Bishop Turner’s Plain Talk: September 23, 1886

Bishop Turner’s Plain Talk

Christian Recorder: September 23, 1886

Mr. Editor: For the past three weeks in keeping up with the advice of several eminent doctors, I have been loitering around home spending my time reading a little, fanning my cheeks (if men have cheeks), sleeping, eating, overlooking a mass of unanswered letters, getting married to the same old wife, as there is not much chance of getting a new one, taking in a little earthquake freight, bothering with some nauseating medicines, far from being nectarel in taste and relief, entertaining several ministers who were passing through the city, adjusting a number of books on the shelves of my library, hunting up some old manuscripts, overlooking a vast quantity of annual conference minutes, piles of the Christian Recorder and inspecting a number of newspapers that have been piled up in a mass for six or eight months with the wrappers being torn off, etc. Now, as it is about time for me to take the field again—well it is always time—but I am about to re-enter the traveling field, I propose to offer a few thoughts to the church.

1st . I feel we have misconstrued the power of education. Ever since the war we have literally deified learning. We taught our young ministers that if they could get learning, they were fitted for every phase of ministerial life and responsibility. Thus the power of the Holy Spirit and a direct call to preach the gospel from God have been allowed to pass as secondary considerations. The consequence has been that those that are fortunate enough to procure a little book learning thought themselves everything, took the big head in most instances, and those who were so unfortunate as not to get learning on a high scale, concluded they were nobody and sat themselves down to do nothing. The majority of our ministers today stand thus, wise fools. I mean those with learning and no spiritual power, merely cultivated intellects and self-imposed fools. I mean those who conclude that because they are not graduates or have not some kind of paper or sheep skin called a diploma that they can learn nothing, do nothing, accomplish nothing, and even hope for nothing; in other words, they impose fool upon themselves, while heaven and earth offer them wisdom and distinction. In Shakespeare we find the following, “O, that someone would write me down an ass.” But these brethren in too many instances write them down as asses.

Thus the A.M.E. Church is being largely manned by these two classes. The first class big headed, insolent, self-inflated, treating the fathers with contempt, making fun of the ignorance of the people doing nothing to enlighten them, holding themselves above everybody, preaching written sermons as dry as chips, which God never intending for any soul saving preacher to do, and in short, trying to get people to heaven through mere intellect, where they are not going themselves, for no man can serve God intellectually nor preach a soul saving gospel intellectually; man’s moral nature must be brought into play as well as his intellectual.

The second class, or a large portion of them, are going around whining about what they never had, how little schooling they had, yet they can read, write, and have ocean of time to improve and the same time spent in magnifying their weaknesses and disadvantages properly improve, might make them giants in the land.

Any man that God ever called to preach can take the Bible and hymn book alone, with the holy spirit, and alarm the nation. Old Tony Murphy of South Carolina who would not read anything but the bible and hymn book, and knew the Bible almost by memory was the greatest preacher I ever listened to or expect to. Men of the highest rank and greatest learning hung up on his lips, as God’s word was poured forth from his massive mouth, like children. Old Sankey Taylor, the only man I ever heard that can preach an hour on anything he choose, by strictly quoting scripture, could do the same. An eminent white minister asked me a few days ago why the colored Christian did not turn out some great soul saving evangelist, like Moody, Jones, and Small. He said we had the brain, the voice, the lung power, and he thought God especially endowed the colored race with that kind of gifts. I told him our scholars were too high strung and timid. And he said, “Too high strung and timid to save souls? What were they called to preach for?” Have he struck me with a stick, I could not have felt the force more than I felt the force of these words. True we have men of great revival power, such as Grant of Texas, but I need not mention names; but where is the minister who is making it a specialty? Think of it, and tremble for our condition as a race. Not a great colored revival preacher in the United States. Several on a small scale, I admit. Ministers often are relating their great triumphs to me, speaking about having a dozen or two converts, or possibly a hundred. But a man that God called to preach who cannot count his converts by the thousands, has nothing to congratulate himself over, unless his minister life had been of brief duration. I hope to have more to say on this subject in the future.

