Admonishing Leadership to Act Righteously, Part VI

Series: How Faith Shapes Government, Part VI – By Dr. Kelli Criss

Our most recent blogs have explored the life of an African American pillar of faith, Reverend Richard Allen.  In particular, we discussed Richard Allen’s fight for the civil rights of Philadelphia’s black community and his admonishment of faith leaders to act righteously. Today’s blog, Admonishing Leadership to Act Righteously, Part VI, addresses Allen’s impact upon civil government leadership.  

Free African Societies: Serving God across Early America 

 Forming the Free African Society in 1787, Allen and his contemporaries were a catalyst for unifying blacks under godly leadership in Philadelphia and beyond.  The influence of the Free African Society spread among free blacks in additional areas of the country. Quickly, similar Free African Societies emerged in Boston, Massachusetts; Newport, Rhode Island; New York City, New York; and Charleston, South Carolina.   

 Under Allen’s leadership, Philadelphia’s Free African Society drafted articles of association emphasizing Biblical tenets like: a) membership dues served the community’s needs, b) the society was responsible for the care of widows and orphans; and c) members had to conduct themselves according to Biblical principles, including the prohibition of drunkenness and immoral actions.   

 Allen’s Fruitful Efforts: Righteousness in Civil Government 

Allen’s campaign for liberty and justice for black Americans is evident in the spread of Philadelphia’s Free African Society.  Of particular note is the miraculous work God accomplished through the Boston African Society, a sister organization of Philadelphia’s Free African Society.  In 1777, Prince Hall, a leader in the Boston African Society, petitioned the General Court of Massachusetts to abolish slavery entirely.  Indeed, Massachusetts was among the first states to abolish slavery in 1783.   

The Free African Society’s proximity to Philadelphia’s Independence Hall indicates the sovereignty of God in America’s affairs.  George Washington’s 1790 arrival at the President’s House, located next to Independence Hall, began a ten-year period in which America was led from Philadelphia.  Strategically located just down the street from Independence Hall were the homes of Allen and additional faith community leaders who were among our nation’s Black Founders.  Allen and fellow Black Founders held the newborn republic in their arms, nurturing faith in God and civil rights. 

Fighting Godless Legislation 

Upon the Fugitive Slave Act’s passage in 1793, Allen and his fellow Free African Society leaders in Philadelphia were outraged.  This law legalized the arrest, re-capture, and return to their masters of fugitive slaves.  The law ensured enforcement in every city by tasking magistrates with the law’s application and by designating fines for any person aiding a fugitive slave.  Clearly, abolitionists and runaway slaves were the target of the law.  

Allen and Philadelphia’s Free African Society took swift action to exert their influential status in the city. The Society’s efforts involved a focused campaign to fight the Fugitive Slave Act: a) writing letters, newspaper articles, and pamphlets, b) gathering petitions, and c) preaching sermons condemning the unrighteous law.  Their fight admonished the Independence Hall leadership, including Congress and the President, to restore justice.   

The National Convention Movement: Admonishing Fledgling America to Act Righteously 

As if founding one of Philadelphia’s first black churches, Bethel, and the African Methodist Episcopal denomination were not enough for God to accomplish through Allen and his contemporaries, God helped Allen unite African Americans nationwide in the fight for civil rights in early America.  In September of 1830, Allen along with fellow Black Founders met at Philadelphia’s Bethel Church along with forty delegates for the first national convention of the American Society of Free Persons of Colour.   

Together the delegates drafted a constitution drawn from the Declaration of Independence’s guiding principles.  Having their travel restricted by recent laws controlling the free movement of free blacks, additional delegates were unable to meet in Philadelphia.  Such injustices were the key fights undertaken by the newly established society.  The American Society of Free Persons of Colour united a nationwide system of patriots fighting for all Americans “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights,” just as the Declaration of Independence had proclaimed. 

Through a Legacy of Godly Leadership 

 In March 1831, Allen passed away, shortly after the historic beginnings of the National Convention Movement.  One wonders if Allen, as a young slave, could ever have imagined that God would use him to found one of Philadelphia’s first black churches, establish a denomination, set the stage for Massachusetts’ abolition of slavery, and begin the National Convention Movement devoted to civil rights.  Allen’s story exemplifies how God can use one life to execute His righteousness on the earth.   

