After the Slave Trade, then what?2007-03-22
Source: Anglican Mainstream (Strengthening the Faith)
The Christian Faith not only inspired Wilberforce and his colleagues to combat the slave trade. It was a powerful force through the churches to prepare and sustain the former slaves in the period of emancipation, leading many of them to become Christian Missionaries to West Africa. Bishop Errol Brooks, Bishop of North East Caribbean and Aruba tells the story of the churches’ role after emancipation.
[The Church of England Newspaper Friday March 23, 2007]
The emancipation of the slaves meant that a change in society would result. Lord Harris, the Governor of Trinidad, commenting on the state of the West Indian society after emancipation states, “a race has been freed, but the society has not been formed”.
The question which must be asked is what kind of society did those who abolished slavery envisage for the British West Indies? They wanted to see at work in a minor key the same sort of principles which obtained in English society: a system which consisted of stratification from the lower order, through the middle order to the upper classes. With the gradation there would be the mechanism to create stability and cohesion.
However, they hoped that the submission which existed prior to emancipation would find no place in this sort of system. The authorities in England were very concerned about the transition in society from a master/slave relationship to that of a trustee/friend. They were concerned, too, about the way in which the ex-master and the coloured middle class would be drawn closer together.
The only institution they saw as providing the means for this transition was the church. This was made clear from 1824 when the two Dioceses of Barbados and Jamaica were created and Bishops Coleridge and Lipscombe were sent out to give Episcopal oversight. The church contained three advantages which existed separately in the other institutions.
• Firstly, as a structure it could embrace all classes and therefore produce in each the right sense of community and the right sense of restraint. In this capacity the church would be the peacekeeping force in the British West Indian society.
• Secondly, as a moral force the church could imbue the Negro masses with the proper respect for authority and the proper will to work. In this capacity the church would continue to be an agent dedicated to keeping the economy growing.
• Thirdly, as educator the church would wean the Negroes from basic barbaric superstitions of Africa. It would introduce him to the civilised world of the Christian 19th century. To better accomplish this task the British Government added more vigour to the established church in 1842 by creating two more dioceses — those of Antigua and Guyana.
But not only the Colonial Government looked to the church for assistance in moulding the new society. The planters, the coloured people and the Negroes did so, too. The planters hoped that the church would slow down the effects of emancipation. Being in the minority, they did not wish the Negroes or even the coloured people to achieve political power too fast. The planters were therefore very generous in their grants to the established church. As far as the coloured people were concerned, in culture they were closely akin to the Europeans, but they were often pushed aside by the planters. The coloured therefore adopted an attitude of vacillation in allegiance between the established church and the non-conformist churches as they sought the support of the Negroes.
The Negroes for their part looked to the church to change emancipation from a legal revolution to a social and even political one. The church was expected to be an agent of change. It was not an easy task and the situation was made even more complex by the importation of Indian and Chinese labourers to fill the void on estates after emancipation. It is interesting to note that the established church did not insist that the Indians and Chinese should accept the Christian faith. These peoples were allowed to practice their religions. Hence today Hinduism and Islam have a strong presence in the southern Caribbean.
How did the church go about its task? In the first place both the established church and the nonconformist denominations provided the education necessary for social mobility and for acquiring that power which during slavery very few Negroes possessed. The Negroes leapt to the opportunity of acquiring an education because they saw this as necessary for narrowing the gap between themselves and the rest of society. There was therefore a proliferation of denominational schools.
This situation proved very advantageous for the denominations as it provided them with the opportunity to exert their influence and to increase the members of their denominations. It was not until 1865 that the colonial governments began to set up schools in the West Indies.
However, the church continued to be an equal partner for many years after. This is still the case in several of the territories except Guyana where the state has confiscated the churches’ property and is the sole agent in providing education.
