Chapter 11 Coming to Grips with In justice & Corruption
Christian Martyrdom in Southampton
of Black Liberation
By Rudolph Lewis
* * * *
The Holy Spirit in the
Turner's Return to His Spiritual Mission
Though a high official of
Turnerís Methodist Church, Samuel Turner was not close to the
Christ ideal. We can induce this from the facts stated in
Confessions" and the record of those who owned Nathaniel, first his
likely father Benjamin and then others in the Cross Keys
community. Nathaniel Turner's second master
Samuel Turner, and likely his half brother, had forgotten how to give,
if he indeed ever knew how. Admittedly, Samuel was probably
having difficulties managing his inheritance, a kind of half
loaf, in the midst of an
economic downturn. But worst, as an Elder of Godís Church,
Samuel Turner did not know how to be a true disciple of Jesus
Christ. He lacked grace and generosity. As a Christian slaveholder, he did not know how to deal
justly with Turner as a fellow Christian in faith. He
Even as a man
of reason with strong economic concerns, Samuel Turner seemed to
have been at personal odds with Nathaniel, as if he had a
vendetta to settle. When he "arrived to manís
estate," Nathaniel was probably not altogether surprised
at Samuelís deepening moral corruption. Nathaniel had endeavored
to live an upright life with an enduring patience.
When Nathaniel came of age,
he was anxious about his future. He went to Samuel and demanded
his freedom and requested baptism at Turnerís Methodist Church.
His brother could have said no and left it at that. Samuel
did not handle the situation well. Seemingly, Samuel Turner took
Nathaniel request as a personal affront, as if he had been waiting
for it, viewing it as a potential threat to his power. The
outcome of this confrontation, at least some elements, has general agreement. Samuel Turner,
dead in the Spirit, placed Nathaniel Turner under an overseer. Nathaniel
Turner then was
sent to the whipping post and flogged.
For the twenty-one-year old
Nathaniel, the religious grounding of faith and reason was shaken.
The beauty and truth of religion, he had known, had shriveled.
In Samuel Turnerís generation, Christian grace became the dirty
economic rag of greed and deceit. Turner found himself in the
clutches of a man who believed in nothing but brute strength, a
man who would entertain no challenges from his Christian brother
Trapped like a beast, Turner found himself surrounded and
despised by men, Christian slaveholders who would do anything
for profit, to maintain their dominance, to influence the minds
of others, to obscure the intent of the Law of God, nature, and
man. A manís word. nor Godís had little value for the
Christian tyrants of Cross Keys.
Frustrated in his personal
desire, like the prophet Jeremiah, Turner became disillusioned.
And, like Jeremiah, Nathaniel Turnerís temper flared. Jeremiah
"questioned his call," according to Teresa Fry Brown.
"Jeremiah had a crisis of faith. . . . and wondered where
God was . . . cried often, lived alone and thought himself a
failure" ("Prophets! How Far Are You Willing to
Run?" p. 47). In his moment of spiritual weakness, Turner
ran away, stole himself. Like Tom, his spiritual father, Nathaniel
Turner removed himself from the tyranny of the Turners.
Nathaniel Turner took his
destiny into his own hands. He ran into the forests and swamps
of Southampton and concealed himself from his pursuers. On
running away, Turner had concluded he had misunderstood the
meaning of his two revelations. In spiritual turmoil, Tuner
dismissed the voice of the Holy Spirit as a fancy of his own
With his fellow servants and
religionists, Nathaniel Turner generated many discussions on the
Spiritís harking on the notion of seeking the "the
kingdom of heaven." What was it indeed, this
"kingdom"? Was it something other-worldly or
this-worldly? Or both? Turner believed that religion had to do
with God in this world and only secondarily the afterlife. For
him, the revelation hinged on the "promise" made to
him personally by those who knew God: Harriet and Benjamin Turner.
That is, that he was unfit for slavery, that he would gain his
freedom. The promise that Christ made, however, was one he had
made to all who would hear. Christ promised the
"kingdom" to all, legally slave or legally free..