We’ll see you next week as we discuss how you can affect change in civil government and admonish our nation’s leadership to act righteously.   

RELATED SITES:

 Africans in America: Richard Allen   

 REFERENCES:

 Alexander, E. Curtis.  Richard Allen. New York: ECA Associates, 1985.  

Mathews, Marcia M.  Richard Allen.  Baltimore: Helicon, 1963.   

Wesley, Charles H.  Richard Allen: Apostle of Freedom.  Washington, D. C.: The Associated Publishers, 1969.    

Newman, Richard S.  Freedom’s Prophet: Bishop Richard Allen, the AME Church, and the Black Founding Fathers.  New York: New York University Press, 2008.    

Admonishing Leadership to Act Righteously, Part V

Series: How Faith Shapes Government, Part V – By Dr. Kelli Criss

Last week, we discussed the life of an African American pillar of faith, Reverend Richard Allen, who shaped early America’s church and lit the sparks of the modern civil rights movement.  Today’s blog, Admonishing Leadership to Act Righteously, Part V, explores Allen’s fight for the civil rights of Philadelphia’s black community and his admonition to the faith community to act righteously. 

Admonishing the Church to Act Righteously: Walking Out for Freedom 

In Pennsylvania, a Philadelphia congregation, St. George’s, founded for and lead by whites, often welcomed Allen’s preaching.  A 1780 Pennsylvania law gradually emancipating slaves carved a role for Philadelphia as a refuge for runaway Southern slaves.  As Allen preached at the early Sunday service at St. George’s church, the congregation filled with black members.  Another later Sunday service, considered the main service, also filled with black members.  St. George’s leadership implemented rules to limit African American attendance at the main Sunday service by providing seating only along the walls for blacks.  

Subsequently, as they attended the main service on Sunday, Allen and fellow African Americans were relegated to gallery seats only.  During this particular service, black congregants and Allen, who were seated in the gallery, kneeled for the prayer.  Allen, distracted by motion nearby, gazed over in time to see a white church trustee forcing his friend, Absalom Jones, to rise from his prayers.  The trustee informed Jones he couldn’t kneel in his current location.  Jones asked that the trustee wait until prayer ended.  The trustee called over another white trustee.  Yet another man, William White, was pulled up from his kneeling position to be moved by the white trustees.   

The African American congregants chose then to leave St. George’s, at that moment.  Such a decisive action in the early American church was incredibly historic.  Such a “walk out” of African American congregants consisting of myriad former slaves was the first of its kind in our nation’s history.  As during the trials of his earliest ministry on the New England circuits, Allen again experienced the goodness of God amid trouble.   

The Beginning of a Church for Philadelphia’s Black Faith Community 

St. George’s segregation denied many of Philadelphia’s African American Christians a place of worship; however, Allen and three close fellow sojourners, Absalom Jones, William White, Dorus Ginnings, knew God would use them to begin the journey toward founding their own Methodist Episcopal church.  They desired to establish a church in which blacks could worship without racism.  In the face of threats from St. George’s white elders to revoke their Methodist Episcopal membership, a 27-year-old Allen and his three brothers in Christ began prayer meetings.  Even these meetings occurred in defiance of St. George’s white leadership.  Allen set about fundraising to prepare for founding a church to serve Philadelphia’s black community and to operate the Free African Society.   

Born Together: The American Nation and the Free African Society 

At this watershed moment in American history, the adoption of the Free African Society’s articles of association coincided with the 1787 meeting of the Constitutional Convention.  Philadelphia’s Independence Hall hosted the Constitutional Convention beginning May 25, 1787 while Allen’s nearby home held the May 17th, 1787 inaugural meeting of the Free African society.  The momentous significance of the Free African Society’s inaugural meeting is twofold: a) it preceded the Constitutional Convention and b) it was the first entity of its kind devoted to, led by, and operated by devoted black people of faith.  What a tremendous indication of the importance of America’s birth as a nation where all people are created equally under God.  As a people of faith, we thank God for the significance of Allen’s leadership for our entire nation and for the kingdom of God.   

RELATED SITES:

Africans in America: Richard Allen

REFERENCES:

Alexander, E. Curtis.  Richard Allen. New York: ECA Associates, 1985.  

Mathews, Marcia M.  Richard Allen.  Baltimore: Helicon, 1963.   

Wesley, Charles H.  Richard Allen: Apostle of Freedom.  Washington, D. C.: The Associated Publishers, 1969.    

