"The redemptive, humanizing influence of Christ"


In his lengthy (almost 100 pages) chapter on the conflict between Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Dubois, Gary Dorrien takes a detour to discuss Alexander Crummell, whom DuBois met at Wilberforce and was a mentor and influence on his development.   Here is Dorrien's opening description of Crummell:

Alexander Crummell was an Episcopal priest, an intellectual, an Anglophile, and a former missionary and Liberian nationalist.  Like many black nationalists, he was an authoritarian collectivist and racial separatist, in his case with a social gospel theology, a puritanical/Victorian moral code, an American Federalist political philosophy, a romantic idealistic racialism, and a deep admiration for Plato.

What a complex description!

Crummell is one of the figures Dorrien believes is overlooked and thus part of the reason for this volume on black social gospel theology.  Crummell was essential in developing that theology.  Here, for instance, is a paragraph in which Dorrien treats of Crummell's christology.

To be sure, Crummell allowed, Christ had not yet abolished war, but "he has been abolishing war through all the centuries through, by the humanization which He has introduced into the policy of nations."  Under the influence of Christ, the world grasped that it is a "brutish, heathen" thing to love war.  Similarly, Crummell saw the redemptive, humanizing influence of Christ "in the suppression of the slave trade, in the destruction of piracy, in the abolition of slavery, in the reformation of prisons, in the progress of the temperance cause, in the improvement of tenement houses, in the increase of hospitals and infirmaries; in the care of the blind, the deaf, and the dumb; in the godly efforts to prevent the ravages of licentiousness; and in the merciful endeavors to save the victims of prostitution!"  Thought Christ took on flesh only briefly, suffering insult and crucifixion for his blessedness, "yet His divine face, the odor of His sanctity, the glories of His nature, and the mystical power of His resurrection come streaming down the centuries."

What a splendid paragraph!

Dorrien writes that DuBois was affected not only by Crummell's theology but viewed Crummell himself as something of a Christ-figure who had to "battle against hate, despair, and doubt" and face sharp opposition and criticism, always "refusing to be shamed."  Crummell became the paradigm of a Christian clergy person for DuBois, who criticized other clergy who failed to live up to Crummell's standard.

Crummell's life and thought are complex, but one point I want to address is his skepticism of the masses.  As a young man he had witnessed anti-abolitionist riots in New York City, which forever made him distrust the uneducated.  Dorrien writes, "For the rest of his life Crummell loathed the masses, urging that the educated elite of any civilized society had to restrain the majority's stupidity and violence."


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