The Christian message is a
universal one. God is a benevolent spirit that infuses all
humanity. In Godís righteousness, "no one can be
completely whole unless the rights of all are respected"
in Israel, p. 165). At this stage of his spiritual development, Nathaniel
still thought his religion was a matter of simple piety and
personal discipline; contriteness for sins, primarily, those of
envy and pride. He exceeded all in these observances. He
believed he had paid the price for personal salvation and his
At this time, Turner wanted God to liberate him, in an
instance, miraculously, raise him from that drudgery and
depression that was slave life. He had lived so that God could
use him. He had expected salvation and freedom to be rolled
together neatly and presented ceremoniously. His new life in
Christ, however, got off to a rocky and unexpected start.
Seeking his own redemption,
Turner wandered off into the wilderness surrounding the hamlet
of Cross Keys. As with Moses, God had a different plan for him.
Like Moses, Nathaniel needed to be taught by God a new patience as
well as grace, if he were to be Godís instrument of
righteousness. Turner evaded patrollers, their dogs, and their
guns. Like Jonah in the whaleís belly, Turner was effaced in
the nearby woods and swamps.
God shielded Turner from his
pursuers. Under every bush and by every bog, the slaveholders
looked feverishly for Nathaniel, but did not discover him. This
escape and disappearance retains its quality of supernaturalism.
This disappearance in the wilderness was the fourth miracle that
Turner reported in the
In his soulís torment,
Turner was alone in the dark wood, immersed in feelings of loss,
in need of solace and comfort. Jeremiahís narrative and its
minor theme of betrayal and loss may have given Turner curious
comfort. Jeremiah was Godís prophet and he prophesied for the
Lord. Like Turner, Jeremiah was punished when he expected to be
rewarded. Jeremiah was lowered into a well with no water and
left there to die in the mud. Satan sometimes attempts to
undermine our faith and spirit and places us in the mud (The
African Presence in the Bible,
In the muddy swamps of Cross Keys, Turner would have
understood Jeremiahís reproach. "Righteous art thou, O
Lord, when I plead with thee: yet let me talk with thee of thy
judgments: Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper?
Wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously"
(Jeremiah12.1). Turner kept running. Help, however, was on the way. As
the Virginia Negro knew, in his wisdom of the centuries, man canít
run from God.
Ever which way Nathaniel turned, the Spirit of the Lord stood in his path. The Spirit of
God stopped his flight, made him acknowledge his
egoism, his eager desire to impress his fellow servants with his
genius and heavenly gifts. "The Spirit appeared to
me," Turner told Gray in his
Confessions," "and said I had my wishes
directed to the things of this world, and not to the kingdom of
heaven, and that I should return to the service of my earthly
masteróĎFor he who knoweth his Masterís will, and doeth it
not, shall be beaten with many stripes, and thus have I
This revelation corresponds to
Luke 12.47. Much of the 12th chapter of Luke, according
to McKenzie, "emphasizes the total renunciation demanded of
the followers of Jesus" (Dictionary of the Bible, p. 526).
Godís concerns were greater than Nathanielís individual freedom
from bondage. The "things of this world," our
self-interests, are that which separate us from God. The
"kingdom of heaven" is not identical to personal
freedoms, privileges, or rights.
Of course, Turner was
"fit for the kingdom." In the beatitudes (Matthew
5.3-10), Jesus indicates that "ancestry, wealth or cultureócarries
no influence." Those most fit included the "poor, the
meek, those who hunger and thirst and are persecuted" (Spirituality of the New Testament,
p. 29). The "kingdom" concerns itself with a greater
justice, which includes, first and foremost, obedience. Neither
angel nor saint can do as his own mind determined.
Nathaniel gradually began to understand God was calling him to a special
mission, a special destiny, in a particular place, that is, in
Cross Keys. But what? Nathaniel had to wait on God; as did the
Old Testament prophets, Job and Abraham, who waited until old
age to receive Godís full promise. As the Old Folks say, God
does not always come when you want him, yet he is always on
time. The duty of the Christian is to watch and pray.
