Sunday, May 11, 2008

Slavery Workshop held by Christians in Paris

Yesterday I attended part of a colloquium on Slavery ("Christianisme, Esclavage, Liberté, Mémoire") kindly hosted by the American Church in Paris, near Invalides, where Napoleon is buried. This was not unlike academic colloquia at universities, small but populated with people who are keenly interested in the topic and knowledgeable in the field. This was organized by Agape, and in particular by Dr. Jean-Claude Girondin (sociologist and scholar who is also part-time pastor of the Mennonite Church at Villeneuve-le-Compte). The colloquium has become an annual activity held on the international day focusing on slavery, but sadly, the celebrations must be accompanied by constant reminders that slavery still exists in various forms throughout the world.

My friend, Dr. Neal Blough (Director of the Mennonite Centre in Paris and a lecturer on church history at the Protestant seminary, Faculté Libre de Théologie Evangélique, Vaux sur Seine) spoke on the crucial role of the Quakers in raising the consciences of key people in the United States in the 1700s and 1800s. That small group of Christians had an influence far beyond its numbers in the eastern United States, and the beliefs of their members were profoundly affected by two ideas: (1) one should live at peace with everybody, no matter what the cost, and (2) one should 'do to others what you would like them to do to you'.

A trio of musicians presented powerful renditions of various songs in Creole about the the sufferings of slaves and their yearnings for freedom from relentless oppression. As a musician, I particularly appreciated their contributions.

Agape prepared beautiful banners which were displayed on two sides of the large room. Each banner featured either an idea or a person who effectively called attention to the injustices of slavery, and included quotations from writings which proved to be crucial in the debate which lasted for centuries. These attractive banners were informative and kept drawing people's attention throughout the day.