Aims and methods of Christian work among Negroes--The emotional and social elements of character must be wisely controlled and guided--Defects and weaknesses must be met and strengthened--Church organization--Correction of superstitious tendencies--Inculcation of moral discipline and practice--Moral conditions among Christianized Negroes--Among unchristianized African natives--Hope for the future--Slowness of race-development.
In accordance with the purposes of this volume, this article cannot be concluded without giving suggestions which may indicate what (along the lines of experience hitherto gained) should be the aims and the methods of work for the future development of the Church among the Negro race.
1. One aim should be the controlling and guidance into safe channels of exhibition and service of those qualities and characteristics which are dominant in the race. They must not be ridiculed, or banned, or unduly repressed; but they must be controlled. The emotional and social elements especially must be thus dealt with. The duty of pursuing this course is so obvious, and so easily understood, that it need not be further dwelt upon here. And this control will not be resented, but rather welcomed, by the thoughtful and developing negro. Within my own recollection various typical cases have occurred in which thoughtful West Indian negroes have been made to feel very uncomfortable while sharing in the [115/116] worship of some American Negro Churches, and they have felt obliged to leave them and seek opportunities for a more sober worship in Churches of the white people.
2. The mischief resulting from the divisions of Christendom; the waste of energy; the overlapping of work; the weakening of discipline;--all this needs a practical remedy. Where is the remedy to be found? It is needed in order to secure the true and rapid progress of Christianity in the wide fields of heathenism. It is needed in the smaller communities, where ministers and missionaries are numerous enough almost to jostle one another in their work.
3. Another aim should be to meet defects, and build up the religious life of the negro on the side on which it is naturally weak. This is a large subject, and needs to be fully explained and pressed.
As regards making plans for the organization and management of the affairs of Churches on a large scale, it must be borne in mind that only a few here and there among the African races exhibit in effective combination the essential qualities of leadership and government by constitutional methods. Wise and constant endeavours should be made to cultivate and develop these qualities; but there should be neither surprise nor disappointment if the process proves to be slow, and if the most satisfactory results are realized only on a limited scale.
The correction of superstitious tendencies must be kept constantly in view. There is a tendency among the negroes to transfer into their Christian associations that superstitious element which is an integral part of the native African life, as, in fact, it forms a part of the life of all undeveloped races, and of the ignorant sections of the more advanced races. In the West Indies this often takes the form of expecting miraculous healing through the application of some crude medicament, or the drinking [116/117] of some bush water, or the bathing in some stream which has been blessed by a native prophet or preacher. These various operations attract large crowds, and are usually accompanied by prolonged religious exercises. Such things are frequently pointed to as evidences of the deep degradation of the negro. But I have often publicly called attention in Jamaica to the fact that these practices do not differ essentially, or even in most of the concomitants, from what is to be witnessed even yet at sacred shrines in European countries, or in the temples of the Christian Scientists in America. The uncultured negro needs to be taught how to co-ordinate faith and reason. He has superstitious tendencies to overcome, in the class of cases just indicated, in which the superstitious element intrudes into crude forms of Christian teaching and worship; and also in the class of cases in which there is in great strength or, in more attenuated degrees, a belief in, or a fear of, those darker superstitious practices which are the remains of the inherited traditions of old African superstitions.
Another primary matter is the inculcation of moral principle and practice as an essential part of the true religious life.
As regards the American negro, I once had the following experience. In a Southern city I was waited on at the hotel by a minister of religion, who was the editor of the ecclesiastical section of a leading Southern daily paper. After the editor had been supplied with the information he desired, he was then asked in his turn to give information on various points specified, with a view to ascertaining the conditions of the inner life of the bulk of the religious negroes of the South. He said, among other things, that he had a thorough knowledge of the facts as regards his own section of the Church, which has a large following of negroes in the South, and also as [117/118] regards other Churches; and he summed up what he had to say on many points by this statement: "The bulk of our negroes, who are members of Churches, are only just beginning to learn the first elements of Christianity, and many of them have not yet begun to learn them."
It is one of the causes of the imperfect religious development, and the slow progress in Christianity of the black people in the Southern States, that religion has been presented to them in forms which have largely failed to lay a basis of sound religious knowledge and Christianity. The teaching has not been calculated to set forth and impress the Bible rules of conduct, the moral requirements of the gospel, and the nature of sin. There is a story which, as to its form, may be imaginary, but which, as to its substance, is an apt illustration of the difficulty to be overcome in order to bring the direct moral teaching of the Bible in contact with the life of the negro population there. The story is that a negro preacher was inviting a Southern planter to the Sunday service at which he was going to officiate. The planter said he would willingly come if the preacher would take for his subject the question of fowl-stealing. The preacher replied that personally he would be willing to do this; but be could not undertake to discuss that subject, for if he did, it would bring a great coldness over the meeting and damp the enthusiasm of the people. It is very likely that preaching of the type adapted to deal with the prominent moral failures in any community would, in the first instance, have the same result; there is always the temptation to the Christian preacher and teacher to avoid unpleasant subjects. Faithfulness, however, requires that this temptation be not yielded to. Nevertheless, the wise method would appear to be to begin actively in the moral training of the child at the earliest possible time, carrying it through the whole of [118/119] the education period, and thus laying the basis of those appeals to conscience and duty which the preacher can continue in later years.
