Saturday, September 1, 2007

A Warning from Bishop Richard Allen

"We deemed it expedient to have a form of discipline, whereby we may guide our people in the fear of God, in the unity of the Spirit, and in the bonds of peace, and preserve us from that spiritual despotism which we have so recently experienced--remembering that we are not to lord it over God's heritage, as greedy dogs that can never have enough. But with long suffering, and bowels of compassion to bear each other's burdens, and so fulfill the Law of Christ, praying that our mutual striving together for the promulgation of the Gospel may be crowned with abundant success." Excerpt from Bishop Allen’s autobiographical work, The Life, Experience, and Gospel Labours of the Rt. Rev. Richard Allen, p.21 (NOTE: To read Bishop Allen’s autobiography in full, click on the link.)

Bishop Richard Allen chose a rather interesting place to end his autobiography. Instead of concluding on a note of self glorification, he ends with words that sound more like a prophetic warning. In the previous pages, Bishop Allen has related the painful details of how the AMEC had to wrestle free from the White Methodists in Philadelphia. Many of us in the AMEC only know the romanticized version of our founding that we often tell at Founders Day, where Bishop Allen and his faithful band of followers leave St. Georges Methodist Episcopal Church, start Mother Bethel, and live happily ever after with no more interference from the outside world. But the fact is that the members of the White Methodist body for the most part did not simply let us walk away. Their Book of Discipline was used as a tool of harassment and the preachers acted like (in Bishop Allen’s words) spiritual despots and greedy dogs. It ultimately would take God's hand moving through the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to truly set us free to worship under our own vine and fig tree.

Yet, after telling that great story of liberation, Bishop Allen does not end with finger wagging at the White Methodists. Instead, he ends his story with a warning to his future sons and daughters. He knew that there may come a day when we might forget God's saving acts on our behalf and as a result, begin to behave in ways more like our former oppressors instead of our ancestors. Bishop Allen's quote gives us pause to do some serious introspection and soul searching by asking ourselves some tough questions.

Have we become the greedy dogs that never have enough? Have we become the new spiritual despots that misuse the Book of Discipline to divide and conquer instead of bringing together and building up? Has our church become more like old St. Georges or do we still favor old Mother Bethel?

Well, the good news is that if we as individuals, local congregations, or even as a denomination have strayed from the path, we still have hope. We can still turn to the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Richard, and Sarah who will always take us back. The God of the prodigal son stands waiting with open arms. An accurate reading and remembering of our history is a helpful means of ensuring that we remain grounded in the faith that has brought us thus far along the way!


Anonymous said...

I discovered your site today and I must say I was thoroughly pleased and impressed by it. I am a soon-to-be graduating Turner Theological Seminary student from a five generaton AME church family. Thank you for your scholarship and reminder of Bishop Allen's ancestry, legacy, and prophetic utterance!

Lola S. Gresham Russell, Henry M. Turner Class of '08

Kimberly Perdue-Sims said...

Even though this post is a couple of years old, I 'm so glad I was led to read it. My family has six generations in the AME church from Louisville, KY to Atlanta, GA and many places in between. I am preparing for Richard Allen's birthday celebration at my church, Mt. Zion AME Kennesaw,GA. Continued blessings