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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" (Prophecy 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 freedom. 

 

 

Section 2, Chapter 11 Coming to Grips with In justice & Corruption

Nathaniel Turner 

Christian Martyrdom in Southampton

A Theology of Black Liberation

By Rudolph Lewis

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The Holy Spirit in the Wilderness

 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 "1831 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 misread Philemon.

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 and slave. 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 "fertile imagination."

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" (Prophecy 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 freedom. 

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 "1831 Confessions."

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, p. 73). 

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 "1831 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 chastened youí." 

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 Turner, 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.

Turnerís wilderness 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" (Methodist 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 Experience" (1836), Jarena Lee, 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. . . . (Sisters of the Spirit, p. 33).

Jarena 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). 

Despite his 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..

Sources Consulted

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, Kierkegaard (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." The 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. 159-174.

Watley, William D. and Raquel Annette St. Clair. The African Presence in the Bible: Gospel Sermons Rooted in History. Valley Forge: Judson Press, 2000.

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Nathaniel Turner

Christian Martyrdom in Southampton 

A Theology of Black Liberation

By Rudolph Lewis

Chapter 10 The Revelations Begin / Chapter 12 Satan's Advancing Kingdom

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Sisters of the Spirit

Three Black Womenís Autobiographies of the Nineteenth Century

Edited by William L. Andrews

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 Weekly

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 Review

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AALBC.com's 25 Best Selling Books

For July 1st through August 31st 2011
 

Fiction

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#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

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#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
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*   *   *   *   *

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.

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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

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Boisí Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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update 28 June 2008

 

 

 

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