There is a special need for the Protestant Episcopal Church of America, not only to learn those lessons which the history of all Christian effort in the South teaches, which have just been alluded to, but also to realize how, with due adaptation of the system of the Anglo-American branch of the Church to the requirements of the negro, and sympathetic treatment of him, our Church in America has great capacities for helping the negro, and developing in him the highest type of Christianity.
As regards the British West Indies and some of the other islands of the Lesser Antilles, such religious and moral development as has been achieved is the result chiefly of efforts made by the various forms of British Christianity. And the efforts made are not unlike the methods of work carried on by various Churches and religious agencies in England and Scotland. It is often assumed and asserted that on the moral side these past missionary and pastoral efforts have largely failed. The facts are sufficiently grave to cause anxiety and serious questioning as to possible improvements in methods of work for the future.
But in regard to moral conditions among the Christianized negroes, there are some important facts to be considered in order to form an adequate judgment in the case. The rate of illegitimacy is high throughout the West Indies. It varies considerably between one locality and another. The average of illegitimate births is about 60 per cent, per annum. Taking the circumstances of Jamaica as affording a fair indication of average results under average conditions, the following matters should be borne in mind:--
(1) It is only during the last seventy years--that is, [119/120] since the abolition of slavery--that any facilities for creating, legalizing, and guaranteeing a true and permanent family life have existed among the black people.
(2) The existence of so small a proportion as 40 per cent, of children born in wedlock is a clear gain for Christian morality in two generations.
(3) Not more than half the population is effectively reached by religious and educational influences, and there are no other agencies in existence tending to promote the general morality.
(4) The immoral or unmoral conditions chiefly prevail among the section of the population just specified. The members of Churches are not all immaculate; but when they are found guilty of immorality they are excluded from membership, and an endeavour is made by discipline and teaching to secure reformation.
(5) There has been, in the day schools generally, a considerable amount of religious teaching; but the tendency, in the multiplicity of other subjects to be taught, and in the loosening of the connection between the religious denominations and the schools, is to diminish the religious and moral quality of the teaching and influence, and to accentuate the historical and literary qualities of the teaching. In seeking to promote the development of the race, the religious, and particularly the ethical, element in education requires to be constantly emphasized. The value of such teaching as can be given by special use of the Church Catechism, or by the Jamaica Day School Catechism in supplementing the ordinary Scripture lessons, is not, as some suppose, that you are seeking to dispense with the spiritual methods and power of the Church in promoting the religious life of the people; but such definite teaching helps to furnish the groundwork of spiritual effort that may reach some pupils in later years. It informs the mind and impresses [120/121] it with the moral requirements of the Bible in a form that can be easily remembered. It helps greatly to furnish that which all Christian preachers and teachers can work upon, and appeal to, and develop in their later teaching. If these combined methods are made general, rightly used, and steadily and increasingly persisted in, they will greatly help to form what a thoughtful coloured man of Jamaica, long since dead, described as the need of the black people--"a New Testament conscience."
There are several islands of the West Indies the early settlement of which was under French or Spanish Colonial rule, and where French or Spanish is the language spoken by the negroes as well as other natives. In these the early training in Christianity has chiefly been Roman Catholic, and the best hope for these islands would be the extension therein of intelligent Roman Catholic mission work, on lines from which the superstitious elements of European and Central American Roman Catholicism would be excluded, as is largely the case in their work in Jamaica. It is greatly to be regretted that in those islands of the West Indies just referred to, where the Roman Catholic Church is paramount, or even in the exclusive possession of the opportunity of missionary work among the people, that Church has apparently not tried on any scale sufficiently large or effective to elevate, intellectually or morally, the people of the black race. This is a remarkable failure to adjust effort to opportunity, when it is realized that in such places the population is large and the Roman Church has full scope; and that, on the other hand, the earnest efforts to increase its membership in places like Jamaica can become successful only or chiefly by withdrawing individuals from relationship to other Christian bodies to which they are more or less attached, and from the religious training which they would receive from them.
