"Awill to Choose": A Reflection
Gordon Melton`s book, "A will to live," narrates the eventsand milestones made by African Americas regarding spirituality,antislavery calls, and civil rights through the Methodist Church. Thebook is divided into several chapters with each addressing aparticular subject. The third and fourth chapters discuss theemergence of black Methodism centers in several cities in Americaincluding Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Wilmington, Philadelphia, NewYork City, and Brooklyn. In reading the two chapters, I have had achance to reflect on my assumptions about the Church, the author,claims made, and African Americans. Contrary to my previousassumptions, the Methodist Church was genuinely interested inspreading the Gospel, and the abolition issue was only a secondarygoal that cropped up. The approach applied by the author aptlycaptures the marriage between the secular needs of the country andthe religious/spiritual needs of Christians as an area that has notbeen well covered by other writers.
At the beginning, I had pre-conceived ideas about the Church`s roleamong black people that were proved wrong. I had imagined that theChurch appealed to blacks living in American cities as a way ofescaping from slavery and also enjoying a sense of community. Again,there are claims that some black people joined Churches to accessschools and learning.1However, it is evident that majority of the black residents in thecities were free and joined the Methodist Church purely in search ofspiritual nourishment.2The conditions in the towns as mentioned by Melton favored the growthof black Methodism. I, therefore, understand better the need to readwidely to examine and evaluate my personal assumptions informed by myexperiences and cultural background. Such misguided assumptions caninfluence my understanding of certain topics. Thus, the section ofthe book directly challenged my assumptions on cultural andhistorical knowledge of African Americans.
Reading further into the two chapters, I learned more aboutindividual African Americans who were actively involved in advancingthe Methodist agenda. Ideally, I had imagined that black people weremostly passive players in the religious movement. However, Meltonreveals that African Americans, as members of the Church, thought itwise to create a black Methodist movement attached to the MethodistChurch to address matters related to religion and social wellbeing ofthe black people.3Ideally, slavery was a constant issue in these discussions as manywhite slave owners were reluctant to allow their slaves toparticipate in the Methodist movement. The black Methodist movementthus realized that pushing for a ban on slavery would allow for alarger congregation and even better participation in Churchactivities. This would mean that the secular/political and religiousentities had a shared goal of ending slavery. For people who get toread the book and understand its contents as I did, the convergenceof interests as narrated herein explains why most of the abolitionand Civil Rights Movement`s leaders such as Martin Luther wereaffiliated with the Church. This also applies to modern human rightscrusaders such as Rev. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton who are leadersin various Churches. However, not all denominations have supportedabolition calls. In the 1860’s, the Anglican Church was ambivalentto the calls fearing that abolition would interfere with propertyrights and affect income flow.4As such, the Methodist Church, which split from the Anglicans, stoodup for the black people.
In summation, the two chapters carry insightful information onindividuals and different groups of black people who actively choseto join the Methodist Church and insert the agenda of their people. Iacknowledge that my earlier assumptions have been proven wrong. Thefact that the book has already highlighted the earliest decision bythe Methodists to divide the Church while working towards the samegoal makes me curious to learn more about how such differencesimpacted the secular world and race relations. Given that the authorhas carried out rigorous research in his book, I cannot wait to readfurther and enhance my understanding of the spirituality of AfricanAmericans in the face of the Methodist teachings.
Blackett, Richard,Building an Antislavery Wall: Black Americans in the AtlanticAbolitionist
Movement,1830—1860. Baton Rouge: LSU Press. 2002.
Kinealy, Christine,Daniel O`Connell and the Anti-Slavery Movement: `The SaddestPeople the
Sun Sees,`New York: Routledge. 2015.
Melton, Gordon. AWill to Choose: The Origins of African American Methodism. NewYork:
Rowman &Littlefield, 2007.
1 Richard Blackett, Building an Antislavery Wall: Black Americans in the Atlantic Abolitionist Movement, 1830—1860 (Baton Rouge: LSU Press. 2002), ix.
2 Gordon Melton, A Will to Choose: The Origins of African American Methodism (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007), 68
3 Gordon Melton, A Will to Choose: The Origins of African American Methodism (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007), 57.
4 Christine Kinealy, Daniel O`Connell and the Anti-Slavery Movement: `The Saddest People the Sun Sees` (New York: Routledge, 2015), 13.