ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



Instead of Christ and angels coming down from the heavens to bring judgment, that

mission was assigned to Nathaniel Turner by the Holy Spirit. Turner must pick up the

Cross of sacrifice. Turner told Gray, “I should take it on and fight against the Serpent.




Nathaniel Turner 

Christian Martyrdom in Southampton

A Theology of Black Liberation

By Rudolph Lewis



Sec. 3, Ch. 21 –Christian Salvation in Cross Keys


Laying Down the Yoke Of Salvation



The lord will be quick and sure to do on earth what he has warned he will doRomans 9.28




The foremost event of 1828 occurred “on the 12th of May.” This was Turner’s eleventh reported encounter with the divine. On this occasion, Turner received another revelation, a vision, in his mind’s eye, sketched out by the words of the Holy Spirit. Turner told Gray: “I heard a loud noise in the heavens, and the Spirit instantly appeared to me and said the Serpent was loosened.” In the divine drama, thunder is always ominous. One must be still, quiet, and reverent before the Lord.

John the Revelator, too, had a vision of the Great Serpent. In Revelations12.9, the Serpent appears mightily and menacingly  in John’s vision, posing a threat to man’s peace on earth, as follows, “And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” In the legend, God assigned Satan and his minions to caverns in the center of earth. God chained him there by the neck, free neither of feet nor hands.

The serpent as symbol was also used in the story of Eden in the temptation of the first man and woman (Genesis 3). By some estimates, the curse of the serpent (Genesis 3.14), symbolized “another version of the victory of Yahweh over the cosmic serpent” (Mckenzie, p. 791). For the messianic age, the serpent is symbolically significant in Mark and Luke. The disciples of Jesus will be given powers over evil and the “power to tread on serpents.” The Lukean passage raises the question of the use of violence in the struggle against evil.

They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt

them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover (Mark 16.18)

Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions; and over all the

power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you (Luke 10.19).

At the Father’s right hand Christ was given power over Satan for his sacrifice on the Cross. A measure of that power, Christ granted to his apostles. “It is perhaps not fanciful to see here allusions to the victory of Jesus over the serpent, a reenactment of the cosmic drama of creation” (Dictionary of the Bible, p. 791).

Spiritual matters had worsened in Cross Keys. Satan was no longer held fast by the Cross. The blood of Jesus had no real significance for the Christian slaveholders of Turner’s Methodist Church. Thus, Turner told Gray, “Christ had laid down the yoke he had borne for the sins of men, and that I should take it on and fight against the Serpent, for the time was fast approaching when the first should be last and the last should be first” [my italics]. This revelation set up a new order of things. In Turner’s vision, the divine recast its logos, its structuring of grace. The God of grace, of the Sermon on the Mount, is also a God of justice and wrath. God can not be bottled in pacifist formulas.

That which the divine was once willing to forgive, for a millennium or more, the sins of slavery. Those sins of bondage had magnified themselves so as to have become monstrous. On the basis of color and geographic origins, Christians gave no recognition and respect to God in man. Such an ordering of grace did not have its origins in Christ’s crucifixion. The work of Satan, the Serpent, had expanded pacifist toleration. 

Rather than advancing Christ’s grace, Americans had moved back toward the beast; wickedness had increased beyond all bounds that could be forgiven by the crucifixion. Such sins could not be justified by mere confessions of faith empty of dutiful obedience. Christ’s withdrawal of divine protection of slaveholders was represented in the symbolic act of the “laying down the yoke of sacrifice,” of mercy and grace.

Instead of Christ and angels coming down from the heavens to bring judgment, that mission was assigned to Nathaniel Turner by the Holy Spirit. Turner must pick up the Cross of sacrifice. Turner told Gray, “I should take it on and fight against the Serpent.” Christ calls whom he wills. He does not use satanic standards. The fake Christians of Cross Keys, the slaveholders, must be made an example, must be fought as a sign, as a warning that their abominations were beyond forgiveness. Those who are his faithful, his righteous, they must take up the Cross, and as Christ did, martyr themselves for the glory of God so that order might be restored in the world. Here, the Spirit’s command is individual and specific.