Newman, Richard S.  Freedom’s Prophet: Bishop Richard Allen, the AME Church, and the Black Founding Fathers.  New York: New York University Press, 2008. 

Admonishing Leadership to Act Righteously, Part IV

Series: How Faith Shapes Government, Part IV – By Dr. Kelli Criss

Last week, we focused upon how an imprisoned Paul confronted the Roman governor, Felix.  Today’s blog, Admonishing Leadership to Act Righteously, Part IV studies the life of an African American pillar of faith, Reverend Richard Allen. Through his leadership and faith, Reverend Allen shaped the church during America’s earliest years and blazed a trail for the modern civil rights movement.   

The remarkable power of God within Allen’s life is too commanding for only one blog, so Allen is the focus of two upcoming blogs as well. Today, we delve, particularly, into how Allen admonished leaders in society and the faith community to act righteously.  

Liberty for America and Allen

Allen worked from the age of seven in the fields of a Delaware plantation owner, Stokely Sturgis.  At the age of seventeen in 1777, Allen became a man of faith because of Methodist camp meetings occurring in the woods near the Delaware plantation where he was enslaved.  Thus, his faith blossomed just as America emerged as a nation.

Both blacks, free and enslaved, along with whites attended the camp meetings.  Preachers came weekly to teach at the meetings attended by Allen and some of his siblings.  Upon hearing about the meetings, local plantation owners told Allen’s master, Sturgis, that slaves should be prohibited from attending. 

Allen and his brother decided to use daily hard work to prove to Sturgis that involvement in the camp meetings and their faith made them better people in every way.  They wanted Sturgis to witness that faith enhanced people’s lives.  Allen and his brother planted spiritual seeds to help Sturgis become open to hearing the Methodist preachers who taught about freedom in Christ.

Allen’s faith was so strong that even at the age of seventeen, he knew God could change the beliefs of the plantation master.  If Sturgis could hear the gospel and be influenced by Allen and his brother’s own hard work and faith, then Sturgis would serve Christ and be convicted by the Holy Spirit to allow Allen to be free.  What a testimony of faith in God’s power to convict a man of his sin and to lead him to repentance!

God’s Intervention: A Master’s Salvation and a Slave’s Freedom  

Allen talked with Sturgis to ask about inviting a preacher to come to the plantation and Sturgis agreed.  A Methodist preacher did come to the plantation to preach about the gospel and to condemn slavery.  Many other preachers came weekly for months.  The message of the gospel pierced Sturgis’ conscience and enabled him to see that slavery was contrary to the Bible’s principles.  Sturgis suggested to Allen and his brother a plan for them to buy their freedom for 2,000 continental dollars or 60 pounds in gold and silver.  By the age of 20, Allen bought his freedom.

The Free African Society: Unifying Under the Gospel

As a free man in a newly birthed America, Allen spent his days cutting and selling wood and brickmaking at a brickyard.  Evenings and Sundays were spent sharing the gospel with neighbors.  This initial period of ministry brought various illnesses like rheumatism for Allen who was only 24 years old when he traveled through New England preaching.  Constant arduous travel in the elements was the source of his illnesses.  Not surprisingly, Allen’s woes coexisted with tremendous blessings, particularly, through his relationships with fellow sojourners, both black and white.  Across the nation, a Second Great Awakening unfolded.  (The First Great Awakening deluged the colonies as the country prepared for the American Revolution.) 

Through Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Connecticut, Allen and fellow ministers shared the gospel along the “circuits” or communities where ministers were sent to visit.  In Pennsylvania, a Philadelphia congregation, St. George’s, often welcomed Allen’s preaching.  At this time, Philadelphia’s population, port, and commerce exploded.  A 1780 Pennsylvania law gradually emancipating slaves carved a role for Philadelphia as a refuge for runaway Southern slaves. 

The burgeoning black population caught Allen’s attention.  He observed the economic and spiritual needs of Philadelphia’s inhabitants and ministered through forming a Free African Society.  This society, established in 1787, was a catalyst for unifying blacks under godly leadership.  The unity and identity formed among Free African Society leaders and those to whom it ministered, ultimately, led to Philadelphia’s first black churches.

Next week, join us for a discussion of Allen’s fight for the civil rights of Philadelphia’s black community and his admonition to the faith community to act righteously.

