Bishop Turner to Rev. S.H. Robertson
Christian Recorder: April 10, 1884
Dear Sir—As there is so much being said and written of the ensuing General Conference, and what should and should not be done, &c., I thought it would not be aimless for me to ask your opinion as to what should be the most important business to come up before the General Conference next May—our educational work, home, and foreign missions, presiding elder system or more Bishops and if more Bishops how many? Shall be pleased to hear from you on the above subjects or all of them. I have the honor to subscribe myself
S. H. ROBERTSON.
GRENADA, Miss., March 30, 1884.
Rev. S. H. Robertson: --Yours of the 20th inst. is before me, requesting my views upon the most important business that should come before the ensuing General Conference, &c. You have laid upon me a fearful task. I have had several opinions about this, that and the other, but to present them in detail upon paper, while engrossed in so many cares, would be a greater burden than I am prepared at present to shoulder. The truth is we have more law now that we observe; indeed, we have twice as much law as has ever been compiled. Just read the minutes of our General Conference for 1872-’76 and ’80, and you will see that not half the laws enacted have ever been put in our Discipline. If the General Conference would meet and resurrect the laws now lying dormant, put them to work and adjourn and go home, it would possibly do the best thing conceivable, for we have law enough to run the Church for the next ten years. But as I am certain the General Conference will not heed such a prompting, I forbear to say more in that direction. Now, as to the business that should engage its attention.
1st. It should make a law making it imperative upon our ministry and members to kneel in time of prayer. The Congregational Church, grand as it is, has injected her prayer-sitting posture into so many of our churches, that it has become a disease. I say disease, for the reason that Methodists do not know how to worship God in prayer unless it is speedily stopped there will be a wane in our moral power.
2nd. Our educational work, by all means, should be continued in all its force and bearings. A man of thrilling eloquence and great pulpit power should be selected from our young ministers and placed at its head, who can travel through the connection and burn his ideas into the hearts of our sluggish people and arouse them upon this subject as never before. A great historian says, “There is a time in the career of peoples when nothing is so effectual for God as eloquence,” and I believe we are at that period of our existence as a race. I do not mean these essay readers unless they are like Drs. Watkins, Smith or Bryant, who can manage a manuscript with perfect ease and power. But I mean men who off-handed and by virtue of native genius and flaming brilliancy can spring, as it were, out of bed, and turn the people upside down.
3rd. Our Home and Foreign mission work not only needs to be continued but powerfully improved. Our mission work is a disgrace to our connection. There is nothing connected with our church work that I moan over so much as our missionary humbuggery. Our entire missionary law is a farce and the way we observe it is a farce, yet there are a number of brainless so-called leaders in our Church who are forever talking economy, economy, economy and it means every time, narrowness, little-souledness, nonsensicalness selfishness, meanness, and faithlessness is God. Instead of planning how to get some of the millions of dollars thrown away yearly by our people in excursions, in balls, in arresting warrants, in liquor drinking, and in a thousand other useless ways, they are everlastingly harping about everything but the way to their own pockets. O, that God may send some great leaders, great planners, great church generals to our General Conference—men with brain and soul enough to take hold of our resources and utilize the means and powers at our disposal. I care not what others may say, but the last General Conference was by far the ablest body that ever convened in the history of our Church, and had it not been for the fact that there was more passion than grace in our deliberations, there would have been much more wise legislation. But there was a great battle that had to be fought to unite our Church and make it a common body in sentiment. Without naming the nature of the battle, I have only to say it was fought and our Church is now a unit, and I trust our next General Conference will be able to legislate in reason and not in passion.
4th. Our Presiding Elder system should be made universal. If we abolish it we must elect at least twenty-eight new Bishops. We would need twenty-eight, but we might squeeze along with twenty-three, but with less would ruin the Church. So far as I am concerned, however, I am perfectly willing to make the twenty-three new Bishops, so that all aspirations can be gained, then with the nine we now have, we would have thirty-two Bishops, which would scarcely be able to run the Church, but as I said before, we might squeeze along with them. Nor would they be any more expense to the Church than the present number of presiding elders. Therefore let the General Conference take its choice, either make the presiding elder system universal or give us thirty-two Bishops or stagnate and fetter the Church. Away with this penny-wise and pound foolish policy which has cost us two or three hundred thousand members in the past. I am vexed whenever I think about it. Had it not been for narrow legislation and narrow administration of the law, we would have a million members today upon our Church roll. Besides, our other interests need to be well officered. We must have a Manager, and an Assistant Manager, an editor for the paper, and a publisher and an editor in the same person for a Quarterly Review. We cannot exist another four years without a Quarterly. We must have it; we will have it, or keep the General Conference in session six months.
5th. You further ask if we need any more Bishops, and if so, how many? Well, all I will say in answer to that question is, we certainly need a missionary Bishop. No Bishop can do the work we have to do at home, and find time to visit Africa, Hayti, the East and West India Islands, &c. Therefore we should elect some young, vigorous, athletic man as missionary Bishop, and put him at the head of our missionary work, and then support him in his work. I can name several who will fill the bill grandly. It was said at the last General Conference, after it had elected me, it could afford to elect anybody. So let us be consistent with ourselves and elect anybody. I thank God I have been instrumental in placing the position in the reach of everyone. Everybody can look up now, so it will be no hard job to find a man fitted for the place.
Having replied to some interrogatories as best I could, while waiting for a train which I must take, I will only say, I trust the members of the General Conference will come together with their bills matured beforehand, not wait to meet in Baltimore before they think about business. I also hope that dignity and refinement will characterize the members and that no harsh remarks and bitter expressions will be indulged in. and may God bless the point of order raiser with chills, or some other mild disease that will keep them home, so that men of brains can be heard. I send this reply to you through the CHRISTIAN RECORDER so the whole Church may see it, hastily as it is written.
I am, truly, H. M. TURNER.