Comments Upon Bishop Payne’s African Letter
Christian Recorder: December 6, 1883
In your issue of the 18th of October I find the following from Bishop Payne: “Three circumstances ought to teach us prudence – a. The terrible rebuke which the Bishops of the C.M.E. Church gave Elder Chambers for his officiousness in proposing a union between ourselves and them. b, The subsequent zeal with which one of our Bishops urged for a union with the same body of Christians, and which ended in nothing more than a solemn farce.” Etc.
When I first read these paragraphs I gave the matter but little thought beyond entertaining some differences of opinion with our venerable Senior. Since then, however, several ministerial brethren have asked me if I had seen Bishop Payne’s strictures upon Elder Chambers and myself, remarking at the same time that “Bishop Payne is going for you union men,” etc.
As for what Rev. Andrew J. Chambers said and did, I shall have nothing to say, for he wields the mightiest pen of any young man in our Church, and like Henry Clay’s mouth, is able to speak for himself when he deems necessary. But I feel it to be my duty not to allow even our venerable Senior not to lavish honors upon me that I am not entitled to, for, as I see it, certainly it would be an honor to know that I was personally instrumental in bringing the Bishops of the A.M.E. Church and C.M.E. Church together for the purpose of considering the question of organic unity between these two religious bodies. To the contrary, at our Episcopal meeting at Newport, R. I., in July 1880, either Bishop Brown or Bishop Campbell brought the matter before the Bishops in a speech. I think it was Bishop Brown. At all events, Bishop Payne nodded his assent and expressed his high approval of such a proposition, as did all the Bishops present without a dissenting voice. Bishop Payne went so far as to give the coalesced church the name of the Union M.E. Church, dropping the name African or Colored, which I stated at the time scarcely met my approval, yet I might come to it when I heard good reasons. The proposition of union, however, had and has yet, my most hearty endorsement, and I urged it with all the power of speech I possessed at the time, and would do it again; but when the Senior intimates that I (if he means me) was the originator of the movement which he says ended in a solemn farce, I beg to say that he does someone injustice. I was only made the chairman of a committee to effect or bring about a conference between the Bishops of the respective denominations, and made so, too, by the unanimous voice of the Board of Bishops. That I did, however, exhibit some zeal in the matter after my appointment is probably true, for I was then and am still, anxious for the consummation of such a glorious result; yet I was not the originator of the movement. I wish I did have that honor.
Our Senior says the “movement ended in solemn farce.” I do not see it in that light. I think it ended (if ended it is) to the great credit of the A. M. E. Church. Let us see. The A. M. E. Church of sixty-seven years standing (no not sixty-seven years, for our Church really commenced in 1792, making ninety-two years) proposes organic union with a church that scarcely has the existence of a decade, so far as her Bishops had the power to propose. And the proposition for a meeting and consultation is favorably received by the Bishops of the junior church. The time and place for such a meeting is appointed, with the agreement and consent of the Bishops of both connections. The Bishops of the senior connection meet at the time and place, but only one of the Bishops of the junior connection meet, and for that reason the joint session is a failure. Thus the A. M. E. Church, for the sake of establishing peace, harmony and race unity, sought union with the C. M. E. Church, but the C. M. E. Church, through her Bishops, misunderstood, forgot, neglected, omitted or failed to meet, except through one of her Bishops only. Now, where comes in the solemn farce? But if the failure of the Bishops of the C. M. E. Church to meet the Bishops of the A. M. E. Church was a farce, where or how in the name of heaven does it reflect upon the A. M. E. Church? – for I judge that is his implication. I think the Bishops of the A. M. E. Church made the grandest movement of their lives in proposing a conference for the consideration of union. Hereafter when the ministers and members of the two connections are wrangling, quarreling, misrepresenting, lying, cursing and defaming each other, as they are doing daily, the Bishops of the A. M. E. Church will have the satisfaction of knowing they did all in their power to put an end to it, and the C. M. E. Church will be responsible for it before God and man. But it may be said the A. M. E. Church was not responsible for theses contentions anyway, for it had an existence long before the C. M. E. Church was dreamed of. That is true, and so much more to the credit of the A. M. E. Church. The greater bows before the lessor for peace and harmony sake, and God and posterity will say well done. But who knows but what the object desired will be consummated yet? The Bishops of the A. M. E. Church at the “solemn farce meeting” instructed Bishop Holsey by resolution to inform his colleagues of the C. M. E. Church that we, the Bishops of the A. M. E. Church, would meet them at any time and place they might designate for the consideration of the matter, etc. Bishop Holsey, of the C. M. E. Church, told me not over four months ago that the call would be issued as soon as his colleagues could agree upon the time and place. And if the Bishops of the C. M. E. Church should call us, as I expect they will, the Bishops of the A. M. E. Church are bound by their resolution to meet them. So the farce may not be so solemn after all.
In conclusion, I am a union man, and I have no apology to offer for it, except good sound sense, as I believe I have on the subject, if on nothing else. A white gentleman told me in St. Louis, Mo., that he would give us ten thousand dollars for any purpose we might desire to use it for if the A. M. E. Church and the A. M. E. Z. Church would unite. He further said, “The existence of so many colored Methodist churches in the land brings you all into disrepute, and what the whites would do for you they will not under your divided condition.” The white gentleman is a member of the M. E. Church, and is strongly in favor of their colored members uniting with us, hence his anxiety for a unite church between Bethel and Zion. But let the gentleman go; I inadvertently referred to him. What I do wish to say, however, is that if ever one thing should be desired, the union of the A. M. E., A. M. E. Z., and C. M. E. Churches ought, yes, and it is desired, earnestly, anxiously and prayerfully desired. Let the Bishops of the three denominations stand aside and nine-tenths of the ministers will rush together like water; and as for the members, they will come together with shouts and kisses. The A. M. E. Church is to blame for not having unity with the A. M. E. Z. Church. All remember our treatment of that church in the General Conference of 1863. But the C. M. E. Church, through her Bishops, is to blame, is to blame for not having unity with the A. M. E. Church, for we were all ready for it - well, I mean the progressive element – and all the General Conference of the C. M. E. Church, so far as I could learn, were anxious for it two years ago. There possibly may be a change now; I cannot say. I would, however, like to say to them all, - all these colored Methodist divisions: Brethren, it is time to awaken from your slumbers. No time for divisions, schisms, strife, contentions and foolishness now. Do you see that Dred Scott decision peeping out of its supposed tomb, fixing up for a resurrection? Do you see the heart of Pharaoh hardening again? Do you see the gathering clouds thickening over our heads? Do you see the black squadrons, calamity, harnessing themselves for another charge of pestilence and death? Do you hear the vengeance of an insulted God bickering in the heavens? Do you not feel the quaking of the earth beneath your feet? I repeat, it is time to awake. Read the history of the world, and you will find one revolution always calls for another. That decision is the first blast of the next. Laugh, smile, grin, say he is crazy, a monomaniac, or whatever you choose, but it is coming! coming!! coming!!! We need unity and we need it badly.