byFaith | Spring 2012
By Alan Dowd
America’s founding document—the Declaration of Independence—invoked “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” and asserted that all people “are created equal” and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” Yet the promise of Jefferson’s masterpiece would remain unfulfilled for generations, crippled by America’s original sin: slavery.
A decade before the Civil War, the Fugitive Slave Act attempted to preserve the institution of slavery by forcing people to return any escaped slave “back to the state or territory whence he or she may have escaped.” Equally appalling, to “harbor or conceal such fugitive so as to prevent the discovery and arrest of such person,” the law declared, would result in “a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars, and imprisonment not exceeding six months.”
Geneva College courageously took a posture of civil disobedience in response to the Fugitive Slave Act. “The law said people were required to turn in fugitive slaves,” explains Ken Smith, president of Geneva College. “Geneva said, ‘Not us.’”
To this day, the school invokes its stance on the Fugitive Slave Act to underscore the primacy of God’s law. According to the school’s Board of Trustees Policy Manual, “Should it develop that federal and/or state laws or regulations are deemed to require the College to act in a way inconsistent with the Word of God, the Board of Trustees will actively seek to challenge such laws or regulations, and/or support a position of dissent, such as the College took in response to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.”Sidebar piece to Following the Call of Conscience.