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The Life of James Stewart
Ethiopianism


Its History — Aims—Growth-—Division-—Fruits-—Conference at Johannesburg—Mzimbaism—A Surprising Parallel— The Bishop of Kafraria.

‘Trifles are the occasions but not the causes of Revolutions.’—Aristorl.

‘The Native would need the Anglo-Saxon alongside of him for the next fifty or one hundred years.’—Mackay of Uganda.

I am largely indebted to an article in the Ailgemeine Missions Zeilschrift for 1902, translated by Mrs. Stormont of Blythswood. I have also borrowed from the admirable statement about Ethiopianism in the Report of the first General Missionary Conference held at Johannesburg in 1904.

That Report is based upon a series of papers in the Lovedale Christian Express.

THE Ethiopian Church had a great influence upon Stewart’s last years. It was one of the sorest disappointments of his life, and yet it contributed to the fulfilment of one of his greatest dreams. It therefore claims a chapter in his biography.

Its History.—This movement took a definite form in the early eighties. It began with the native assistants. Their position was a trying one. In many stations they did the most of the work, but as they were not ordained, they could not celebrate marriages, or baptize, or dispense the Lord’s Supper. They had also a lower salary and status than the white missionary, and they felt more or less isolated both from the blacks and the whites. Being somewhat educated, they wished to better their position, and the more ambitious wished to make a rapid ascent of the social ladder. They had also an awakening sense of power and racial responsibility. Social and political avenues were closed against them, but the church seemed to offer a highway to increased influence. They were, no doubt, also moved by the bearing of white men, many of whom would not worship in the same building with them. Ethiopianism is the reply of the native to the unfriendly attitude of the colonist in the press, on the platform, and in private life. It was thus the product of the many subtle and complex influences which create the ferment and ‘growing pains’ of national adolescence.

Even the Apostle found it very difficult to weld into one society the Hebrew and the Hellene, two races with two languages. The effort to unite the Saxon and the Gael—two races with two languages—in the United Free Church of Scotland has recently led to a disruption. The corresponding difficulties in South Africa have been intensified by colour, by extreme social distinctions, by foreign domination, and by the aftermaths of war. All these smouldering embers were easily stirred into a flame.

Ethiopianism was chiefly a minister’s movement. The schism began in the Wesleyan Church at Pretoria in 1892, and in 1896 the Rev. James Dwane, a Wesleyan evangelist, became the leader of the movement. Many members seceded from the Wesleyan and Episcopal churches.

Dwane had visited England in 1894, and several sums of money were then entrusted to him. On his return many questions arose. Was that money a gift to the missionary or the mission? Was it for his own mission or for the general mission-work? Was it to be expended by himself or by the Committee? These questions were the occasion, and probably also one of the causes, of his secession.

Another element in this movement is the native’s hereditary delight in fighting. As this tendency cannot now be gratified on the battlefield, it often reveals itself in politics, in church life, and especially in litigation. ‘All the Kafirs are naturally lawyers,’ Stewart says, ‘and very sharp ones too.’

In designating their Church, the leaders wished to avoid the name ‘African,’ and they chose the title ‘Church of Ethiopia.’ It has the three recommendations of being distinctive, biblical (Acts viii. 27), and popular. It is a well-chosen rallying cry. ‘Ethiopianism’ is now applied to all independent, religious, and social or political societies under native management.

Its Aim.—The avowed aim was excellent. It was to plant a self-supporting, self-governing, self-propagating Native Church, which would produce a truly African type of Christianity suited to the genius and needs of the race, and not be merely a black copy of any European Church. All the home churches had from the first avowed the same aim. [On Stewart’s appointment to Lovedale in 1866, the Committee drew up a minute as to its future management, in which this passage occurs: ‘So soon as native congregations are formed, the care of them ought, as speedily as possible, to be consigned to a native pastorate. . . in time to be supported by natives themselves, while the Europeans should be free to press on to the regions beyond.’] The foreign mission was a f9ster-nurse for the rearing of an infant native church that should by and by be able to stand alone. All would admit that for Africa’s redemption, the African must be the chosen instrument. Christianity can adapt itself to all races and individualities, and it is an historical fact that it never has taken root in any land till, as in Britain and Germany, a native church had been formed under native ministers. Stewart believed that there should be native churches composed of natives only, for he held that as soon as the natives were in a majority, the whites would separate from them. In this opinion he differed from the home church.

