Notes of an Address to the Bishops in Council at Richmond.
By Enos Nuttall.
Richmond, Virginia: no publisher, 1907.
Given at their request by the Archbishop of the West Indies, the 3d of October, 1907, on the Negro Question as it is now under discussion in the American Church, and at their further unanimous request printed for such further private or more general use as they may deem wise in the interest of the Church. As to form, the address represents the preparation of an hour; as to substance, it represents the experience of a lifetime. [See memorandum on last page.]
I should not attempt to speak here on this subject but for the fact that some of you think that my experience and opinion may assist in the formation of a right judgment on the difficult question which is before the General Convention at this session.
I will speak freely, without attempt at elaboration. The endeavor will be to give as much in the way of useful information and suggestion as may be possible in the limited time at our disposal.
West Indian experiences do not necessarily furnish a safe guide in dealing with conditions in the United States; they have, they cannot fail to have, an important bearing thereupon. I have for the last forty-five years had close connection with the life of the West Indian people generally, and more particularly with those in Jamaica. For the last twenty years I have carefully read, from week to week, most of the best American literature bearing on this subject. A book projected and edited by Bishop Montgomery, the secretary of the S. P. G. (now present), which at this date is being published in England, and will no doubt be published in this country, contains articles by seven Bishops in reference to the relation of various races to Christianity. One of these is by myself, and deals with the negro race in its relation to Christianity, and particularly the black people of the United States and the West Indies. The writing of this article has led me recently to survey afresh the numerous facts bearing on the questions involved in our present discussion—facts which, as you know, have constantly demanded my thought, and on which I have in my various offices, from time to time to make decisions. One net result of these various mental processes and experiences is, that as time goes by I do not feel any increase of confidence in my ability to advise others on many of the points in question. The more I know, the more I realize the great ecclesiastical, social, and political difficulties involved. But another result is to make some things very clear to me. I will speak chiefly of what is clear. The questions which some of you are likely to ask me during the course of this informal address or afterwards, will no doubt serve to draw out evidence of my ignorance on many of the matters on which you desire light and leading.
Among the things which are clear to me is this: The suitability of our methods of worship and forms of teaching in the Anglican Church (British and American) to meet the needs and tastes of the black people, and to help them spiritually; and also their ability, when properly instructed and informed, to take a full part, both as clergymen and laymen, in the work and worship of the Church; and their readiness to sustain the Church by their money contributions. These facts have been abundantly tested in the West Indies; and in the most complete way in Jamaica, because the Church there is an institution, supported and governed (since 1870) not as an established Church, but on a voluntary basis.
Our population in Jamaica (and throughout the West Indies generally) consists largely of what we call “colored” and “black” people. Those of mixed blood we call “colored,” and the “black” people are the pure negroes. We avoid the common use of the word negro, but I speak here so as to be clearly understood by you. In every part of the organization and work of the Church, in the management of diocesan and parochial business affairs, and in the membership of the congregations, the black and colored people largely predominate. They do so also in the social life of the community. According to their attainments, character, and business position, they take their part in the affairs of the community. No offence is given or taken by the presence of an educated colored gentleman in any social assembly. He takes his place with others on juries and in other legal matters. I have never known a case in which a juror was challenged because he was a colored man, or in which a decision was resented as unfair or unjust because of any suspicion that the question of color had anything to do with it. One-half of our people are not yet educated, and are not in any real sense under the influence of Christian teaching and discipline in any church or denomination. This contributes principally to the perpetuation of those regrettable moral conditions which exist and which can only be modified by the widest advancement of education and by the influence of religion. The other section of the population, which is partially or very well educated, and which is directly under the influence of Christianity through the agency of the various churches and denominations, manifest reliable evidences of steady growth, morally, socially, intellectually, and ecclesiastically. Notwithstanding all the differences and failures to which I have alluded, I find abundant proof of the capacity of the colored and black people of Jamaica to develope, under favoring and helpful conditions, as quickly as such development takes place in any other race.
The question here arises: Can the black people be relied upon generally, in Church and State, at the present stage of their development, for taking an equal part in the public life and government of the community, the appointment of officials from among them being at the same time based on the exercise of equal electoral rights? My answer to that must be, that I do not know. That question has not been fully tested in the West Indies, and there has been no means of testing it that I know of in America, in regard to any selected section of the black people which is educated and morally and socially progressive. But there can be no question on this point, that the power of furnishing and selecting wise and capable leaders by any race, with a view to the exercise of government and leadership, on a constitutional basis, is the outcome of generations of training and opportunity, and is the very last thing which we may expect the backward peoples of the earth to acquire and exercise. There will always be individuals, however, who will stand out as capable and trustworthy men in state and ecclesiastical affairs long before the great body of the people has the adequate capacity for the full exercise of constitutional rights.
