trip Sarah was exposed to the teachings of the Quakers and eventually converted because of their anti-slavery stance. Her deep religious convictions and commitment to ministry were the reasons she turned down several marriage proposals and remained single. Sarah was then instrumental in encouraging Angelina to adopt Quaker beliefs. In 1838, Angelina married a fellow abolitionist, Thomas Weld, and they would go on to raise a family, run a school (where 2 of Elizabeth Cady Stanton‘s sons were educated), and produce some of the most informative anti-slavery literature ever written. Their pamphlet, American Slavery As It Is, was the impetus behind Harriet Beecher Stowe’s powerful Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Highlights of the sisters’ few years of public life:
- 1835 – Angelina’s personal letter to abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison was published (without her permission) in his newspaper, The Liberator, placing her in the public debate against slavery
- 1836 – Angelina wrote the first anti-slavery pamphlet by a Southern woman addressed to Southern women entitled An Appeal to the Christian Women of the South
- 1836 – Sarah and Angelina become the first female abolitionist agents in the US and began speaking to mixed audiences (both men and women)–unheard of at that time.
- 1836 – Sarah wrote an antislavery pamphlet entitled Epistle to the Clergy of the Southern States
- 1837 – Angelina published a series entitled Letters to Catharine Beecher promoting immediate emancipation
- 1837 – Sarah published a series entitled Letters on the Equality of the Sexes in the New England Spectator newspaper, giving the first-ever biblical exposition on gender equality.
- 1837 – Angelina participated in the first public debate between a male and female platform speaker
- 1838 – Angelina is the first woman ever to appear before a legislative body in the US when she spoke to the Massachusetts legislature and began her biblically based argument against slavery with the example of Queen Esther.
- 1838 – Thomas Weld and Angelina married on the same day as the opening of Pennsylvania Hall in Philadelpia, a building dedicated to free speech. Two days later, the young bride Angelina was a scheduled speaker for the Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women, also attended by Lucretia Coffin Mott (see my blog post for March 7), and the opposing crowd outside became so violent they burned the brand new building to the ground. This event prompted Angelina to leave public life.
- 1839 – Thomas Weld, Angelina, and Sarah published American Slavery As It Is which sold more copies than any other anti-slavery pamphlet ever written and was a major source for Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Points to ponder about the Grimkés’ acts of lovingkindness:
In spite of all the violent ridicule they endured during their public life, they continued to work for emancipation. After the Civil War, in 1868, Angelina discovers that her brother had fathered 3 sons with a slave woman, Nancy Weston. Angelina and Sarah welcomed these biracial nephews, Archibald and Francis, into their lives and helped to support two of them through college. Acknowledging biracial relatives was not an accepted practice in that day. Yet, living up to their beliefs in the full equality of the races, classes, and the genders, they never hesitated. Archibald eventually attended Harvard and became a prominent lawyer and leader of the Black community. He later went on to lead the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Francis attended Howard University and Princeton Theological Seminary and pastored the same Presbyterian church for most of his ministry career. He helped to found the NAACP. Sarah and Angelina had no idea that when they chose to bring in their biracial nephews into their lives that those two men would grow up to be such fine leaders.
How the Grimkés’ example can spur us on to acts of lovingkindness today:
- It is not enough just to think good thoughts and wish for things to be different. We must use our minds and our mouths to bring injustice to light for others and in so doing we will be practicing kindness for those who often cannot speak for themselves.
- Respect for all people–regardless of their differences with us–is our God-given responsibility. Embracing those differences with lovingkindness can have long-ranging effects that we simply cannot predict.
Join the conversation below in the Comments section by sharing what acts of lovingkindness you have witnessed making a long-range difference in someone’s life.
For further reading
The Grimké Sisters from South Carolina: Pioneers for Women’s Rights and Abolition. Gerda Lerner (1998). New York: Oxford University Press.
Lift Up Thy Voice: The Grimké Family’s Journey from Slaveholders to Civil Rights Leaders. Mark Perry (2001). New York: Penguin Books.