25: Harriet Tubman

2020 marks the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women in the ELCA, the 40th anniversary of women of color, and the 10th anniversary of LGBTQ+ siblings.

It’s an incredibly important marker for the ELCA, though it is only the beginning for the Church, as women are still denied ordination across the denominations and hold less than 15% of the leadership positions in the worldwide church! Therefore, in 2020, we in the Oregon Synod will highlight one woman from Christian history every week for fifty weeks. Some you may know, others you may not, but all worthy of our respect and gratitude.

#25 Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman was a mystic, following the voice of God she heard within to liberate herself and others. And it all started with a terrible act of violence. When she was 13 years old, Harriet stood in the path of a white slave owner and his runaway slave. The iron weight the man threw at the runaway hit Harriet’s head instead, crushing part of her skull and almost killing her. Her owner attempted to sell her but was unable to find a buyer for a gravely wounded slave. Tubman endured seizures, severe headaches, and narcoleptic episodes for the rest of her life. She also began experiencing vivid visions. Tubman believed that her trances and visions were God’s revelation and evidence of his direct involvement in her life. Another abolitionist later wrote of Tubman that he “never met with any person, of any color, who had more confidence in the voice of God, as spoken direct to her soul . . . and her faith in a Supreme Power truly was great.” The powerful belief that God was a liberator and protector of the weak, made Tubman fearless. Since slavery was “the next thing to hell,” God clearly wanted her to be free. Having spent her life in slavery, starting as a housemaid at 5 years old, having endured whippings, the selling of family members, and starvation at 30 years old, she walked 90 miles and freed herself. Yet her own freedom didn’t satisfy her, not while her family remained slaves, so she went back, and back, and back, a total of 13 times, freeing over 70 people as a conductor on the Underground Railroad. They called her “Moses” and she would sing ‘Go Down Moses,’ and, ‘Bound For the Promised Land,’ as a form of communication with those that remained enslaved, altering the tempo to indicate whether it was safe to come out or not. She would listen carefully for the voice of God, as she led slaves north, altering her course if she sensed something was off, going only where she felt God was leading her. All her missions were successful and she continued to evade capture. Tubman’s total commitment to destroying the slave system saw her joining the Union Army, first as a cook and nurse, then as an armed scout and spy. Standing only 5 feet tall, she was so respected, she became the first American woman ever to lead an armed raid into enemy territory, a raid that liberated more than 700 slaves in South Carolina. After the war, she entered into the fight for women’s suffrage. (Another suffragette who died before the 19th amendment was passed into law in 1920.) Yet for all her service to her country, she lived out her remaining years in poverty. It was 34 years before she received veteran’s compensation and only after the intervention of President Lincoln’s Secretary of State. With every single odd against her, Harriet carved out her own path, using her life to save, first herself, then others, standing up for justice and fighting for our country.