 As regards those West Indian Islands where political control is nominally or really in the hands of Americans (Cuba and Porto Rico), American Christians should, and we may hope will, meet the needs of the black people. And it is possible that the Americans of our own Church and others will gain experience in their island-work among negroes, which will show the way to new possibilities of successful work among their own Southern negroes.
So far as Christian work in West Africa is concerned, the bishops and clergy and other missionaries must know much more than I know about their own work-its difficulties, needs, and hopes. But nevertheless, the words of an onlooker, who is a sympathetic student of their special problems, may not be valueless. They, working among a people who have not passed through the severe teaching, training, and discipline of American and West Indian slavery, will have to lay double stress on the training in intelligent labour concurrently with the teaching of morals and religion. Centres of such combined teaching as are to be found at Hampton and Tuskegee (U.S.A.) might well be established in most regions of the Southern States and the West Indies, and they are a still more urgent necessity in Africa. And as to moral instruction, including Church discipline, the ministrations of our brethren in Africa ought to be increasingly emphatic in these directions. The following quotation from the pastoral of six West African bishops of our own communion (three English and three African), adopted at a conference held at the beginning of March, 1906, is a pathetic manifestation of the sorrows of these fathers in God over lapsing converts, and of tender interest in their spiritual welfare, and of faithful witnessing to the truth instead of hiding unpleasant facts:--
"Illegitimacy.--Consideration of this subject has revealed a painfully low standard of morality amongst [122/123] Christians. Illegitimate births grow steadily in number, and withal we have to report a loss in the Christian community of that severe sense of social disgrace which formerly was associated with illegitimacy. The authors of such births commonly comport themselves nowadays as if they have nothing to be ashamed of, and appear to be utterly lost to all sense of the dishonour and the serious disabilities, legal and otherwise, which they inflict upon their unfortunate offspring.
"Whilst we have no desire to impose punishment upon the innocent issues, yet we feel it is imperative to mark illegitimacy as an offence against the Church, an affront to public morality, and a sin against God.
"We also desire to call attention to the fact that premarital chastity and purity, which public native opinion held in very high esteem and most jealously guarded, are fast losing such esteem amongst Christians; and we would most solemnly and earnestly call upon parents and guardians, and all Christian people, to realize what a sacred responsibility lies upon them in connection with this condition of things, affecting as it does the welfare of the Church and the nation."
As a pendant to the foregoing quotation the following from Colonel Ellis may be quoted, clearly indicating the immoral position in regard to sexual relations of the unchristianized native African:--
"An unmarried girl is expected to be chaste, because virginity possesses a marketable value, and if she were to be unchaste, her parents would receive little or no head-money for her. A man who seduces a virgin must marry her, or, if her parents will not consent to the marriage, must pay the amount of the head-money. In the latter case, her market value having been received, any excesses she may commit are regarded as of no consequence."
Here words of encouragement to our faithful African chief pastors, and other labourers in Christ's vineyard whom they represent, will not be out of place. Let them [123/124] not lose heart. Let them rather reflect that the apparent loss is not all loss. The premarital chastity and other satisfactory features of the former heathen life of their converts were not based on moral conditions and considerations, or a sense of the sin of unchastity. They were the result of tribal laws based largely on financial considerations. Freedom from the old conditions has been followed by a laxity which is to be deplored. The old law has gone. Christian morality has to take its place. There will be some bright examples of Christian life, based on the higher level of purity, sought and followed for Christ's sake; there will be some who will attain some considerable status in Christian morals, influenced by the sense of this being now thought right by the best people, though they are hardly convinced of the necessity; and there will be many failures to realize the Christian standard and act up to it. Full success needs the grace of God and sound teaching and training and time.
There are two important things ever to be borne in mind, one or other of which is generally omitted in discussions such as that with which we have been occupied in this article. When the Christian statesman, or the Christian missionary or pastor, is forming his estimate of his work and of the future of the Negro people, he needs to consider these two facts, and find the true place for them in his estimate. One is the power of the grace of the Holy Spirit acting on the human heart; the other is the gradualness, and indeed the slowness, of the general development of the races of mankind, even under favourable circumstances. The usual operations of the forces and tendencies thus specified is that individuals of a race are, by circumstances which often cannot be traced, prepared at an [124/125] early stage of the Christian mission both to receive the faith and to co-operate with the grace of Christ; and within a lifetime there is, in the case of many such, a wonderful development of Christian character and approximation to the high moral standard of the New Testament. These are firstfruits, but the harvest is not yet. These constitute the leaven which will influence the lump, but the lump will be leavened gradually. We have to trace the process of development of the British people through many centuries, and we must also be willing to allow hundreds and even thousands of years for the uplifting of the masses of the African race to the full standard of the Christianity of Christ. For our own guidance and comfort we must combine the lessons furnished by the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, and by the history of the nations, and of the Church through nearly two thousand years of the Christian era.