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The Seminarian Who Became a Saint


Tomorrow, August 14, is the Feast of Jonathan Daniels in the Episcopal Church. For many of us it’s an important and popular saint’s day. For one thing, he was young, just 26 when he died in 1965; we don’t have many young saints. For another thing, he gave his life not simply for a cause (civil rights for African-Americans), but for a person; her name was Ruby Sales.

In March of ’65 Jon Daniels heard a speech by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in which he urged people to “come to Selma” in Alabama to help register citizens to vote. Daniels was a student at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and he felt a need to respond to the call. He asked for and got a leave of absence from school; and he went to Selma.

I wanted to go too, but I was only 14. I still needed my parents’ permission to go to the movies, much less Alabama. In a sense, Jonathan went there for me.

From Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2006:

Jailed on August 14 for joining a picket line, Jonathan and his companions were unexpectedly released. Aware that they were in danger, four of them walked to a small store. As sixteen-year-old Ruby Sales reached the top step of the entrance, a man with a gun appeared, cursing her. Jonathan pulled her to one side to shield her from the unexpected threats. As a result, he was killed by a blast from the 12-guage shotgun.

Their crime: trying to buy a Dr. Pepper at a white store.

I don’t suppose it’s possible for people who didn’t live through that era to appreciate what it was like—but at the time, the progress and struggle of the civil rights movement was the #1 news story, more important than the Beatles, the space race or Vietnam. It was a national obsession and we tuned in every night: peaceful marchers beaten, water-cannoned, arrested, shot and killed for trying to get Black folk enrolled in school or registered to vote.

It was dramatic. There wasn’t any doubt who the good guys and bad guys were. Dignified old ladies, somebody’s Grandma, somebody’s maid, got her head beat in for daring to register to vote. And the white cops didn’t care who saw them beat her; they were proud of themselves.

The nation shrank in horror at this unadulterated hate.

I wish we’d do the same today faced with images of violence directed at President Obama, ostensibly because of health care reform. The teabaggers and birthers have switched issues, but what really pisses them off is having a Black president. They’re as racist now as Bull Connor was then.

So Jonathan Daniels went south to help; he heard the voice of the Lord in the words of Dr. King.

Daniels was in some ways an odd choice for martyrdom; a white boy from Keene, New Hampshire, a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute, a segregated school. Why him?

VMI, which desegregated a few years later, is now extremely proud of him and has a shrine in his honor, which I’ve featured in past years in a photo on my website dailyoffice.org. He’s even honored as one of 15 20th century martyrs at Canterbury Cathedral. For an Episcopalian that’s as good as it gets, the earthly equivalent of immortality.

Last week a group of the faithful gathered in Hayneville, Alabama, where Daniels was killed, to retrace his steps from the courthouse jail to the grocery with the Dr. Pepper. This is an annual event sponsored by the Episcopal Dioceses of Alabama and Central Gulf Coast; I hope to attend it next year. In preparation for tomorrow’s feast day I searched online for photos of their march; didn’t find any, but I did locate a story about it on the Diocese of Alabama’s website. At the bottom of the story was a name and number to call for more info—so I did. Talked to a priest named Pat at diocesan headquarters, the guy in charge of clergy deployment. We had a fine chat. But one thing he told me continues to rattle around in my brain.

The Jonathan Daniels Pilgrimage attracts people from all over the state and all over the Church; last year they had a delegation of kids from New York City. But, Pat said, no one from Hayneville shows up. “It’s too painful for them.”

He hopes this will change sometime in the future. Meanwhile he’s glad to get publicity on my website.

Why doesn’t Hayneville show up?

It would be easy to say, “Because it’s still a racist, redneck town.” This may be true, but I don’t know it so I won’t assume it.

The residents may have a sense the Daniels Pilgrimage is one more time of being “invaded” by “outsiders,” the constant excuse white racists cited in the ’60s; but I don’t know it. Pat gave me to believe that the Black population doesn’t show up for Jonathan Daniels either.

Are they intimidated, or sensitive to their neighbors? I don’t know.

What’s certain is that the ’60s racists, so proud of their violence, were on the wrong side of history. Jonathan Daniels is the saint, not his killer.

This got me to wondering about others on the wrong side of history—including the anti-Gay schismatics trying to destroy the Episcopal Church. The Bishop of South Carolina is now making waves, steering a new secessionist movement (while pretending not to).

Thanks to links at Fr. Jake’s, I found myself reading original documents from the Episcopal Church of the Confederate States of America—the Civil War breakaway which didn’t last very long. In their brief life they adopted the Constitution and Canons of the American Church and changed three words of the Prayer Book, so they could pray for Jeff Davis, not Abe Lincoln.

Talk about the wrong side of history; what were these guys thinking? Did they not realize they were facilitating mass hysteria, much less the deadliest war in U.S. history, surpassing even World War II?

Uh, no. They were blithely unaware of the consequences of their actions.

The original documents are quite shocking, not least because of the utter complicity and moral cowardice of the American (Northern) Church. These Southern bishops repeatedly state their satisfaction with their Northern brethren (always male, women weren’t allowed to vote) because General Convention routinely voted down every Abolitionist resolution.

