Moving Forward in Truth: When the Church Remains Silent

When the Church remains silent
What voice shall testify
How shall it answer the needy’s cry
Refute the world’s lie
Truth, verify
The God of our salvation glorify?

 When the Church will not live out loud God’s Word
How can the message of salvation be heard?

 When the Church remains silent
How can it, the social ills of this world, rectify
God’s will clarifyAnd amplify?
When the Church remains silent
How can it not allow the innocent to die
And Its own Savior crucify?

 When its voice gets caught in its own throat
How can the Church be the world’s needed antidote?



“The Christ-like mind, however, recognizes the worth of others, and frequently acknowledges that no man can live to himself. It says: I am my brother’s keeper, and his sufferings are my sufferings, and his needs my opportunity for ministering to them as far as it is in my power to do so…It rejoices to give of its means, be it little or much, with which God has blessed it.”

–Bishop George Herbert Kinsolving, 1899

In preparation for this “Moving Forward in Truth” storytelling series, I asked a historian friend for his input on how I might go about doing research and what topics I might consider. After he had suggested some resources, given me some general tips and possible topics, he added, “And, when you are reading through information, pay attention to what is said, but also to what isn’t said.” What the writer chooses not to say can also have a lot to say. For much of what I have written about, to date, I have relied upon Council notes, at least as a starting place. Beginning with the first Council held in 1850, I read and re-read the notes each time, looking for nuggets that will send me elsewhere digging for the rest of the story. But, this time it was what I didn’t find written in the notes that caused me to search deeper.

According to notes from the 1918 session of Council, the major topic was electing a Negro Suffragan Bishop. Discussion which began during the previous year’s Council was continued. A communication from the Secretary of the Synod of the Southwest regarding the subject was presented and elaborated upon by a member from St. Augustine’s in Galveston, which at the time was “the strongest Negro Parish in the Diocese.” Bishop Kinsolving, in his 1917 address to Council, identified the issue of electing a Negro Suffragan as one of his top priorities, and he continued to make the case during the 2018 session. The idea of the Negro Suffragan was not new, however. Later thought by some to be an answer to what to do about the “colored” problem, it had, first been put forth by the Diocese of Texas at the 1874 General Convention when it asked the Convention to “appoint a suffragan bishop for the supervision of the freedmen.” Such a plan would not be accepted, however, until 1916. The first two and only Negro Suffragan Bishops were consecrated in 1918.  Many Black Episcopalians had opposed having Negro Suffragans, who in their estimation, had no real authority or power and no voice and no vote beyond their own jurisdiction.  Their apprehensions proved true, which resulted in no further elections of Negro Suffragans.

Beyond the discussion of the election of a Negro Suffragan and the mention of Bishop Kinsolving ordaining a Black priest and visiting students at a Black high school and two Black colleges, there was no further mention of Black outreach or concerns for that year. There was nothing from the Bishop’s annual address or any resolutions or actions taken on the floor to indicate that between the 1917 and 1918 Councils, one of the most tragic events in Houston’s history had taken place in Houston. The Houston Riot of 1917 which resulted in the largest murder trial and the largest court martial in U.S. history, had occurred between August and December of 1917. While Council took place several months later, one could easily surmise that wounds were still raw, tensions high and the atmosphere still charged after what had taken place just months before. Yet, there was silence on the subject at Council that year.

A lot can be said by what is left unsaid. No mention was made of the riot, of current race relations, or actions needed to be addressed by the Church, at least not in the places where notes were taken, records kept and official positions were stated. This was the annual gathering of churches in the diocese where representatives came together to work and worship, where the business of the church was discussed, agendas were set, and priorities identified,  yet there were no conscious-raising addresses made nor resolutions offered to address The Houston Riot of 1917, which illustrated the problems the people of this nation struggled with on the home front during wartime. World War I began in 1914 and ended in 1918.

According to the Texas State Historical Association, in the Spring of 1917, shortly after the United States declared war on Germany, the War Department ordered two military installations built in Harris County—Ellington Field and Camp Logan, located at what is now Memorial Park. The army ordered the Third Battalion of the Black 24th Infantry to Texas to guard the Camp Logan site. Houston was, at the time, governed by Jim Crow laws. Lynching and race riots were commonplace. Texas was second only to Georgia in its number of lynchings in the nation. While the soldiers of this battalion had a proud history and were thought to be honorable men and soldiers who had experienced no prior incidents of rebellion, some White Houstonians saw their very presence, in uniform and with access to arms, as a threat and cause for alarm. Many of the soldiers did not wish to come here because of the strict segregation laws and practices.  From the time of their arrival in July of 1917, tensions built as Black soldiers grew weary of the segregated practices they were forced to abide by, as well as the harsh treatment they received from White residents and the  police, and as resentment grew by Whites who considered a Black man in a military uniform an affront to what  they saw as the southern way of life, and who were ultimately concerned that if Black soldiers were shown the same respect as White soldiers, Black residents might come to expect the same treatment.

On August 23, 1917, tensions on all sides reached a boiling point and a riot erupted in Houston. After the arrest of a Black soldier, followed by the false rumor of his death at the hands of the police, one hundred soldiers took their rifles and headed to the police station. In their two-hour march on the city, which came to be called The Camp Logan Mutiny, sixteen Whites were killed, including five policemen, and 22 others were seriously wounded. Four Black soldiers also died.  Additionally, 119 enlisted Black soldiers were indicted, 110 of whom were found guilty.  Nineteen of them were hanged and 63 were given life sentences. Of the 19 hanged, 13 were thought not to have participated in the riots, and the other 6 to have possibly fired shots at civilians.  In the several accounts of this event that I read, I was particularly struck by one that suggested this was as a “bloody and probably avoidable event in Texas history.”

But, as I said earlier, there was no hint of these occurrences anywhere in the Council notes from 1918, nor a call for any self-examination or needed change on the part of the Church.

And all these years later, when we find ourselves once again In a time of racial tension, following the deaths of George Floyd and so many who have suffered death and injury because of racism, who have been held down by the murderous knee of injustice, and when we continue to walk in suspicion of one another because of differences, however they may be defined, we are faced with questions of what and how. We are faced with questions of what can or what should the Church do. How can or how should the Church respond? Perhaps the question this story poses, or the challenge it confronts us with is the as the one posed at the beginning of this story: What happens when the Church remains silent…and keeps doing what it’s been doing as though nothing ever happened? In other words, how can the Church be the Church and remain silent?

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