Project Canterbury

The American Episcopal Church Interpreted for English Churchmen

By Arthur Whipple Jenks
Professor of Ecclesiastical History in the General Theological Seminary

London: SPCK, 1919.
New York: Macmillan, 1919.

Chapter VI. Specific Problems

Two race problems confronted the Church in the United States from the very first, problems not of her making but none the less binding in the duty of dealing with them--the problem of the African negroes and that of the North American Indians, the "red men" of aboriginal occupation.

The slave-trade of the colonial days had introduced into the new land of America the African tribes in great numbers. On the soil of the western hemisphere these black people or negroes multiplied with rapidity, being a prolific race. Slavery was confined principally to the southern colonies. The settlers there used the slaves for the cultivation of plantations and for all kinds of manual labour. They were treated very much like private property, bought and sold with little regard for family ties in many instances. In certain respects their lot was not a hard one, for their temporal care was to the economic advantage of their owners. Little was done for their general education and uplifting, but where their masters and mistresses were of Christian training, and realized that a measure of responsibility rested upon them for the religious care of their slaves, the latter were brought up in the religion of their owners. The independence of the United States brought about no alteration of the status of the negroes. Not until the Civil War between North and South had been decided did the full problem of the African negroes present itself to the American Church. Slavery was abolished by the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, and the entire "coloured" population henceforth entered into the status of citizenship.

The Church has had ever since to deal with the complexities and perplexities of the question of the Christianizing of the negroes and providing for their spiritual welfare. It must be remembered that there was a race prejudice against the Africans whereby the white population found it exceedingly difficult, if not well-nigh impracticable, to treat them as equals. In a few cases a kind of mutual affection between the "white" masters and the "black" dependents met the demands of the situation. In general, dislike and repulsion between the races was mutual. The Church clergy in the South found little difficulty in ministering to both races in one congregation up to a certain point. When, however, the full liberties of citizenship developed a grouping together of the coloured people apart from the white population, so that to some extent they formed separate communities for social and commercial purposes, and began to live in many respects their own life, the difficulty of parishes of mixed congregations made itself evident. All the religious bodies experienced the same trouble. Questions as to a native ministry of their own people and of separate organization to some extent self-controlled have been frequently under consideration. Other Christian bodies have frankly dealt with the issues by establishing distinct sections officially denominated "coloured". There exist at present an "African Methodist Episcopal Church," and also a "Coloured Methodist Episcopal Church," a "Coloured Regular Baptist," and a "Coloured Presbyterian" denomination. These are to be carefully distinguished from the bodies known as "Presbyterians South," and "Methodists South". The American and Roman Churches, however, have not developed such racial classifications, which indeed do not correspond with the inner spirit of the Church wherein "there is neither Greek nor Jew, barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free". The American Church has included a coloured Ministry in her body of Clergy, admits coloured communicants on equal basis with others, and on the other hand many of the workers among the coloured population and parishes are white folk. In cities and large towns coloured congregations frequently have their own separate Church buildings and clergy, white or coloured. In smaller centres, especially in the North where the relative proportion is small, there is an intermingling of both races. Coloured educational institutions have been founded tinder the auspices of the Church, and special Missions established in Africa and Haiti. For this latter work a Bishop of African descent was consecrated as early as 1874 and another for the African Mission in 1885.

The question of a coloured, or African, episcopate for the Church in the United States has been frequently debated and left undecided. Very recently, however, the step has been taken and two negro Bishops have been consecrated for work among the African coloured race in the United States. According to the latest official statistics the total of the negro population in the United States is ten millions.

The North American Indians are a vanishing race. Originally the inhabitants of the land when it was discovered and explored, this people have been gradually pushed back from the Atlantic coast and dispossessed of their property holdings. The causes for their steady decrease in numbers need not be discussed here. It is sufficient to state that they are now to be found in considerable numbers only in the far West and North-West and in certain territorial "government reservations" where lands have been granted to them by the United States. Work among these North American Indians has been carried on by the American Church throughout her history. A considerable number of clergy have been ordained to the priesthood from these North American tribes, and catechists from their own race have assisted in missionary work amongst them. In the main, however, the Church work among these tribes has been a department of the ministrations of the Church wherever the jurisdiction or diocese includes this race, rather than any attempt on a large scale being made to make permanent a separate organization. For a time a Bishop was assigned to such separate work--the well-known Bishop Hare--but with his death the distinct jurisdiction was absorbed into other episcopal oversight.

The enormous immigration of nationalities into the United States and the dispersion of these foreigners over the whole land constitute a series of problems, by no means simple. Almost every form of Christianity is to be found. In innumerable cases no organized representation of the particular form of religion is to be found in districts where a considerable number of adherents may have settled. Language and other obstacles present themselves on any attempt at Christian work. The American Church, with its relatively small number of Bishops and other clergy, at best can only touch the fringe of such opportunities. The position consistently taken of not proselytizing from other portions of the Catholic Church stands against attempts to do more than to minister where possible and where such ministrations are acceptable. Between certain parts of the Eastern Church, Russian, Greek, and others represented and organized in the United States, and the American Church, relations are increasingly cordial. In certain sections, e.g. the Diocese of New Hampshire, these Eastern Christians already far outnumber the communicants of the American Church but are coming to look to the latter for some spiritual privileges. The Anglican and Eastern Orthodox Church Association has accomplished much towards bringing into intelligent and appreciative relationship the two communions that are both Catholic, but not papal.

In countries where for commercial purposes there is a resident population of Americans, including communicants and adherents of the American Church, an organization of Bishops and assisting clergy has been introduced, and thus the Church finds itself face to face with the Latin Church in Latin America. Such countries are Mexico and Brazil. Two attitudes are possible in these conditions. The American Church may simply minister to its own people and such as come to her without previous affiliation with the Roman Church, or the ground may be taken, because of the low level of religious life in general, that the Church should deliberately draw to herself as many as possible of the native population. The question as to the right and the wisdom of thus working in apparent competition with other portions of the Catholic Church is debatable. So far, however, no notable success has attended this work in Latin America sufficient to encourage on practical grounds the expenditure of men and resources in such countries. The work in the Philippine Islands among the Igarote inhabitants is of the nature of pure evangelization.

Were the resources of the American Church in men and means far greater than is the fact, as great proportionately as those of the English Church, these problems which can only be grasped after study at close range would be difficult in the extreme. With the comparative feebleness of the Church in the United States on the material and ministerial sides the situation would be disheartening, were it not that such a state of things is not the fault of the Church, at least not directly. The disunion of Christendom exhibits--particularly in a country settled and continually recruited from the Old World--the evils resulting from historical separations and deliberate schism.

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