The avowed aim of the Ethiopian movement was good, but the missionaries believed that it was premature, and that it derived much of its strength from inferior motives, though it was a proof that the African was awakening from the slumber, not of decades, but of centuries.

The Native Affairs Commissioners say: ‘The Church Separatist or Ethiopian movement has as its origin a desire on the part of a section of the Christianised natives to be freed from control by European Churches. Its ranks are recruited from every denomination carrying on extensive operations in South Africa, and there is in each case little or no doctrinal divergence from the tenets of the parent Church, though it is alleged, and the Commission fears with truth, that relaxed strictness in the moral standard maintained frequently follows. It is the outcome of a desire on the part of the natives for ecclesiastical self-support and self-control, first taking tangible form in the secession of discontented and restless spirits from religious bodies under the supervision of European missionaries without any previous external incitation thereto. Further, that upon the affiliation of certain of these seceders and their followings to the African Methodist Episcopal Church, lamentable want of discrimination was displayed by the first emissaries to South Africa in ordination to the ministry of unsuitable men.’

Stewart gave very interesting evidence about Ethiopianism before the Native Affairs Commission in the end of 1904. His opinion about it then was much more unfavourable than it had been in previous years.

Its Growth.—It was resolved to seek affiliation with the Methodist Episcopal Church of U.S.A. which has a section entirely composed of blacks. It was founded because of the ‘evils arising from the unkind treatment of their white brethren, who considered them a nuisance in the house of worship, and even pulled them off their knees when in the act of prayer, and ordered them to the back seats.’ The American Methodist Episcopal Church sent over Dr. Turner, a coloured bishop, who toured the country with great flourish, and gave a great impetus to Ethiopianism. In six weeks he received members into the Church by the thousand, ordained sixty ministers and deacons on their face value, and welcomed into fellowship at a few hours’ notice many seceding congregations and pastors.

The Ethiopians were greatly excited. Oh, they were going to annex Rhodesia—Mr. Rhodes had given permission for that—and Egypt, and Soudan, and Abyssinia. The bishop wrote to Menelik, king of Abyssinia. He was quite ready to start and visit the king as soon as he got the money from America. They would found a negro church for all Africa, and Africa would be evangelised by genuine Africans. The hope was held out that the Africans might found a great African Republic.

In his Kafir Socialism, Dudley Kidd shows how an average native chief regards the pretensions of the Ethiopian. ‘You are the coming men, and you are going to do without the white man ?—Are you?—Did you build your church yourself? Did you make the iron in it, the door, the glass? Did you make the books you use? Did you weave the clothes you wear?’ To all these questions the Ethiopian has to answer ‘No.’ ‘You owe all these to the white man, and how are you to get on without him?’ The thoughtful natives know right well that the white missionaries are their best friends.

Its Divisions.—The coloured bishop did his best to foster race-prejudice and disloyalty to the Government, and to make Ethiopianism an anti-white crusade. But it soon began to divide and subdivide: division is the weakness of the Africans in Church and State. It was engineered, too, by men not always of good repute, some of whom were fugitives from discipline. Any and all who presented themselves were ordained, and members were drawn over from all the missions.

In 1899 Dwane, the leader, was admitted into the Anglican Church, and was made Provincial of the new ‘order of Ethiopia,’ which was founded to welcome his followers. The name was a great concession to the Ethiopians.

The Fruits.—Stewart wrote: ‘The effect of this method is to create a Cave of Adullam for the restless and dissatisfied, and to weaken the discipline of other churches. Nominally a church movement, it contains a strong, perhaps dangerous political element. By itself it is not likely, at least for some time, to be either in government, doctrine, or practice, much of a blessing to native Christianity in South Africa. Its aim seems to be a kind of ecclesiastical Home Rule, and it has done nothing but mischief.

‘The name Ethiopian Church was admirably conceived as an appeal both to race and religion, though probably race more than religion had to do with the whole movement. There was a good deal said at first about the Ethiopians going to evangelise the heathens. If that meant to the outside or distant heathen, none as yet have gone.’