The other matter which is of interest here is the attitudes of the established church and the nonconformist denominations. The established church throughout the Caribbean adopted a slow evolutionary view of their role. They adopted a policy of ‘moderation and restraint’. The established church (Anglican Church) saw its role as civilising the Negroes by providing education by means of the resources available through state aid or the assistance of the great Anglican missionary societies. The Anglican Church, while it educated Negroes in its schools, kept on deferring the question of their participation in the politics of society.
What was the Anglican church’s position on a native ordained ministry, for example? Codrington College was in operation since 1833, but only whites were trained there. Some candidates were even recruited from England. Negroes and coloureds were allowed only to share in the humbler positions of lay readers, catechists and school masters. The only exception to this policy in the Anglican church was the Diocese of Guyana. The Bishop there attempted to satisfy the leadership ambitions of nonwhites, without altering the European power structure, by ordaining a coloured man, Lambert MacKenzie, in 1856. This caused much controversy, and Lambert was forced to go to Sierra Leone, where it is said he did a great job. The time and the circumstances was not right. It took many years after that before coloureds or blacks were ordained in the Anglican Church in the West Indies. Slavery had created a racial problem which emancipation did not solve. It was not until 1954 that the first Black Bishop of the Anglican Church in the West Indies was consecrated. It was not until 1980 that the Anglican Church in the Province of the West Indies got its first black Archbishop, Grenadian born Cuthbert Woodruffe.
The Anglican Church in the West Indies was given the autonomy as a Province in 1883, but it remained an extension of the mother church for many a year. Today, Bishops and the majority of the clergy are West Indians. With the wave of nationalism and the call for indigenisation sweeping through the region, I suppose it cannot be otherwise.
What about the non-conformist churches? It is quite clear that many of the nonconformist churches took a different stance from that of the Anglican Church in the creation of a stable society. For them emancipation could not be considered complete until the Negroes were sufficiently educated and sufficiently free from plantation dependence to play an active role both in the economy and politics of the colonies.
This was particularly true in Jamaica and Guyana. The nonconformist churches took the modern assumption that groups which possess political power will not respect groups which do not. Therefore their role consisted not just in “educating” the negro but also in giving him/her some leadership and political power. Now it must not be assumed that these churches “laid hands suddenly on Negroes”. For as we recall, even before emancipation they had encouraged Negroes to share positions in their churches — some were deacons. In 1844, the first Negro minister of the London Missionary Society, James MacFarlane, was ordained.
A year before that 1843, the Jamaica Baptists took the decision to sever ties with the Baptist Missionary Society in England and become a Jamaican church. Colabar College was established to train their ministers.
In addition both the Baptists and the London Missionary Society clergy gave practical expression to their political attitudes. They advised Negroes in the question of wages; they assisted them in the purchase of lands for the setting up of villages. By 1840, under the Free Village Scheme there were 7,848 villages in Jamaica. The Moravians assisted in the setting up of some of these villages as well but in their case they were exclusively for the members of that denomination.
The Baptists in Jamaica went a step beyond setting up villages. They attempted to organise a party to express the interest of the villages in an assembly known as the Anti-State Church Convention. The party was defeated at the polls in 1844. In all of the islands, the Methodists seemed to have adopted much the same policy as the Anglican Church.
Dr Robert Moore points out that after the change to Crown Colony Government, in most West Indian islands even those changes that had taken up the political cudgels of the Negroes in the 1840s became quiescent on the subject of politics.
At the end of the 19th century and well into the second half of the 20th century the churches seemed to have concerned themselves with the educating and moral upliftment of their members. They were also involved in assisting their members with the day-to-day personal problems without, as bodies, raising the fundamental question about the nature of society which created the problems that their congregations had to face.
Bishop Brooks is seeking assistance for theological education in his diocese which has forfeited funds from the USA because of its disagreement with The Episcopal Church on matters of sexual morality. In particular he is seeking £30,000 for the education of ordination candidates and theological education seminars throughout the diocese. For further information, please contact the Editor of the Church of England Newspaper or Anglican Mainstream.
Source: Anglican Mainstream (Strengthening the Faith)