July 20, 2011
Alexander Campbell arrives in the United States from Ireland as the first decade of the 1800’s closes. Two realities impressed Campbell when he arrived in the United States. The concept of States agreeing to be separate but one, thus United, came to influence his thinking concerning unity of the church. Second, the power he attained the moment he arrived. Though the phrase Manifest Destiny was yet to come, upon arriving to the U.S. Alexander quickly found the slavery issue deeply mattered and the difference in power white folk held compared to folk of color was large. These two issues, unity and white power, were to shape Campbell’s faith, impact his writings, and in turn, influence the theology and judicatory structure of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) (Disciple).
Campbell was a man of his time. As an immigrant to the soil of North America, Campbell bought into the traditional U.S. perspective of privilege—God ordained whites to have dominion in this landscape. This should be of no surprise because as a white-free-land owning-educated-male Campbell acquires great privilege. There is little wonder Campbell adopts the American power construct—the chosen-people mindset, hook, line, and sinker. Campbell’s social thought, theology and writings reflect his systemic privilege and power.
As an immigrant, one who chooses to live in a land different from birth, Campbell has a deep desire for his chosen nation to be the best. Therefore, Campbell takes the social concept of manifest destiny, adds a touch of theology (Protestantism), mixes in White superiority, and develops a social construct for Disciples. Writing “The Destiny of Our Country” in the August 1852 edition of the Millennial Harbinger, Campbell pronounces,
In our countries destiny is involved the destiny of Protestantism, and in its destiny the destiny of all the nations of the world. God has given, in awful charge, to Protestant England and Protestant America—the Anglo-Saxon race—the fortunes, not of Christendom only, but of all the world.
As the slavery issue heats up, Campbell becomes more and more uneasy. When the Methodist church splits over the slavery issue, Campbell becomes deeply concerned for the unity of the young Disciple movement. To maintain unity, Campbell settles on a systemic-judicatory structure which benefits white folk and white congregations. Though he feels his “education [is] strongly prejudiced against” slavery, unity calls him to choose White privilege because “as Paul once affirmed of a certain class of ‘all things,’ so I affirm slavery in the present day.” Therefore, when Campbell writes,
Much as I may sympathize with a black man, I love the white man more,
he endorses a homogeneous church system that places white folk first and theologically supports Aquinas’ argument of soul layering, which, places the white soul just a notch over the soul of color.
© David B. Bell 2011
Now you’ve done it, Dave. So much for being a “Campbellite.”
Well, yeah, I reckon so…
I cannot help but wonder that though we have over a century and a half between us and the days Campbell and his peers began forming us, if we Disciples have the fortitude to engage our past truthfully (even from multiple individual perspectives) and allow that truth to guide us in reforming Disciples (can we call it Campbellite?) structure to give accountability to our sisters and brothers of color.