Let me now approach still more closely to your own especial forms of the negro problem as a Church, Are things here to remain as they are? Will they improve with delay and inaction? Are there any reliable signs of betterment affecting the community generally? I think the answer which you would be likely to make to these three questions would be, in each case, a negative one.
A further question demanding consideration is: Can you obtain clear and reliable guidance from ancient precedent as to your own action as a Church in the matters now pending? I think not. There have been great churchmen in all ages in the past; there have been great councils for formulating decisions of lasting importance. The value of the decisions of the General Councils has been their assertion and reassertion of the facts and doctrines of our unchangeable faith. The value to us of the example of the great leaders has been what they did, each in his time, to meet the needs in organization and administration, as those needs arose. I do not see any instance in the history of the Church sufficiently like the great question we are considering as affecting yourselves, to justify us in saying what any of the great councils or any of the great leaders of the Church in the past ages would have done under your circumstances. You have about ten million negroes, dwelling chiefly in the South; and most of the Anglo-Saxon people among whom they dwell and whose numbers are preponderant on the whole, are determined that it is right and best for both races that there should be no social fusion. No, there has been nothing approximating in the past to the practical question which you have to consider. You must make your own precedent in this as in many other matters affecting life in your country in this Twentieth Century.
What is there in the question of the placing of any race under its own Bishops and ecclesiastical administration, which endangers loyalty to Christian ideals, provided both love and unity be maintained? I see nothing wrong in principle, in different races worshipping separately and joining by arrangements suitable to them in the same essential methods of Church government. Existing conditions in social and national life must always be met as they are, and improved where they are wrong. Ecclesiastical fusion in all. except unity of faith and the essentials of worship and government must largely depend always on the question whether any adverse conditions of a racial or social character can be overcome. Suppose that two million Chinese were planted in British Honduras, or British Guiana, or Brazil, would faithfulness to the Christian ideal demand that they should be ecclesiastically governed and taught and controlled in worship by the Anglo-Saxon or Latin community in which they were placed?
You have before you a most important proposal, namely, the appointment of negro Bishops as a means of solving your difficulties. The discussion of this proposal, in the press and otherwise, appears to me to have been of a somewhat hysterical and unbalanced character, both in the ease of its advocates and its opponents. There is no need of exaggeration in this matter; there is a great need of discrimination. Supposing negro Bishops should be appointed, the dangers which would in that case result from separate jurisdiction within a given area are strongly dwelt upon. But some of the proposals do not involve separate jurisdiction. Suffragans or assistant Bishops in a diocese do not possess jurisdiction. [Here the practice of the English Church and arrangements elsewhere wore explained.]
Then the danger arising from the mere possibility of a great schism later on are dwelt upon. It seems to be forgotten that you and we together have already consecrated colored Bishops enough to start such a schism if they are so minded. Theoretically, the danger has been incurred. It is obviated by the loyalty of these Bishops.
On the other hand, it seems to me that the advantages to be immediately gained by carrying out such a proposal, are considerably overestimated. It is supposed to be possible by the appointment of negro Bishops to revolutionize unfavorable conditions at once, and thereby start a great advance movement in spiritual work among the black people. I think this very necessary development of the Church work cannot be accomplished by that means alone, or even principally. Having regard to the great community of black people in this country, and the hopes and aspirations of the more educated amongst them, it might give confidence and hope and strength to their leaders in Church relations, and also facilitate future progress, if Bishops of their race should be appointed. It would certainly show the race, in a manner that could not be questioned, that it is not ecclesiastically tabooed.
Permit me now to speak still more closely to the question with the freedom of a brother. Are the American Church people desirous to bring the black people generally into our Church, and to do this under a sense of duty to God and man? Are they willing to meet the consequences of success? Remember that the growing success of the work will certainly involve in the future some important readjustments of ecclesiastical relations.
