Interview with

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Pastor John, recently you have been thinking about Andrew Jackson and giving fresh thought to slavery in American history. What’s would you like to share with us here?

We visited The Hermitage, it is called, outside Nashville, the estate of Andrew Jackson, the seventh President of the United States. He was president from 1829 to 1837. And the reason this is troubling to me and I wanted to talk about it is I was confronted there head on, again, with the bothersome foundations of our country, the troubling ones. I watched this 20 minute video of Jackson’s life and presidency and then I read the plaques in the museum and then I strolled through all the grounds and gardens of the mansion and the slave quarters and the heavy realization came again that our country is built in significant part on the soil of stolen land and the backs of stolen men. That is the phrase I came away with. Land taken from native Americans and cultivated with African American slaves.

Andrew Jackson was a great war hero in his battles against the Creek Indians in 1814 and the British especially at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. He was incredibly popular among the southern whites and he was a wealthy slave owner and the whole slave system of how his estate was profitable is evident from the archaeological work that is preserved there at The Hermitage. You can walk and they have the outlines of the slave quarters and the buildings where the overseer lived and one or two places are actually preserved, the little cottages where the slaves lived are preserved and you can see the way they lived.

Jackson was, in addition, the main force behind the Indian Removal Act of 1830. That meant the forcible removal of the Cherokee, the Chickasaw, the Choctaw, the Creek, Seminole Indians from southeastern states like North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, all of them pressed across the Mississippi over to Oklahoma in what became known as the trail of tears. And it is pretty bleak to read about how much disease there was, how much death there was, how much displacement there was of people who didn’t want to leave their homelands, but were forced to. And what that did was open the land to be settled by white settlers so they could be prosperous. That is where I grew up. I grew up on the back of that prosperity in South Carolina.

So I have been pondering what effect should that have on me, a 21st century prosperous, happy, well to do, comfortable America. It raises huge questions. It forces me to think about how the sins of the fathers are visited on the later generations and how that relates to the doctrine of original sin. Deuteronomy 24:16 says: Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children and children put to death not because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin. So there is a difference in the biblical mind between the way Adam was the head of the human race, so that we fell in Adam. We sinned in Adam. We died in Adam. And the way we relate to the sins of our fathers and our grandfathers. It seems like God has established in the beginning a kind of union with Adam in all humans, but not in such a way that all sons fall in all fathers. We fell in Adam. I fall in Bill Piper in the same way. There was a covenantal, constitutional union God established there.

And when Exodus 25 speaks of visiting the sins of the fathers on the sons it says: “Visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.” In other words, the fathers’ sins are not visited on innocent children, children who they share the same rebellion that the fathers’ had. And therein consists some of the visitation.

So how should I feel? Those are some of the reflections on how my ... Andrew Jackson’s sins relate to my life today. And here is my conclusion, Tony, and I really feel very much a process in this, trying to discern what the appropriate attitude should be and action should be. So I have got two ways I think we should respond.

Number one, I think we should feel a chastened gratitude for our prosperity in America. That is, I was born here. I had nothing to do with being born here. I enjoy hundreds of benefits for being an American just because I was born here in the skin I have at the time I was born in the place I was born to the parents I was born. I had nothing to do with any of that and yet I benefit from it. And so I must feel gratitude. It is a gift. And yet it should be, I think, a chastened gratitude. And what I mean by that is I should realize and be humbled by the fact that I am prospering from the sins of national forefathers. I may not be guilty of their guilt, but I do benefit from the country they built on their guilt. I am sobered and chastened and humbled by that, that that is my first response.

My second one is: I think we should fell shame. I have been thinking about shame. Why does a person feel shame for somebody else’s behavior? And the answer is, well, we only do if there is some kind of attachment to us, like if they are our kids. If they are our kids who are misbehaving we feel more shame than if they are your kids who are misbehaving, but there are other kinds of attachments besides family. There is school attachments, like if a high school had a brawl and beat up on some minority at a ball game, I would feel ashamed of my school, right? Or there is religious attachments. Some Christians act ugly towards Muslims or something. We feel ashamed because I am a Christian and Christians shouldn’t act like that. And there are racial and all kinds of attachments that we can feel shame because the people we are like have behaved a certain way or the people that we are attached to. And so I think that is fitting. I think that is a godly proper thing to feel some measure of shame and I think what we do with that shame, then, is we remedy it. We lay it down. We overcome it in an appropriate way by expressing sorrow for the act we are ashamed of. I am sorry that that happened to the Indian people. Number two, that we renounce it as something we disapprove of. And, thirdly, we resolve to do whatever is appropriate to make right what we can.

So those are my two things, Tony, two efforts to figure out how John Piper’s heart and his behavior should respond in view of my brief visit to The Hermitage in Nashville a few days ago.

Thank you Pastor John. Thank you for listening to the podcast. As many of you know, Billy Graham has been in the news and you, Pastor John, have some interesting stories to share about Graham, which we will dive into next week. Stay tuned. Until then, please continue to flood the email inbox with your (concise) questions to: askpastorjohn AT desiringgod DOT org. … I’m your host, Tony Reinke. Thanks for listening.