Sunday, February 24, 2008

Christian Black History Month: Lemuel Haynes

Lemuel Haynes:

1) First black pastor ordained by a mainstream American Protestant church.
First black pastor for a white church.
3) First in this series of politically incorrect black heroes.

He was born in Connecticut of a "a white woman of respectable ancestry" and an African father; he was abandoned by them. He grew up indentured until the age of 21. Although of limited education, he read voraciously, especially the Bible and theology books.

He became a Minuteman for the Revolutionary War. Then he was ordained amongst the Congregationalists (1780), serving three congregations until his death at the age of 80. He married. He wrote against slavery. And he was a vocal defender of the ancient ways: Republicanism and the Reformation.

Later when the newer class of anti-slavery ministers arose, they would try to use his legacy but gave up since his theology would not dovetail with their liberal theology. He publicly preached against the new (now old) theology of universal salvation.

Ironically, his anti-slavery position was one of racial integration instead of the then popular view (amongst even white anti-slavery proponents) of sending them to Africa (supposedly a land of freedom). The introduction of the new biography sums up the entire matter better than I:

“Like a number of other eighteenth-century black authors...Haynes accepted a Calvinist form of Christianity. Indeed, Calvinism seems to have corroborated the deepest structuring elements of the experience of such men and women as they matured from children living in slavery or servitude into adults desiring freedom, literacy, and membership in a fair society. From Calvinism, this generation of black authors drew a vision of God at work providentially in the lives of black people, directing their suffering yet promising the faithful among them a restoration to his favor and his presence. Not until around 1815 would African American authors, such as John Jea, explicitly declare themselves against Calvinism and for free-will religion. By the standard of many in the twenty-first century, this Calvinist vision may seem tainted, since it presented God’s hand in evil as well as in good. Moreover, this black Calvinism scorned Islam …Acknowledging the divine providence both of evil and of good, these black Calvinists insisted upon the human obligation to shun sin…and to further God’s benevolent design. More than any of his peers, black or white, Haynes found in Calvinism a tradition of exegesis that could be leveled against the slave trade and slavery...By 1830, a new abolitionist exegesis was undoing the ideal of interracial unity that Haynes and his peers had seen in the Bible.” (Sallant, 4, 6)

If we are to have politically correct history months, let us at least pick our own heroes!

[More details:
Online biography: Sketches of... Rev. Lemuel Haynes.
Saillant, John.
Black Puritan, Black Republican: The life and thought of Lemuel Haynes]

Black History Month Series:
1. Lemuel Haynes
2. Jupiter Hammon 
3. Phillis Wheately

1 comment:

Benjamin P. Glaser said...

Wow. I had no idea about this. I need to do some more reading on this guy. Thanks for this.