The Cure for Racism in America? Ask Lemuel Haynes

Romans 14:12 “Each of us shall give an account of himself before God.”

In his 1792 sermon “The Character and Work of a Spiritual Watchman Described,” Pastor Lemuel Haynes explained to his all-white congregation in Rutland, Vermont, the five traits a pastor must possess to be an effective servant of Jesus Christ. First, he must love Christ and love proclaiming His name to all who would hear. Second, he must understand the spiritual enemies whom he is engaging. Third, he must be patient with everyone to whom he ministers. Fourth, he must be courageous and strong-hearted. And fifth, he must also be alert to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with all who would allow him.

He goes on to explain that pastors have the same responsibility as all of us – they must seek to please only God. He emphasized that the work of a pastor is to be an ambassador for Jesus Christ, dedicating one’s life to caring for his congregation with the anticipation of one day returning them to their Heavenly Father.

Why such an emphasis on living a life that radiates a passion for Jesus Christ? Because, as Pastor Haynes explains as he closed his sermon, one day we will all meet Him: “When we stand before Him, we shall give an account of our stewardship—what we have taught His children, what model or example we have provided, whether we have tended to the state of their souls, and most importantly, whether we spoke reproachfully or gloriously of their True Father.”

As you read this, you may think this sounds like any sermon you would expect from a pastor in America. But the America of 1792 was a much different place than the privileged America of today. You see, Pastor Lemuel Haynes was born into slavery in 1753, and then at 27 years old became a preacher, and then again in 1785 became the first black pastor in America. In 1804 he received a Masters of Arts degree from Middlebury College – the first black American to achieve this accomplishment. But maybe the most incredible part of his story is he pastored his all-white church for over 30 years.

If he was alive today, I wonder what he would make of NFL players refusing to stand and place their hand over their heart during the national anthem. At 21, after being freed from slavery, he joined the Minutemen and in October 1776 he joined the Continental Army, becoming part of the American Revolution.

Dedicating his life at an early age to the gospel of Jesus Christ, he knew that to be free from tyranny and oppression requires a personal conviction to defend liberty. Not by protesting the flag and the anthem, cherished symbols of the nation he loved, that gave him his freedom. But by defending America’s enduring message, that all men are created equal by God, against anyone who would seek to destroy her.

And I wonder what Pastor Haynes would think of Bishop James Dukes in Chicago, who is campaigning to have the statue of George Washington on horseback removed from parks on the South Side of Chicago, where the populations are predominantly black, because these statues are monuments that honor slave owners. Pastor Haynes would take issue with Bishop Dukes. You see, Lemuel Haynes was a lifelong admirer of Washington. He outspokenly explained his political views based on, as he put it, the “idealization of George Washington and allegiance to the Federalist Party.”

How could this make any sense, since Haynes was a slave until 21 years old and had written that any African has an undeniable right to his liberty, condemning slavery as sin, and pointed out the irony of slaveowners fighting for their own liberty while denying it to others?

He deeply respected the sacrifice Washington and many others, regardless of skin color, were willing to make so that all men could be free. And he understood the foundation upon which men like Washington built their conviction – the Person of Jesus Christ. He realized that all men must come together in their flaws and unite around the One who had no flaws. Are the acts of kneeling during the national anthem and removing statues of leaders from the American Revolution bringing us together by glorifying our Lord and Savior? If the answer is no, then they are worthless. They have no enduring value.

Pastor Haynes knew the purpose of this life. As the Westminster Confession explains, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” He fully understood the message of our verse for this week – that one day, he would have to give an account before Christ Himself of his life. Did he squander it with protests for national attention to his cause, or did he center his life on bringing national attention to the gospel of Jesus Christ? Like Pastor Haynes, each of us will also give this same account before Him one day.

“The Evidence of Faith’s Substance”, Article #266

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