‘Africa for the Africans’ is the motto of the Ethiopian movement, [A few months ago, His Highness Prince Bandele Omoniyi (a West African educated at Edinburgh University) published A Defence of the Ethiopian Movement. He regards it as almost entirely a political movement, and he claims social and political equality for all adult British subjects in Africa, irrespective of race, creed, or colour. He also advocates the fusion of the black and white races by intermarriage, but he advertises out of a Black Man’s Republic. The essential difficulties of the problem are entirely ignored.] says Naylor, ‘and through it the African strikes at the missionaries, the one class of foreigners upon whom he can depend for fair treatment and the highest service. The movement embitters the native, intensifies the race problem, and threatens to extend northward.’ It is believed to be to some extent responsible for the uprising of the natives in German South Africa, and the ensuing bloodshed.

Ethiopianism has become very much a Home Rule movement, and it is charged with having made a compromise with heathenism. It is not doing mission-work among the natives, and it threatens to become ‘the parasite of African missions.’ All the elements of discord are fostered by it, and its recruits are gathered from all the missions, but it has created nothing. It is without unity or leadership. Powerful to disturb and destroy, its career has been like the torrent accompanying a thunder - shower, which loses itself in the sand, leaving only a discoloured sediment. It adds its current to the terrible undertow that makes for a carnal Christianity.

The Missionary Conference at Johannesburg in 1904 adopted the following resolution:—‘ This Conference deplores (1) the fact that the Ethiopian bodies should so often display an utter lack of regard for the principles of Christian comity by entering fields already occupied, and by proselytising therein; (2) the lowering of the standard of Christian morals through lax discipline, and the fostering of schism in the Church of Christ; (3) the intensification of the distrust existing between the two great races of this land by the emphasis which Ethiopianism is placing upon the colour line.

‘This Conference understands Ethiopianism to be the effort in South Africa to establish churches independent of European missionary control, and on racial lines; the quickening power of the Gospel and the unavoidable contact of the native with European civilisation have produced an awakening amongst the natives throughout South Africa; Ethiopianism is largely a misdirected use of their new-born energy; for the present at least it would seem to require not so much repression as careful guidance.’

Ethiopianism has brought much sorrow to many missionaries. ‘It broke Mr. Coillard’s heart,’ his biographer says, ‘and hastened his end.’ His own son in the faith, who owed everything to him, wrote a letter under the heading :—‘ Reply from the Reverend W. J. Mokalapa, Arch-elder, Overseer, Director of the Training Institute, President of the District Conference, Presiding Elder of Barotsiland, Central Africa.’

Mzimbaism.—Stewart closely watched the movements of Ethiopianism, and devoted to it many able articles in the Christian Express. But he did not then dream that it was to come to his own door. The Rev. P. I. Mzimba had been one of the leading pupils of Lovedale, and he had acted there as ordained minister of the native congregation for twenty-two years. Stewart and his friends had bestowed upon him exceptional kindness. But in 1898, without warning, he resigned his position, drew off with him two-thirds of the congregation, and founded the ‘African Presbyterian Church,’ forgetting his ordination vows ‘to maintain the unity of the Church against error and schism.’ He persisted in retaining properties with the custody of which he had been officially entrusted. These included £1361, several buildings, and many records and documents. As representing the Foreign Mission Committee of the Church at home and the donors, the Presbytery was constrained to appeal to the law courts, and Mzimba was ordered to restore the goods he had appropriated. He is a Fingo, and nearly all in his church are Fingoes. Tribal influences have had a large share in the movements. The Fingoes were originally the slaves of the Kafirs,—their ‘dogs’ they called them—though they have now outstripped their former masters. All the Kafirs were loyal when the Fingoes sided with Mzimba.

The trouble began with Mzimba as with his friend Dwane. When in Scotland several people, from the very best motives, gave him sums of money for his church, and he claimed the right of using these as he thought best. [It is not surprising that the Moravians have adopted the following rule :—‘ We also disapprove of bringing converts to Europe on any pretext whatever, and think it would lead them into danger of injury to their own souls.’ Some of the most distressing troubles in missions among Jews and Gentiles have been created by the liberality of good people who have given money to converts visiting this country, instead of giving it to responsible committees. This practice is to a certain extent responsible for the origin of Ethiopianism, of which Mzimbaism is an off-shoot. An ‘Independent Mission’ is one dependent on foreign aid, while the missionary is independent of those whose guidance he needs. Money without the usual business control has proved a great snare to many.]

This secession brought peculiar sorrow to Stewart, for in the early days Mzimba had been to him as his own son in the faith. This great sorrow was ever before him, for Mzimba’s church and manse were on the hill-top overlooking Lovedale.

