Hero of Black Church History: Maria Stewart

February 20, 2014

Black Church History - Hero of Black Church History Maria Stewart
Bob Kellemen

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Bob Kellemen

Black Church History - Hero of Black Church History Maria Stewart

BCC Staff Note: You’re reading Part Four 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 a young African American woman who had everything going against her—but had Christ standing beside her—Maria Stewart. Dr. Kellemen has excerpted this post from materials in his book Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care. 

Four Strikes…and Still Swinging Away!

It’s 1831 and in the culture of her day, Maria Stewart has four strikes against her.

She is Black; she is female; she is young; and she is widowed—in era where all four designations were horribly disrespected and dishonored.

Yet, Maria Stewart marches into the office of William Lloyd Garrison, publisher of the Liberator, an Abolitionist newspaper. She demands that Garrison publish her letter to her fellow Black sisters of the Spirit.

He does!

Read the rest of her story and learn more about who you are in Christ.

Arousing to Exertion

To fully comprehend Stewart’s staggering accomplishments, we have to backtrack to her less than advantageous upbringing.

“I was born in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1803; was left an orphan at five years of age; was bound out in a clergyman’s family; had the seeds of piety and virtue early sown in my mind, but was deprived of the advantages of education, though my soul thirsted for knowledge. Left them at fifteen years of age; attended Sabbath schools until I was twenty; in 1826 was married to James W. Stewart; was left a widow in 1829; was, as I humbly hope and trust, brought to the knowledge of the truth, as it is in Jesus, in 1830; in 1831 I made a public profession of my faith in Christ.”

Married at 23, widowed at 26, converted at 27; she challenges a nation at 28. In the fall of 1831, she hands Garrison the manuscript of her challenge to African Americans to sue for their rights. Stewart entitled her work Religion and the Pure Principles of Morality: The Sure Foundation on Which We Must Build. She told her readers that she:

“Presented them before you in order to arouse you to exertion, and to enforce upon your minds the great necessity of turning your attention to knowledge and improvement.”

Here we have a young, female, African American widow writing in a white male abolitionist tabloid as a spiritual director to motivate her people to learning and action—based upon being created in the image of God.

But God!

Using the biblical truth of the image of God, Maria Stewart guides her readers toward the counter-cultural but scriptural truth that:

“It is not the color of the skin that makes the person, but it is the principles formed within the soul.”

Stewart inspires her audience to see who they are in Christ.

“Many think, because your skins are tinged with a sable hue, that you are an inferior race of beings; but God does not consider you as such. He hath formed and fashioned you in his own glorious image, and hath bestowed upon you reason and strong powers of intellect. He hath made you to have dominion over the beasts of the field, the fowls of the air, and the fish of the sea (Genesis 1:26). He hath crowned you with glory and honor; hath made you but a little lower than the angels (Psalms 8:5).”

In 1831, no one was telling young Black women that they were formed in God’s image.

No one was telling young Black women that they had God-given powers of reason and intellect.

No one was telling young Black women that they had dominion and honor.

No one…but God…and no one but Maria Stewart.

With everything stacked against her and against her sisters of the Spirit, Maria Stewart refuses to listen to the wicked ways of the world. Instead, she courageously chooses to listen to the edifying encouragement of the Word. She teaches us not to believe the world’s lies about us, but to cling to God’s truth about who we are in Christ.

Join the Conversation

Because Maria Stewart understood who she was in Christ, nothing, not even “four strikes,” could keep her from fulfilling God’s calling in her life. What is God calling you to do in Christ?