His spiritual education
incomplete, Nathaniel did not yet understand that God was not
working for him, but rather through him, so that a greater
freedom for all could come into being. Turnerís destiny was
different than that of Tom, his surrogate grandfather. As some
reports have it, Tom eventually found a home in Liberia and
disappeared historically into the forests of an alien world on
the other side of the Atlantic.
After thirty days, Nathaniel
however, returned to Samuel Turner in Cross Keys a new man, a
man born again in faith of Christís saving grace. Turnerís
wilderness experiences have been memorialized in the spiritual
"Come Out of the Wilderness," sometimes published in
United Methodist Hymnals as "Turner" ("African
American Spirituals," pp. 161;
167). Turner trusted in God. But his fellow servants murmured
against him: that if they had his sense, they would serve no
master. The "Master" that Turner had to serve fully,
was not his earthly master, Samuel Turner, but Christ himself.
experience with the Holy Spirit was a spiritual lesson. Nathaniel
Turner can teach us something here about how to come closer to
God and how to go about doing Godís work. Turnerís return to
a difficult situation and its hardships on faith that he would
yet be in Godís favor corresponds to the beginning of Wesleyís
stage two, namely, justifying grace. This state of grace goes
beyond a knowledge of doctrines. For even Satan knows that Jesus
is Christ. Wesley believed, according to Ted Campbell, "The
faith by which we are justified involves not merely knowledge
about Christ; it involves heartfelt trust in Christ"
Doctrine, p. 56).
Devotion to the divinity, to
Christ, Nathaniel discovered, did not guarantee material prosperity
nor freedom from oneís earthly master. There was a greater
bondage than that of the body. To bring forth the "kingdom
of heaven" required sacrifice by the apostles of Christ.
Earthly honor or power was not that which characterized those
who desired authority in the body of Christ.
The bursting of spiritual
bubbles, of self-justification was not a too uncommon phenomenon
for beginning religionists. In her "The Life and Religious
who was first awakened by the Reverend Richard Allen, reported
such an experience. Jarena, the exhorter, was moved by a particular biblical passage, Acts
8.21: "I perceived my heart is not right in the sight of
God." She had a few spiritual successes, felt convicted and
justified. She then received a religious visit from William
Scott, "a man of full stature in Christ Jesus."
He told me the progress of
the soul from a state of darkness, or of nature, was
threefold; or consisted of three degrees, as follows:óFirst,
conviction for sin. Second, justification from sin. Third,
the entire sanctification of the soul to God. I thought this
description was beautiful, and immediately believed in it.
He then inquired if I would promise to pray for this in my
secret devotions. . . . I began to call upon the Lord . . .
Now there to be a new struggle commencing in my soul . . . .
I began now to feel that my heart was not clean in his
sight; that there yet remained the roots of bitterness. . .
of the Spirit, p. 33).
Lee concluded she still had work to do, that she had more
praying to do. Like Jarena, Nathaniel too had been tempted by Satan into disobedience.
Nathaniel wanted more than what the
Turner family and other Christian slaveowners were willing to
offer or possibly could offer. With respect to their Christian
slave, these were men who operated on two stops: deceit and
greed. At this stage, Nathaniel Turner was just beginning to know that
manís justice was a mere shadow of Godís righteousness.
Turner arrived thus at an existential crossroads. Like
Kierkegaard at twenty-two years old, Turner did not know what
the divinity wanted him to do ("Master of Irony
Demystified," p. 238).
misgivings and fears, Turner obeyed the Holy Spirit and returned
to Cross Keys to live under the tyranny of Sam Turner. To do the
work of the Lord, Nathaniel had to first trust the Lord and obey
him in all things. There was still much more that Nathaniel
would have to undergo before he reached the holiness and the
freedom he sought. Unknown to him, at the time, Nathaniel Turner
would have only nine more years before he raised himself above
bitterness and the horrors of this world..