The Apostolic (first century) Church didn’t disapprove of slavery, so why should General Convention? That was the attitude.

In other words, all of St. Paul’s stupid, ridiculous, permanently damaging remarks on the subject revealed God’s will; slaves, obey your masters.

(And disregard the next verse, in which Paul warns masters not to abuse slaves.)

As I read this on the eve of Jonathan Daniels Day, the pride I’ve always had in my church was seriously shaken.

I want to be part of Jonathan’s church; I don’t want to be part of the complaisant, smug, “moderate” General Convention Church of the Easy Rationalizations.

Today’s Episcopalians have a lot of cause to be shamed. Abolitionist resolutions were offered and always voted down. Henry Clay supposedly said the Episcopal Church was one of the three institutions of society that upheld conservatism; Confederate bishops quoted him.

But wait, it gets worse. Much worse.

The Confederate bishops put out a pastoral letter in 1862, the most cringe-worthy thing I’ve ever read—at least since the Archbishop of Canterbury’s most recent statement equating Gay and Lesbian committed relationships to living in sin.

The Confederates’ pastoral letter starts out with very sweet talk, then gradually it turns hateful. A few quotes:

• “To us have been committed the treasures of the Church, and those of our own kindred and lineage, who have sprung from our loins both naturally and spiritually, who are now united with us in a sacred conflict for the dearest rights of man…”

They call slavery one of the dearest rights of man.

• “The religious instruction of the negroes has been thrust upon us in such a wonderful manner that we must be blind not to perceive that not only our spiritual but our national life is wrapped up in their welfare. With them we stand or fall, and God will not permit us to be separated in interest or in fortune.

The time has come when the Church should press more urgently than she has hitherto done upon her laity, the solemn fact, that the slaves of the South are not merely so much property, but are a sacred trust committed to us, as a people, to be prepared for the work which God may have for them to do, in the future. While under this tutelage He freely gives to us their labor, but expects us to give back to them that religious and moral instruction which is to elevate them in the scale of Being. And while inculcating this truth, the Church must offer more freely her ministrations for their benefit and improvement. Her laity must set the example of readiness to fulfil their duty towards these people, and her clergy must strip themselves of pride and fastidiousness and indolence, and rush, with the zeal of martyrs, to this labor of love. The teachings of the Church are those which best suit a people passing from ignorance to civilization, because while it represses all fanaticism, it fastens upon the memory the great facts of our religion, and through its objective worship attracts and enchains them. So far from relaxing, in their case, the forms of the Church, good will be permanently done to them just in proportion as we teach them through their senses and their affections. If subjected to the teachings of a bald spiritualism, they will find food for their senses and their child-like fancies in superstitious observances of their own, leading too often to crime and licentiousness.”

Translated: “Watch out, ’cause them Mandingos like to f—.” Jeez, how often were Black females raped by white masters? These bishops should worry about their own crime and licentiousness, before plucking a speck out of someone else’s eye.

• “It is likewise the duty of the Church to press upon the masters of the country their obligation, as Christian men, so to arrange this institution as not to necessitate the violation of those sacred relations which God has created and which man cannot, consistently with Christian duty, annul. The systems of labor which prevail in Europe and which are, in many respects, more severe than ours, are so arranged as to prevent all necessity for the separation of parents and children and of husbands and wives, and a very little care upon our part, would rid the system upon which we are about to plant our national life, of these unchristian features. It belongs, especially, to the Episcopal Church to urge a proper teaching upon this subject, for in her fold and in her congregations are found a very large proportion of the great slaveholders of the country.

We rejoice to be enabled to say that the public sentiment is rapidly becoming sound upon this subject, and that the Legislatures of several of the Confederate States have already taken steps towards this consummation. Hitherto have we been hindered by the pressure of abolitionism; now that we have thrown off from us that hateful and infidel pestilence, we should prove to the world that we are faithful to our trust and the Church should lead the hosts of the Lord in this work of justice and of mercy.

Abolitionists were hateful, infidels, heretics; the same curses hurled at Episcopalians now by the bishop of South Carolina and his fellow schismatics.

Why are LGBT civil rights the new cause of civil war? Why is health care reform?

How can Christians—faithful people!—do this to each other and claim the mantle of God while murdering each other in soul and body?

Why have “Anglicans” in northern Virginia allied themselves with a Nigerian archbishop who wants to jail anyone who witnesses a Gay marriage?

Why does the Archbishop of Canterbury tolerate this?

Well, we know why; greed and pride. Heterosexuals have set themselves up as masters of Gay slaves, to tax them at higher rates without rights. Afrikaaners did the same thing in South Africa; higher taxes for natives, less for education, then accuse the people of being barbaric, even sex fiends and criminals.

The Afrikaaners were blatant about it, quite specific: tax them more, give them less, we are their superiors.

Just like the bishops of Jonathan Daniels’ church. Now he’s the saint and they’re not.

Let history judge them; let God.++


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