- From Georgia: March 17, 1866
Christian Recorder: March 17, 1866
Mr. Editor – I promised you last week that in my next letter, I would give you the circumstances attending the affair in Montgomery, Ala. Which led to a collision between me and the leading men of the colored Churches. Having visited all my Churches in this state, when it was considered safe for me to go, I proposed, while in Columbus, Ga (as it was the nearest point) to run over to Montgomery for the purpose of seeing my aunt, and six or seven cousins of mine who live there. These dear relatives I had not seen for many years.
However on Thursday morning of the 18th inst., I left Columbus and arrived in Montgomery the same morning; so after a kissing spree with Aunt Mary, Cousin Bill, &s, I asked the condition of the church and brethren, which was answered with the pleasing anticipation of meeting with my old friends in the bliss of the fellowship of former days, yet death had played the ravages among…..some I once loved, and respected, particularly in the case of my uncle (Thomas Wilson) whom I learn had died in February, 1864; still, his old age and triumphant death were so cheering that one could hardly mourn for the consolation the intelligence afforded. The following morning my aunt insisted on my going to prayer-meeting at the church, which was held at sunrise, stating as a reason, that my brethren would be so glad to see me, as they had not enjoyed that privilege for nine years. The news of my arrival, however spread among them and after meeting was over, none of the official brethren with whom, I had once been acquainted called up on me at all; but I learn; next the Rev. John Butler, with whom I had never been acquainted, to hear, I suppose, how I talked. Pursuant to orders, he came and was introduced to me by Aunt Mary, and after some preliminary conversation, the subject turned upon the Church, I stated that I had learned, while in Augusta, that they had united with the A.M.E. Zion Connexion, and was glad to hear that they were not still crouching before the rebels.
Whereupon he inquired the name of my Church, to which interrogatory I freely answered, and the substance, if not the precise dialogue ensued, said he, “What is the difference between your church and ours?” “Well, said I, “very little; our cardinal doctrine is the same; there is some difference in our church polity; but the most prominent difference is that one has Bishops and the other has not.” Said he, I suppose you don’t all have Bishops then.” Yes,” said I, we do, but you don’t.” Said he, “Who” said I? Why Bishop Clinton.” “No,” I said, “Bishop Clinton is not a Bishop but a superintendent: he is reelected or rejected every four years, whereas a Bishop is ordained to his office and he holds it for life. “But,” said he, “Bishop Clinton came here and ordained ministers: how could he do that without authority”? Well, said I, “he did have authority; he was strictly in line of his duty. He was doing what his discipline and general conference both authorized him to do. I know Superintendent Clinton; he is a gentleman, Christian, and scholar; but the Zion church does not recognize the third ordination.” Said I,” “Did you not know that?” “No,” He said, “I know no such thing.” “Well,” said I, “I see his photograph here, look at that, and see if he don’t sign himself Superintendent of the A.M.E. Zion church.” Finding, however, he had begun to suppose I was trying to speak disrespectfully of his church, and manifesting quite a vexed sensation under the smarts of a supposed insult, said I, “See here: are you not satisfied with your church?” “Yes I am,” said he. “So am I,” said I, “so let us quit talking on the subject.” But finding that he was not willing to stop, I then proceeded to try to explain the difference, in the spirit of calmness: told of the separation which had taken place, how we recognize each other, and what our prospects were of uniting, how highly I respected many of their ministers and how particular I was about interfering with the harmony of their Churches, and before we separated, I thought I had actually succeeded in removing from his mind and suspicions, as to my desire to agitate any sectional feelings whatsoever.
But on entering church in the afternoon, I soon found something was wrong: I walked in, but instead of being escorted to the pulpit where I used to stand, and preach apparently to the joy of thousands, I had to politely take my seat outside the altar.
So a brother took for his text, “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” and such a raking as he gave Church—disturbers was never given before. He run it so far, that it evidently turned into a repetition of ribaldry. He thundered against men going about in the name of preachers disturbing the quietness of churches. Having closed, however, Mr. Butler rose and backed it up, showing less intelligence than his predecessor, by far; and at this dictum they went to prayer, and another brother was invited to lead off, who prayed among other things, “for God to prepare the Church for the terrible battle that awaited them, by reason of the Wolf who was about.” This showed me at once that Mr. Butler had made a wrong impression on all their minds. For years ago, I had worshipped with both these brethren on terms of Christian fellowship, and now, before they had even spoken to me, they were preaching and praying against me. Vast numbers of my friends, seeing the treatment given, resolved to have me speak, if I had to go to the old field. But Rev. Mr. Davis, D.D., (white) on application of Mr. Peter Goode, a very distinguished gentleman, kindly threw open his church, in which I preached two successive nights, and to my surprise, Mr. Butler was one of my auditors; but I did not fail to sell the attention of the public to how I had been slandered falsely. So that I actually had to vindicate my own cause, and tell the public the facts as they really existed, which I had never contemplated, nor would have existed, had not a report gotten all over town that I was a Bethelite, and did not believe in a hell; that I believed Jesus Christ was a mere man, and another report, which was that I was a Campbellite, whose doctrine was that women had no souls, and that the devil would every day break his chain and get loose, and all such nonsense—so that I was necessarily compelled to say something. Dr. Davis justified me in the same, and I trust -- for that Divine, though a southern minister, and though I look in his pulpit the most radical grounds for the black race, yet he never murmured against it; and without say knowledge of his intention, after I closed my discourse, he made the people give me a decent sum of money, (a thing seldom done by the colored people,) besides paying my feeble sermons the most complimentary tribute, an act which so greatly surprised me….
I was afterwards informed that it was determined before my arrival to the city, that owing to my….flippant tongue not to let me preach; for if they did, I would seduce their members and unsettle the faith of the Church, by Bethel heresy, as the Bethelites were unbelievers, and therefore dangerous. Nor was I the only one who shared this fate—Rev. Robert Alexander, one of our preachers whom I licensed in Atlanta, was told, before asking for it, “you can’t get into our pulpit, etc.,” --; and he only went there to see his brother. Rev. Lynch Lamah, of Columbus, Ga., also one of our preachers, passed through there, and his feelings were painfully wounded. Both of these brethren are worthy men, and Lynch Lamah is a host in himself.
Now, it is not that I cared a cent individually about their attempted disrespect, nor did any one of my preachers care, I judge. For I had more to do already than I had strength or ability to perform. But the point, on which I propose speaking, is the existence of these two Churches. Had our Church and the Zion Church untied last General Conference, none of these things could have existed. But that matter they postponed till ’68, and I fear that it will die before that time. This makes the fifth instance which I could mention at the South, where our members or preachers, who were once friendly, have been wrangling and quarrelling, telling the most egregious stories about each other you ever heard. At whose door, I ask, Mr. Editor, will that sin with all its guilt and crime lie! Can you blame these people for their ignorance! I would regard myself an idiot to think of harboring a revengeful feeling toward Mr. Butler for his ignorance. That man verily thought, when I said Brother Clinton was not a Bishop that I had some for the purpose of destroying his Church, and slandering their head man, as he was called.
In conclusion, I would say that the people in Columbus can’t be expelled. Rev. Mark Stewart, full brother to Rev. Esop Smith, pastor of our church in Columbia, SC, is pastor of our Church here. He is a great man; - was ordained a deacon many years ago, by the white Methodist Conference.
Macon, GA, March 1st, 1864
Just arrived here. The Church here has at last concluded to join us. It numbers nearly a thousand. There were some objections which I explained; and here they come by hundred:- tell you more next week.
H. M. Turner