Andrews, William L. ed.
Sisters of the Spirit: Three Black
Womenís Autobiographies of the Nineteenth Century. Bloomington: Indiana
University Press, 1986.
Campbell, Ted A.
Methodist Doctrine: The Essentials.
Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999.
Crites, Stephen. "Master of Irony Demystified,"
Rev. of Josiah Thompson,
(Alfred A. Knopf), The Journal of
Religion, 55 (April
1975), pp. 235-246.
Grossouw, W. K.
Spirituality of the New Testament.
London: B. Herder Book Company, 1961.
Lee, Stephen M. Lee. "African American Spirituals: A
Synoptic Analysis of Seventy Hymnal Inscriptions in Six Protestant Hymnals."
Journal of Interdenominational Theological Center. Vol. XXVII,
Numbers 1 and 2, Fall 1999/Spring 2000, pp. 137-178.
McKenzie, John L.
Dictionary of the Bible.
Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1965.
Tucker, Gene M. "The Role of the Prophets and the Role
of the Church." In David L. Petersen, ed.
Prophecy in Israel: Search for an Identity
(Issues in Religion and Theology 10). Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987, pp.
Watley, William D. and Raquel Annette St. Clair.
African Presence in the Bible: Gospel Sermons Rooted in History. Valley
Forge: Judson Press, 2000.
* * *
Martyrdom in Southampton
Theology of Black Liberation
By Rudolph Lewis
Chapter 10 The
Revelations Begin /
Chapter 12 Satan's Advancing
* * * * *
Sisters of the Spirit
Three Black Womenís Autobiographies of the Nineteenth Century
Edited by William L.
Andrews, a University of
Wisconsin English professor, has collected the spiritual
autobiographies of Jarena Lee, Zilpha Elaw and Julia Foote, who
preached the gospel from 1836 to 1879 and were pioneers as
women, preachers and blacks at a time when slavery was ending in
the U.S. These memoirs chronicle difficult childhoods, religious
conversions in revival camp meetings and adult lives dedicated
to saving souls across black and white America. While some
readers may find the evangelical language slow going, these
texts remain important documents of racial and feminist
radicalism in American religious life.óPublishers
Sisters of the Spirit...
should interest a wider audience. . . . These fascinating
accounts can stand on their own. . . . Mr. Andrews has made them
even more accessible by providing a comprehensive introduction
and helpful footnotes... but he does not intrude on the text
itself.óNew York Times Book
* * *
* * *
The Price of Civilization
Reawakening American Virtue and Prosperity
By Jeffrey D. Sachs
The Price of Civilization is a book that is essential reading for every American. In a forceful, impassioned, and personal voice, he offers not only a searing and incisive diagnosis of our countryís economic ills but also an urgent call for Americans to restore the virtues of fairness, honesty, and foresight as the foundations of national prosperity. Sachs finds that both political partiesóand many leading economistsóhave missed the big picture, offering shortsighted solutions such as stimulus spending or tax cuts to address complex economic problems that require deeper solutions. Sachs argues that we have profoundly underestimated globalizationís long-term effects on our country, which create deep and largely unmet challenges with regard to jobs, incomes, poverty, and the environment. Americaís single biggest economic failure, Sachs argues, is its inability to come to grips with the new global economic realities. Sachs describes a political system that has lost its ethical moorings, in which ever-rising campaign contributions and lobbying outlays overpower the voice of the citizenry. . . . Sachs offers a plan to turn the crisis around. He argues persuasively that the problem is not Americaís abiding values, which remain generous and pragmatic, but the ease with which political spin and consumerism run circles around those values. He bids the reader to reclaim the virtues of good citizenship and mindfulness toward the economy and one another.
* * *
Sex at the Margins
Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry
By Laura MarŪa AgustŪn
This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura AgustŪn makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. "Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality."óLisa Adkins, University of London
* * *
update 28 June 2008