2nd. While the members of the last two General Conferences treated me personally with marked respect and while I have no revenge to seek, yet a scene of candor, and I think duty should prompt someone to say to the conferences, if they intend to return the same men to the General Conference of 1888 they should instruct them to legislate with more calmness and cool deliberation. Not only is the most of our legislation put through under whip and spur, previous questions, or good measures killed by motions to lay upon the table, before the merits of the questions were presented by the mover, or anyone else, but I have heard mere boys hurl slangs of insolence in the face of old decrepit Bishops who were famous ministerially before their mothers were born. Indeed, our late General Conference have become the arena of Episcopal humiliation not in the high dignified argumentative manner that will point of errors of the Bishop, presenting precedents, analogies, historical authorities, logical inconsistences and &c., but mere insolence in most cases with a little dull wit to arouse laughter, which always betrays weakness or ignorance. The idea of a man standing upon the General Conference floor making a speech upon the grave issues which must reflect immortal souls with a view of extorting laughter, is not only an insult to intelligence, but an insult to our Lord Jesus Christ, and proves he is totally inadequate to the trust of a representative; yet this is alarmingly done in our General Conference in late years.

Now I do not accuse all the members of our late General Conference of being so unconscious of the high duties entrusted to them, but I do say that in the main that class of men squall everybody else as a general thing to their seats. And as flying into exasperations it is common. The consequence is, more motions are put through in passion or laughter than in a cool, calculating mood; hence the folly of so much of our late legislation. Thus you see our last Discipline is the best and poorest ever offered to the church. I mean the best arranged and the poorest forms of Methodist government in the history of the connection or any other connection laying claim to intelligence. I would pretend to say that the Bishops in some instances have not been just a little too inexorable in their likes and dislikes to measures, and have spoken rather acerbly when milder terms would have been more effective. I have thought some did at times, and still think so; but even then respect for hoary heads should have consideration with ministerial gentleman. As a great and good man once said, “Respect for God is indication by respect for age.” But more upon this point, in the future.

3rd. The next General Conference must elect more Bishops. The South alone needs at least five. Our work is literally significant for Episcopal attention and the next thing we know, our church will begin to wane. The letters and telegrams that are sent to me both from my own and other Episcopal districts to decide churches, attend district meetings, settle feuds, lay corner stones, and etc. is to run a man crazy. I get sick sometimes at the thought of our condition. I could remain at home year round and keep busy answering letters alone. I travel for hundreds of miles trying to go where most needed, as the discipline directs and come home preached, lectured and traveled down, to meet attacks of letters awaiting me, besides those forwarded to me, and when I ought to be in the bed resting I am till two and three o’clock in the morning nodding, reading and either writing or dictating letters until I am compelled to retire. Men who talk about having enough Bishops ought to be sent to the mad house; they are idiots. For Heavens sake do not send any of that kind to the next General Conference, God don’t want them there. 

Yet I quake at the thought of electing enough Bishops for the use of the Church at one General Conference, for if they do, some compromise man is sure to get in, and no man ought to be elected a Bishop upon a compromise ticket. He will disturb the Church to the day of his death. No man ever had intenser opposition than I, but I thank God I was elected squarely upon my merits. I am no compromise man, at all events. Nor do we want unknown men, tidal wave men, boom men. We want men well known to the Church; if not great preachers and scholars men noted for coolness, discretion, judgment, kindness, affability, executive power, and activity. We want no lazy men, bigheaded men, self-inflated men, nor impatient men, nor do we want all religion and no common sense, so holy that they must kill who does not meet their idea, set up a kind of judgment day before God does. Bishops going around slandering elders, tattling like some old mouthy bag—I say we don’t want such men for Bishops, therefore let every man be elected upon his merits, for what he is worth. Neither do we want Bishops who must choose one master from among the elders in every conference he goes. If a man has not the patience to investigate all his facts about any issue, hear both sides and make up a cool decision, regardless of friend or foe, and not be necessitated to take the dictum of some elder, he is not the man for Bishop. True, presiding elders are naturally his counselors, but even then he should hear their reasons why before he reach a conclusion.

Now, how shall such men be secured is the question. Well, I will tell you discuss their merits freely. Talk about them with mouths wide open, write about them, weigh them, not simply weigh their goodness, but their common sense, see what they have done to build up the Church, learn what experience they have had, see if they have had opportunities to exhibit their inner natures; but above all, fast and pray over the men of your choice and ascertain what inclinations God imparts your mind.
As this letter is so long, I will call a halt for the time being, but I am not done with this subject. There is too much at stake for everybody to be silent, and as I have the reputation of being somewhat crack brained, nobody will take any offense at any remark I may make. I have no better sense so I am excused.

H. M. Turner