I was struck while reading Richard Allen’s on his strict devotion to Methodism. On page 149, he says, “I could not be anything else but a Methodist, as I was born and awakened under them.” There is no doubt that Richard Allen is a devout Christian, but clearly he sees “his” faith, Methodism, as somehow different, possibly even better in some way, to other denominations. I guess I’m left wondering, why? If he’s so passionate about a God that sees equality, and saves regardless of any differences or sins, why is Methodism, in general, better than Lutheranism, Presbyterianism, or the Baptists? He is quoted as writing, “I was confident that there was no religious sect or denomination [that] would suit the capacity of the colored people as well as the Methodist” (Sernett, 149). On the same page he calls Methodism “plain and simple gospel” but isn’t that attribute applicable to most Protestant denominations, who preach simply the Word of God?
Allen’s one master was also a unique individual. He encouraged Allen and other slaves to attend church, saying “if I am not good myself, I like to see you striving yourselves to be good” (Sernett 141). This is one of the first instances we see a role reversal – slave is good, master is not good. Usually in this time in history, it would be seen as the other way around. But then, this master was a rarity in that he was not a Christian himself. He was in the minority opinion that “religion made slaves better and not worse” (Sernett, 141), contrary to some individuals we talked about last week. If Allen had had a different master, would his faith had continued on the same path, would he become the accomplished figure we know of today? Our foundations as human beings set us up for successes or failures, and by luck or, as he might say, the grace of God, he was allowed a life of religion and a conversion experience that set the course of his life, and all those he preached to, led to God, and established within his community of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Richard Allen, founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 1760-1831