Stewart’s legal adviser thus describes this episode:—‘That matter aged Dr. Stewart perceptibly. How he felt it all in the inmost depths of his soul! Advice was taken from the first counsel in the Colony, the position made clear, and the remedy pointed out. The issue could not be evaded, all efforts to arrange a peaceful settlement had been repulsed. . . Hard things were said, wrong statements made, grave reflections were cast upon him. These did not fail to wound, for underlying the deep strength of the man there lay a vein of keen sensitiveness. . .. Dr. Stewart received his justification in the Mzimba action at the hands of the Chief-Justice of this Colony, but he never was the same man afterwards. That bitter time left a scar upon his heart that I believe he felt each day until he died.’

Ethiopianism, however, gave a decisive impulse to a scheme which had been in Stewart’s heart for thirty years. About one hundred Ethiopians had gone to the United States of America to receive in a Negro College a higher education than was within their reach at home. Their minds had been poisoned with hatred of the white man and his rule. This fact persuaded many leading statesmen that they must provide a college for the natives. If Ethiopianism thus brought to Stewart great sorrow, it also brought him, indirectly, not a little joy.

The early history of Ethiopianism has been exactly repeated in a surprising fashion. The ‘Legal’ Free Church of Scotland were urging their claim for a share of the Mackinnon Bequest of £150,000 for missions in Africa. At the same time two disappointed native probationers in the neighbourhood of Lovedale were eager for ordination, and had failed to gain it by the usual methods. They claimed to be faithful adherents of the old Free Church of Scotland, and lifted up their protest against the Union. Last year two deputies from the Legal Free Church visited the African dissentients. Not in Plutarch’s Lives can we find so close a parallel as unites the early careers of the Negro Bishop and the White Deputies. In the reports of the two deputations we observe the same royal welcome, the same display of native horsemanship, the same eagerness of native missionaries for ordination, the same readiness to accept the applicants’ estimates of their own qualifications, the same forgetfulness of the Apostolic injunction to ‘lay hands suddenly on no man,’ the same eloquent congratulations, the same fostering of divisions and alienations. But the parallel is not perfect. The friends of the Negro Bishop understood perfectly what they wanted: it is not easy to believe that the followers of the White Deputies did so. They professed to understand the questions about which there were conflicting opinions among the Law Lords in England and Scotland. The Kafir language has no word for the establishment of the Church by the State, the dogma upon which the House of Lords based its decision. If a passable equivalent could be found for the ‘principle of Church establishment,’ it would probably convey no meaning to the native mind. Many of those whom the deputies welcomed could neither read nor write. In Scotland a probationer from another Church is admitted only after a prolonged and careful process which is fixed by Church law. But the Scotch deputies refused to meet with the missionaries formerly in the same Church-communion with themselves, who could have given them reliable information about the applicants. They telegraphed home for permission to ordain the native probationers, and ordained them on the spot.

Ere long the Negro Bishop  [Here is part of a recent speech by the Bishop of Kafraria. ‘He would like to say that he thought if the old Free Church at home knew how it was being exploited by designing natives, how men who had no character whatever had succeeded in using them to empty churches of old Free Church missionaries who spent their lives among the natives, he thought they would be very sorry that they had ever been so deluded. The natives were very sharp. They did not understand the subtle point of discipline which separated the Free Church from the United Free Church. He was afraid the Free Church thought they did. The natives understood that where waters were troubled it might be good to fish. They saw there was a dispute, and they were always spoiling for a fight—if it was anything of a legal fight so much the better. They were devoted litigants. When he saw this trouble was on, a native ex-Presbyterian minister saw his opportunity, and he cabled home to the Free Church more than once to say: "We have not joined the union. We are quite disposed to remain under the old status"—he had lost his status long ago—"and we are quite prepared to manage these properties for you "—to manage Lovedale—(laughter)—and other large stations. There was just a chance that they might get these stations to manage. It was a desperate delusion. To them who knew the natives it was incredible that they should have any interest in the matter at issue. It had been most pathetic to watch these good missionaries going to their churches on Sunday mornings and finding their places nearly empty simply from these intrigues.’] was deeply disappointed with his efforts at church-making, and was disposed to admire the horsemanship more than the churchmanship of the Ethiopians. Time will show whether the parallel between the Negro and the Scottish deputies will be as close in its sequel as it was in its beginning.


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