The divine logos, seemingly, can not be accounted for by human reason. That Christ can be both on the Cross and laying it down is a paradox for those who have their minds on “things of this world.” But nothing is too hard for God. What is most significant in Turner’s vision is that man is required to participate in this divine drama of reckoning. 

In Turner’s celestial vision, “men in different attitudes” rather than angels made up the celestial court of the Cosmic Christ. They were accordingly given power and knowledge enough to accomplishment their mission. The establishment of the “kingdom of heaven” demands that men and women—those called in his name, those who come in his name, those who prophesy in his name—make themselves willing sacrifices, not for their incontinence, but for the greater glory of their Lord.

The phrase “the last shall be first” occurs in Jesus’ parable of the householder. In the story, the householder employed laborers to attend his vineyard and gave those who came last to work the same as those who came first (Matthew 20.16). In this divine reversal, God’s first chosen has no priority, no advantage. The first laborers care little for this magnanimity. In a manner, this parable dismantles the priority principle of patriarchy. 

The thread of this runs throughout the Old Testament, e.g., Cain and Abel; Ishmael and Isaac; Jacob and Esau; Joseph and his brothers; John and Jesus. In the larger Christian sense, the Jew, who must indeed be given his due, no longer has any special place of quality reserved in God’s kingdom. The old covenant has no ascendancy over the new. Euro-Americans have no spiritual advantage over African-Americans.

Race guarantees no special status in heaven. It is the earnestness, the sincerity of one’s heart, of one’s obedience, that counts, rather than marks of obedience to authority, for instance, circumcision, or geographical origin, or skin color. Anglo-Americans had brought Christianity to America, introduced it to both Indian and African. So far so good. But what species of messenger had they been in deed? Had they been consistent servants of Christ, or servants of self-interest? How had they dealt with their slaves? Had not deceit and greed been their prime mode of operation? 

No longer could Christ in America bear the Cross in forgiveness of such wickedness. No longer would Christ counsel the Christian slave to follow the twisted teachings of Christian slaveholders, such evils could not and would not be accommodated.

The outrages and abominations of American slavery were a merciless mirroring of pagan Roman slavery in which the slave had no legal rights the master had to respect. Like Aristotle, many Southerners developed a human hierarchy, which, in effect, parceled out the grace of God. To satisfy greed and selfishness, Americans deluded themselves that some people, Africans in particular, were natural slaves. 

Most Americans, North and South, “the best white people,” believed the Negro could not exist, could not be countenanced, in America, side by side with whites as spiritual equals (“Administration of Justice,” p. 139). White Christian slaveowners began more and more to justify their oppression of the Negro by the use of the bible. In the most shameless and barbarous manner, they attempted to justify in Christ’s name that which human reason could not.

Such perversities had no end. The slavemasters wanted their Christian slaves to focus on the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount and on Paul and his counsel of Philemon. Christian humility and sincerity was the recommended regimen of Christian slaves, even though daily denied the minimal necessities to sustain their humanity. But there were other aspects to the bible, which were exegetical keys to Jesus’ full identity and purposes, ones that slaveholders sought to conceal from the slave. Historians of the antebellum period “have found that slaves discriminated between the Bible which their masters presented and the Bible they found for themselves,” according to Mark A. Noll.

The slaveholder’s version of Scripture was sanitized for slave consumption. They emphasized the epistles on slavery, such as Ephesians 6.5-6 (Servants obey your masters) and I Peter 2:18 (Servants, be subject to your masters). As one slave summed up the masters’ self-serving religion, that reserved for the Christian slave: “‘Serve your masters. Don’t steal your master’s turkey. Don’t steal your master’s chickens. Don’t steal your master’s hogs. Don’t steal your master’s meat. Do whatsoever your master tell you to do’ Same old things all de time” (Noll, p. 48). The slaveholder’s version of Christianity was not that “old time religion,” that which the Christian slave longed for in prayer and song.

