The Bishops’ Support

Christian Recorder: August 25, 1887

I have seen and heard so much of late relative to the enormous salaries of the Bishops that I have almost reached the point where I hate the terms that mention the sum. Every time reference is made by a large number of writers to the election of more Bishops, or to anything like the number the Church needs to do the work required and expected, the salary scare-crow must be held up and flaunted in the face of God and his Church. We are told, virtually, that it will never do to properly man the ship of Church, for the reason that the murderous sum of two thousand dollars will play, rapacity and ruin with it; that the Church is a mere human association, devoid of divine protections, or that God himself is a failure, or that he is too poor to provide for the subsistence of his representatives, or that he is not faithful to his promises and we are left to the contingencies of human foresight and legislation to perpetuate the Christian Church, therefore any man or church who will take God at his word, do their duty, trust Heaven and go on in the discharge of their ministerial labors, are simply foolish. That is the lot or quintessence of all such papers or arguments I see in print. Not one of them expresses any reliance upon God, any faith in his promises, nor is there a speck of history quoted to show how God has provided for his Church through the dismal glooms and fearful ordeals of the past. If some of these precocious writers would read the “Book of Martyrs” or the “Persecutions of the Church in all Ages,” they would be better prepared to handle this subject and see it in the light of a superintending Providence. The salaries of the Bishops are hawked up every time something is proposed for the needs and wants of the Church. Nor is it limited to our own official organ, but it is heralded through the secular press with as much gusto as if it were a piece of daily news. I meet it in exchanges which come to the Southern Recorder regularly. And the pastors have made it the one hobby of all their Dollar Money appeals, so much so that nearly every child in the land is familiar with it. Next thing it will be woven into our catechisms, webbed into our theology and rhymed into our poetry. Two thousand dollars is made to appear so enormous……that persons at a distance who have some scheme on hand for the Church or otherwise will write for twenty or forty dollars with as much impertinence as if the Bishop had a treasury belonging to them. “We are going to have a big rally in June, and we would like for you to be with us; but if you can’t come, send us twenty-five of that two thousand dollars you get. We shall look for it, now.” These are the exact words of a letter written to me some time ago; nor did the letter come from a preacher in my district. I don’t know what he wrote his own Bishop. But it is useless to repeat much more on this line. It appears to me sometimes from what I read and hear that the salaries of the Bishops are literally begrudged.

Now, I wish to say for the information of all parties, the Bishops never asked for this or any other salary. They were content to live by such amounts as their respective episcopal districts could raise for them, and were doing so grandly; but the elders themselves, with the lay delegates, at the General Conference of 1879, manufactured and adopted the present system, which has been in vogue ever since. Some of the Bishops were bitterly opposed to it and said so openly; but the delegates, ministerial and lay, adopted it nevertheless. Now after the church, of its own free will and accord legislated the system into existence, and has kept it in existence so long that a generation has grown up under it, is it fair, is it just, is it honorable to be everlastingly babbling about it……..?

Bishops are constantly on the railroads, paying the most exorbitant prices for every mouthful they eat. My mail and telegrams from April 1, 1886 to April 1, 1887, cost over two hundred dollars. Besides, while the law provides that the several churches visited by the Bishop shall meet all of his traveling expenses, I have repeatedly paid out fifteen, twenty, and twenty-five dollars to remunerate me for the money spent to get there. In one year alone I have used three hundred dollars of my salary for traveling expenses for which I never received a cent; then again it is not unfrequently the case that ministers will buy my ticket to the next point but say nothing of the fifty cents or dollar I had to pay for a carriage to take me to and from the place where I was assigned during my stay with them. I have even had them to refuse to let me walk to the depot and procure a carriage for me and apologize for not accompanying me to the depot for the reason that they had a child somewhere to baptize, and when I would get to the depot the carriage driver would demand a dollar, which I might have saved by walking. But without itemizing the Bishops’ disadvantages and the pastors’ advantages and drawing the comparison further, suffice it to say, the odds are overwhelmingly against the Bishops, and it requires but a moment’s reflection to see it. The two thousand dollars scare-crow that has been hawked up and magnified so frequently, has brought the Bishops’ support into contempt by thousands, and militates against the Dollar Money for the reason that the people are led to believe that all the Dollar Money goes to make up their salary, whereas not over thirty per cent is ever seen by the Bishops. Indeed, I doubt whether it will transcend twenty-five percent.

All this medley about the Church not being able to take care of the necessary number of Bishops is simple bosh. There is money enough collected now, if wisely and economically disposed of, to support ten more Bishops at the present salary, and with the necessary number of Bishops the Dollar Money would be doubled. Let the forty percent that revers back to the conferences, the burden of which the Bishops have to carry any way, be reduced to fifteen or twenty percent, and let other burdens be taken off of the financial department, which can easily be done, and there will be money enough to support all the Bishops the Church needs, and such other interests as are indispensable to existence and success.

There is a false economy that dominates our Church, which we will do well to remedy at the earliest possible moment. Few appear to see anything except what is in hand, which they magnify until it becomes an enormity. The man our Church needs at the front now are men who can devise measures to turn the millions of wasted money in this country into the coffers of the Church, and utilize it for God and the salvation of souls.

False economy cripples, hampers, antagonizes and militates against every vital measure the Church inaugurates. We want political economy, business economy, practical, common sense and every-day economy, that will devise measures, ways, means and schemes to snatch some of the money wasted in excursions, liquor, lager beer, societies and a thousand other things and give it to the Church of God, and there will be money on hand to support a hundred Bishops.

But rather than the Church should suffer for episcopal supervision, let the General Conference give her the necessary Bishops and throw them upon their respective districts for their living. Let all the present Bishops except Bishop Turner have their present salaries continued, but let Bishop Turner and the new Bishops live upon such support as their districts will provide, except such as may be assigned to foreign missions, permanently or temporarily. For once in the history of our Church, every man in it qualified for the Bishopric can get to be a Bishop. So let us have enough to preside over annual conferences, district conferences, lay corner stones, dedicate churches, visit presiding elder districts, settle feuds, change pastors when necessary, see after new work, create missions, etc.

The foolishness of Southern farmers in the past has been in planting too much territory and letting the grass and weeds run away with it. Let us take care of the older Bishops, as they have been the great pioneers of a grander dispensation. They have spread the Church from ocean to ocean; they have fenced in all the territory the nation could afford. Honored be their names forever. Let me now furnish strong, vigorous and able men to work up this vast field, so that we will not have to travel a hundred miles, at times, without seeing an A. M. E. Church or an A. M. E. member. We ought to have churches in every town and village in the South, and in some counties where we have no church at all, we ought to have a dozen. My heart sickens within me often when traveling through this great country and finding whole towns and villages with hundreds of our people living in them and not a colored church in the place. The people have nowhere to spend their Sabbaths, but sit around the streets or go fishing or hunting sometimes play ball, run foot races, wrestle, pitch dollars or old-time coppers, dance a little, and, frequently, wind up in a fight. While this state of things exists some of our wiseacre economists are going into spasms about a little support for the future Bishops. Let no man’s support get between God and his Church. If the new Bishops are too lazy or stuck up to dig their living from the people, let them perish. Better a few worthless Bishops perish than for thousands of immortal souls. And unless a Bishop is worthless or too swell-headed to work, he can live decently, for the people, as a general rule, delight to honor, reverence and contribute to a Bishop. The whites, as well as the colored, will gladly keep him. But where a Bishop has so much to do that he cannot half do anything, the Church is obliged to suffer and the work to lag……

I must stop at once; I did not know I had written so much; I will write again.

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