Bishop Turner’s Review
Christian Recorder: December 8, 1881
Mr. Editor. – In your issue of October 27th, you were pleased to call my attention to the letter addressed to Rev. S. F. Flegler from Africa, but owing to my labors and travels in the Indian Territory at the time I saw your prompter, I have been unable till now to thank you for your Christian kindness. I am certainly glad to find that your triumphant visit to the old world has so revived, strengthened and invigorated your missionary zeal, that even poor Africa is to have a share of your attention. I wish you had gone years ago, possibly our church would have been far in advance of what she is today. For no man in our wide connection is so much responsible for the missionary apathy that prevails in our church as you. The literature of a church makes the sentiment that prevails in the church, and the sentiment largely shapes the action of its supporters and defenders. You, for the last fifteen years, have been at the head of our literature. From your fertile brain have gone out weekly to tens of thousands, yes hundreds of thousands, moral and intellectual food, which has molded a generation of ministers into your mode of thinking, very largely. There is not another religious editor in the nation, if in Christendom, that has had the field and susceptible minds to operate upon you have had. Thousands of ministers, and through the ministers hundreds of thousands of people, have almost daily ate and drank from your table, so that whatever the A.M.E. Church is today, you have made it. The Bishops are but ciphers compared with you. It is in your power to both kill and make alive, and fire the church from center to circumference at your option, which you know too well how to do when the notion strikes you. Give me your editorial chair for twelve months, and if I do not inflame the church with the spirit of the missions, then count me out forever, and if I can do it, you can do it; you are a better scholar than I am; your reading is vast. I doubt if your equal is in the church. Leaving science out, for which you claim no specialty, how many can compare with you in stores of knowledge? Yet what is the missionary status of the very ministers you have trained, yes virtually made for the last fifteen years? Do you find them concerned about the redemption of Africa? Did you ever sit down and write an article, presenting the claims of Africa upon our church and our religion by giving the people a knowledge of the millions who are there in moral darkness, and the people their duty in the premises? I know you have written a few general things, but where is the labored article, such as you have written upon a thousand other subjects of minor importance? You cannot show it.
Now with great flourish of trumpets you tell me I ought to go to Africa; I am needed there so. I know I am needed there, and I want to go there infinitely more than you want me. When I say I want to go, I mean I want our church to go. I don’t care whether I represent it or anyone else, I want our mission work, our sympathies, our prayers, our moneys, our hearts, our souls, our love for God and man to go there. What would be the use of me going unless I carried the soul and heart of my church with me? I could do nothing there single and alone, except possibly, to organize a few missions and leave the missionaries there to starve and die for want of something to live on. I gave notice fifteen months ago to Secretary Arnett, that I wanted a few thousand dollars to go to Africa and take a few missionaries, etc. Arnett published the content of my letter in the Christian RECORDER and made an appeal to the church, and if he has ever received any response I am ignorant of it. I do know, however, that the editor never endorsed or commended it. Elder Flegler, who has spent years in Africa as our missionary, and comes back crowned with glory, and who has been commissioned by me to travel and lecture in the interest of our African work, writes me that some of the ministers demand two-thirds of what the people give him, for the privilege of lecturing in their churches and representing the claims of that dark continent. Such conduct is a shame before high heaven. Instead of feeling glad, yes happy for the opportunity of giving it all to the missionary, he is gouged out of two-thirds of what the people give him. The truth is neither our ministry nor our people as a whole have any love of missions, for the reason that they have scarcely any knowledge of our mission demands or mission responsibilities, and I could not muster up soul enough to answer his letters. While my heart was with him I did not wish to discourage him by telling him our church was destitute of the spirit of missions, and I did not see any way, with the existing apathy, to comply with his requests, so I wrote nothing in response, much as I admire his zeal, Christian courage and great abilities.
You say I have always professed great interest in Africa, etc. Whether you speak this ironically or not, I am not able to divine; I think, however, you do. Nevertheless, you utter a grand truth when you speak. I both profess and possess an interest in the salvation of millions of Africa that I am proud of; and whenever I lose it I hope I will die. I had rather be dead than not possess that interest. How any negro can profess Christianity and be dead to the moral wants of his kinsmen in Africa, is to me a mystery. Such a Christianity to my judgment is hypocrisy of the meaner sort, or, to use the pertinent language of Bishop Payne, is the “lopsided Christianity of an ignoramus.” You will say, “I have professed great interest in Africa,” and the profession has not abated either. I weave Africa into all my prayers, sermons, lectures, addresses and admonitions; but for all that I am not going to jump up and run over there on a wild goose chase without being able to do something. I receive important letters from there regularly. I received a letter a few days ago from a very prominent man there, assuring me that grand results could accrue to our church if I would come, able to do certain things; but I cannot do these things without a fund, and to make a long story short, I am not going till I can go as a representative man.
So far as investing Brother Flegler with powers to carry on the work in Africa, I am now ready. Would to heaven I could ordain him a Bishop, I would do it today if I had the power. I offered a bill at our last General Conference to elect some young man missionary Bishop, but the committee never reported upon it. If we were wise and imbued with the spirit of missions properly, I should urge the election of some young man in his thirties, say about thirty-three or four, for a Missionary Bishop. But what would be the use with our present apathy, unless it was some young man, well say like Townsend, who could move creation, so to speak, with his thrilling eloquence and irresistible logic. Then we would have to give him the entire connection to operate in for an indefinite time to move the people to his support, unless you did more for his support with your mighty pen than you have done in the past.
I am not indifferent to the wants of our African work. I am doing all I can in connection with the burdensome district I have in charge. I have an elephant on my hands, in that one portion of it has been fearfully neglected, and another portion of it is a new work. Arkansas only compare favorably with other sections, yet I thank God my district is prospering marvelously. Some of my conferences have doubled themselves already, and if the Lord is with us I hope we will double again soon. Churches are springing up as if by magic. Still we are having an eye to Africa. Elder Flegler is commissioned to travel and present the claims of our African work to everybody who has a heart to feel, if he can reach them. I have also just commissioned Rev. W. H. H. Butler, D.D., a minister of fine culture and great ability, to do the same; besides two ladies who are also at work and doing good by their able appeals. I hope to send another able man soon who will aid Dr. Butler in his appeals to our white friends and Christians. So I am at work, don’t you think I am? But the question is: Will the church work with me? God hates selfishness, it is repugnant to the spirit and principles of our religion, and no church can long live and prosper under it. And unless the A. M. E. Church awakes from its selfish slumbers, she is doomed to failure. Men may talk about impurity in the ministry, tyranny among the Bishops, etc., but the truth is greed, avarice and selfishness is the monster devil that is afflicting our church, combined with disinterestedness for the salvation of the heathen. Now sir, if you will use your powerful pen to reform our Church in this respect, as you ought to do, you will have no trouble in getting me to Africa and several more, for to my knowledge there are plenty of young ministers ready to go, not only young ministers but young ladies, white and colored. I have letters from three white ladies in my possession to-day who are waiting appointments as teachers for Africa if I will employ them. Give me the funds and I will raise scores of missionaries and teachers, and if I do not make use of them to the credit of the Church and glory of God, then and not till then, crack your editorial whip at me. But do not try to make me responsible for your sins. You, more than any man on earth, are culpable for the missionary apathy of our Church.