I ask further, whether you know the colored people as they are now. In the South many knew them well as they were in former times. I think the North did not then and does not now know them thoroughly. I think the most thoughtful Americans know them as a child race, an undeveloped race, and often feel towards them affectionately; but the understanding of them as they are now, is limited. Do you know them in their innermost hearts and lives, in their mental, moral, and spiritual conditions, in this transitional period? Do you know the real hopes and aims of any large number of them who have reached a fairly advanced position in the religious and general life of the community? I doubt it. It takes a long time, with real earnest effort, and with a true mutual acquaintance and sympathy, and a steadily increasing measure of confidence, before one man really knows another man of a different race; and this applies with tenfold force to the knowledge by an Anglo-Saxon of the black people who are descendants of those who were once his slaves.
Referring now to your pressing needs, I venture to make the following suggestions, in the hope that they may be of some assistance in your present endeavors to deal with the difficult and far reaching problem which affects you and us in the West Indies, and which will have an important bearing on Christian effort, and Christian work, and the Church’s organization, in every part of the world.
If I had the responsibility of deciding what should now be done here, it would include the following things:
Adopt a Canon empowering the appointment of a Bishop as assistant to the Presiding Bishop, to aid in various ways in initiating fresh work among the colored people. Give him no separate jurisdiction. Whatever authority he needs for doing episcopal acts, can be given by each diocesan Bishop in the form of a commission, or otherwise, as may best suit the needs from time to time.
Let such Bishop seek first to find out the real wishes and aims as well as needs of colored Churchmen, and others looking for a spiritual home in our Church. To do this effectually, he will need to get at samples of them individually, in their home and business, and collectively, in local conferences. More general conference would be a necessary preliminary to more general action. Apart from theoretical or practical questions of privilege and of government, he will need to find out particularly the best possible way of extending work. How can right men be found to be trained as catechists? Then, as clergy? How can the best spheres of work be selected for them? How can they be supported and directed?
In order for this or any other method to succeed, every diocesan Bishop will need to aid with countenance and support all active measures. Some have already made a considerable beginning in their dioceses, and can greatly assist, with their experience, a general movement. The point of all this is, discovering right methods of meeting the needs in this country; and forming and giving effect to united measures.
Let the colored people know that you mean business; that you mean to reach and help them, and lift them up to the position of brethren, welcomed and cherished, in the Church for Christ’s sake; that you have no cut and dried schemes for future development; that whoever, as clergymen or laymen, becomes fitted for higher position and service in the Church will not find himself debarred therefrom; but that no office or position or privilege will be yielded to prejudice, or clamor, or pretension, or incapacity.
Where is the man fitted to lead this new advance? To be the first occupant of a post which may find large extension of responsibility, and pave the way for the work of several men under some more permanent arrangement?
The first man to occupy this post should be a white man, with deep sympathy and sound judgment, and with capacity to touch both races and bring their representatives into cooperation.
He should be the very best man you can find in the American Church for this post; and one who, if his temporary work developed into more permanent arrangements, would be welcomed as a diocesan Bishop in any diocese of the Church.
If you really want the black people of the States to become Christian Churchmen, you will succeed in manifold instances by the persistent use of wise methods in a loving spirit. When success comes, you will have many difficult and hard questions to deal with, and many readjustments of method to make. Success will temporarily increase the urgency of many difficulties. But if you are faithful to the right ideal and the divine purpose, God will teach you to make the readjustments as they arise; and He will not teach you before. Have faith in God.
But if you and we are afraid of these difficulties; and if any of us shrink from these efforts; and if we do not really want these people for Christ and His Church; or if we do not believe in the power of the grace of God, and wise spiritual training, to lift them up to the position of faithful and true brethren in Christ, fitted in due proportion, according to their several capacity, to work and stand with us in all parts and functions of the Lord’s household—then we may escape much trouble and annoyance and difficulty in the present time; but we shall have in consequence many misgivings when we meet our Master to reckon with Him at His coming.
At the conclusion of the address many questions were asked and answered. Then I was requested by resolution to let the Bishops have a copy of the address for further reference, during the present sessions of the General Convention. I have done my best to reproduce, in abbreviated form, the earlier part of the address, which was spoken with the aid of mere jottings. For the latter part of the address, I had hurriedly made fuller notes, and what I said is here accurately repeated. My statements on this difficult and delicate subject were made in the freedom of private and confidential conference; but if the Bishops as a body think a more public use of it will help to guide in right directions the deliberations of others, I have no objection to its wider use and publication, provided such publication be complete and not in shreds and patches. I leave to-day for Jamaica, but shall continue to pray that divine guidance and help may be given to the General Convention of the American Church in dealing with this momentous matter.
Archbishop of the West Indies.
5th of October, 1907.