RELATED SITES:

Africans in America: Richard Allen  

REFERENCES:

Alexander, E. Curtis.  Richard Allen. New York: ECA Associates, 1985. 

Mathews, Marcia M.  Richard Allen.  Baltimore: Helicon, 1963.  

Wesley, Charles H.  Richard Allen: Apostle of Freedom.  Washington, D. C.: The Associated Publishers, 1969.   

Newman, Richard S.  Freedom’s Prophet: Bishop Richard Allen, the AME Church, and the Black Founding Fathers.  New York: New York University Press, 2008.   

Admonishing Leadership to Act Righteously, Part III

Series: How Faith Shapes Government, Part III – By Dr. Kelli Criss

Welcome back to our series, How Faith Shapes Government.  In Part II, our blog described how God used Joseph to shape civil government.  This week, Admonishing Leadership to Act Righteously, Part III, explores the truth of God’s dominion and a New Testament example of the leadership of people of faith. 

God’s Dominion – A Biblical Worldview 

As people of faith, we understand that God reigns over the destiny and leaders of our nation and the entire world.  Last week, we described Joseph’s role in the preservation of the Egyptian people and leadership during a seven-year famine.  God’s dominion over the world was clearly evident during Egypt’s national crisis. Let’s consider several truths from the Scriptures further exemplifying the dominion of God: a) God rules over all the world’s leaders; b) God reigns over even the boundaries of every nation; and c) God reigns over all nations and people. 

God rules over all the world’s leaders. 

“The Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men (Dan. 4:16).”  

“The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will (Prov. 21:1).”  

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” (Rom. 13.1) 

God reigns over even the boundaries of every nation. 

“And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place (Acts 17:26).”  

God reigns over all nations and people. 

“For kingship belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations (Ps. 22:28).”  

“Who rules by his might forever, whose eyes keep watch on the nations – let not the rebellious exalt themselves (Ps. 66:7).” 

With this Biblical worldview, we make sense of the world.  Sharing our Biblical worldview with the public arena’s leadership is one way that people of faith affirm the dominion of God over all things.  We admonish civil authorities, as Daniel proclaimed, to “break off your sins by practicing righteousness and your inequities by showing mercy to the oppressed” (Dan. 4:27). 

New Testament Example: Imprisoned Paul Confronts a Roman Governor 

In the book of Acts, we observe an imprisoned Paul sharing a Biblical worldview with secular leadership.  In Caesarea, Paul admonished the Roman governor, Felix, while he faced trial during his imprisonment.  Paul “reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment” (Acts 24:25).  The governor, Felix, “was alarmed and said, ‘Go away for the present.’” (Acts 24:25).  Hearing of God’s pending judgement being imminent for everyone, Felix was “alarmed” as he heard the certain condemnation faced by all the Roman Empire.  We see in this example, Paul executing his responsibility to confront civil government with the truth of God’s righteousness and dominion, even at his own trial. 

Interestingly enough, the conversation did not end at this point. Felix’s greed drove him as he “hoped that money would be given to him by Paul” when Felix “sent for him often and conversed with” Paul (Acts 25:26).  Although Felix’s greed was not satisfied by any exchange of money, Felix continued to converse with Paul.  If their initial conversation was any indication of their continued discussions, Felix experienced an earful about the reality of God’s dominion over humanity.  How remarkable that even as an imprisoned person of faith, Paul spoke God’s truth to a Roman governor.   

Faith during Trials 

Many Americans of faith experience silencing of their Biblical worldview and violating of their religious rights that are sanctioned by various American government branches (e.g., Obama-appointed judge rules that healthcare workers with strongly held religious convictions are prohibited from abstaining from various procedures like abortion which defy their faith).  At Florida FFC, we observe these struggles within our national faith family and consider the boldness with which Paul addressed Felix.   

We draw strength from God as well as from our connection with fellow sojourners who travel the journey of faith with us.  Like Paul, we experience faith during our trials through the grace of God to speak truth to people in power who are under God’s dominion, whether they acknowledge it or not.   

Next week, we invite you to experience the life of an African American pillar of faith, Reverend Richard Allen, who shaped the church during America’s earliest years and blazed a trail for the modern civil rights movement.   

REFERENCES:

Grudem, W. (2010). Politics according to the Bible: A Comprehensive resource for understanding modern political issues in light of Scripture. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.