BCC Staff Note: You’re reading Part Three in a four-part BCC Grace & Truth blog series for Black History Month. These diverse posts all share in common a passion to help us to learn from the legacy of Black Church history. Today, in Part Three, Dr. Bob Kellemen encourages us to consider the legacy of and the lessons we can learn from founding fathers of the Black Church. Dr. Kellemen has excerpted this post from materials in his book Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care.
Which Founding Fathers
Historians of American history frequently emphasize our “founding fathers.” Politically speaking, they highlight white males like George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Paine, and James Madison. Spiritually speaking, they feature white males such as Roger Williams, Cotton Mather, John Winthrop, Jonathan Edwards, and Isaac Backus.
Sadly, they have often left African American founding fathers missing in action. In particular, the spiritual founding fathers of independent African American church life have been neglected, relegated to the back seat of the historical bus. We now seek to recover something of the lost legacy of loving leadership bequeathed to us by two of these African American spiritual forefathers: Daniel Alexander Payne and Lemuel Haynes.
Daniel Alexander Payne: Walking the Talk
Bishop Daniel Alexander Payne was an early leader in and the official historian of the AMEC. Payne experienced numerous opportunities to live out his Christian manhood. When he was in his seventies, in the Jim Crow south of the 1870s, Payne refused to stay on a train where he would have been seated in Jim Crow conditions. Standing his ground and confronting the white authorities on the train, he said to them:
“Before I’ll dishonor my manhood by going into that car, stop your train and put me off.”
After Payne left the train, “the guilty conductor looked out and said, ‘Old man, you can get on the platform at the back of the car.’ I replied only by contemptuous silence.” Payne then carried his own luggage, walking a great distance over “a heavy bed of sand” to his next speaking engagement in the deep South.
Payne literally walked the talk.
He was the Rosa Parks of his day. In fact, Rosa Parks worshipped at an AME church. During youth Sunday School she learned the history of the AME Church, including the history of one Daniel Alexander Payne. Thus we can trace the Civil Rights movement from Daniel Alexander Payne to Rosa Parks to Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dare to Be a Daniel
How did such Christian manhood develop? Payne credits his father who started him on his purposeful life.
“I was the child of many prayers. My father dedicated me to the service of God before I was born, declaring that if the Lord would give him a son that son should be consecrated to him, and named after the Prophet Daniel.”
Imagine the sense of self, the sense of biblical masculinity that Payne’s father passed to his son.
He did so not only by naming, but also by modeling. Of his father, Payne testifies:
“He was an earnest Christian and a class leader, having two classes under him—what used to be called the Seekers’ Class and the Members’ Class. He was a faithful observer of family worship; and often his morning prayers and hymns aroused me, breaking my infant sleep and slumbers.”
Lemuel Haynes: A Christ-Centered Ministry
Lemuel Haynes offers a remarkable example of African American ministerial modeling. Born at West Hartford, Connecticut, in 1753, of a white mother and a black father, Haynes lived his entire eighty years in Congregationalist New England. He completed his indenture in time to serve in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.
Privately tutored, Haynes became the first African American to be ordained by any religious denomination. Upon ordination, Haynes then served white congregations for more than thirty years. MiddleburyCollege awarded him the master’s degree in 1804, another first for an African American.
Among other accomplishments, he achieved notoriety for a sermon entitled Universal Salvation that defended orthodox Christianity against the threat of Universalism. For this work, he happily accepted the title “Black Puritan,” indicating his depth of Reformation theology.
A Christ-Centered Purpose: His Personal Epitaph
Haynes personal epitaph tells much about how he lived his life and where he placed his focus.
“Here lies the dust of a poor hell-deserving sinner, who ventured into eternity trusting wholly on the merits of Christ for salvation. In the full belief of the great doctrines he preached while on earth, he invites his children and all who read this, to trust their eternal interest on the same foundation” (Epitaph written for himself by Reverend Lemuel Haynes, the “Black Puritan”).
The Rev. Lemuel Haynes pointed not to himself, but to Christ. He understood that, “It’s all about Him!” His trust was solely in Christ and his focus was solely on Christ.
A Bible-Centered Example: Following Paul’s Model
At age sixty-five, Haynes left his Rutland, Vermont, parish due to political friction that essentially forced him to choose to resign. His farewell sermon of 1818 emphasized, among other topics, his devotion to the work of the ministry and to the people of his congregation. Alluding to the words of the Apostle Paul, Haynes notes that:
“He that provided the motto of our discourse could say on his farewell, I have coveted no man’s silver or gold, or apparel. Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessity.”
It was important to Haynes with his white parishioners that they recognized his Christ-like diligence. Few could legitimately question his work ethic given that he had preached 5,500 sermons, officiated at over 400 funerals, and solemnized more than 100 marriages.
It was also vital to Rev. Haynes that they understood his godly motivations.
“The flower of my life has been devoted to your service:—while I lament a thousand imperfections which have attended my ministry; yet I am not deceived, it has been my hearty desire to do something for the salvation of your souls.”
Haynes acknowledged and wanted his people to realize that the ultimate Judge of his motivations was Christ.
“I must give an account concerning the motives which influenced me to come among you, and how I have conducted during my thirty years residence in this place: the doctrines I have inculcated: whether I have designedly kept back any thing that might be profitable to you, or have, through fear of man, or any other criminal cause, shunned to declare the whole counsel of God. Also, as to the manner of my preaching, whether I have delivered my discourses in a cold, formal manner, and of my external deportment.”
Join the Conversation
What impact could knowledge of an African American leader like Daniel Alexander Payne and Lemuel Haynes have upon Americans? African Americans? African American males?
What epitaph do you want written about your life? How are you living today to make that happen?