Rather than enhancing the glory of God, these slaveholders proselytized a half-hearted Christianity. The Christian body can not be sustained on a diet of hypocrisy. The slaveholder-selected passages in the Bible for the slaves was a conscious tactic of control for the economic enhancement of slaveholders and their families. “South Carolinian Whitemarsh Seabrook, for example, stated in 1833 that anyone who urged the slaves to read the entire Bible should be committed to a ‘room in the Lunatic Asylum’” (Noll, p. 49). 

For the slave would discover the greater complexity of the divine, those passages which emphasized and required the blood of sacrifice. Slaveholders feared the slave would come to know of retribution, justice, and righteousness.

This vision of Christ as divine warrior, however, could not be hidden. Christian slaves indeed discovered that the divine demanded righteous violence to right wrongs.

Ride on King Jesus . . . on a milk-white horse. No man can hinder him. The river of  Jordan he did cross. No man can hinder him. Ride on King Jesus . . . No man can hinder him. The gospel highway must be trod (Work, p. 49).

Despite the slaveholders and their religion, America’s Christian slaves, on their own, out of their own humanity, found God living in their own hearts and souls.

In the “Confessions,” Christ counseled, consecrated, a war against the religionists of Turner’s Methodist Church and thus absolved Nathaniel Turner and his disciples of that guilt on judgment day. Their sacrificial acts, their willingness to give up their lives to protect sacred words, absolved them of all spiritual crimes. Turner and his men were divinely directed to make war on the satanic powers loose in the community of Cross Keys. For it had become a contest of who “owned” the kingdom. That Christ would sanction violence may seem to mar the sense that many have of Jesus. But the gospels can be read in terms other than as non-violent pacifism. 

For as George Aichele points out in his close and creative reading of the Gospel of Mark, “Each of the synoptic gospels portrays Jesus as a violent man, one who contests violently with others (Pharisees and scribes, his own followers, the crowds, and perhaps even the Romans). Jesus fights with these others over his own role and identity, over the meaning of the scriptures, and also over the kingdom of God” (“Jesus’ Violence,” p. 75). This contest over the “kingdom” is the central drama, the foremost theme of Turner’s life. To know the “kingdom” is to know Nathaniel Turner.

Turner desired mercy to sacrifice (Osee 6.6). He appealed to Turner’s Methodist Church for baptism and membership. He miraculously healed Brantley, the slave breaker, in body and spirit. Turner preferred to be reconciled with his brother (Matthew 5.23-24). In Cross Keys, there were neighbors who would not be appeased, would not be reconciled, would not recognize that the black Christian was brother to the white Christian. The battle against Satan thus called for great sacrifice, even unto death. 

Nevertheless, Turner was of good courage and agreed to be a sacrifice, to take up Jesus’ Cross, in a trans-historical sense, on one level; and provincially, he would bear the cross of his sacrifices from Cross Keys to Jerusalem, where he, like Christ, to speak in the words of Mircea Eliade, would climb the tree to heaven, to eternity (Images and Symbols, pp.162-163).

Turner’s religious view was not an either/or, rather a both-and dogma. Turner’s theology was at once other-worldly and this-worldly. Man must yearn not only for an afterlife where souls will be separated and assigned, some to the abode of Satan and others, the elect, to God in heaven. Man must yearn also for the institution of Jesus’ “kingdom of heaven” here on earth, in space and time. Righteousness must reign here on earth as a reflection of the authority and glory of God. This “kingdom” can only be achieved by man’s devout participation in the divine, which involves a disregard and a denial of things of this world. One works for the greater glory, not self-glory.

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Incognegro: A Memoir of Exile and Apartheid

By  Frank B. Wilderson III

Wilderson, a professor, writer and filmmaker from the Midwest, presents a gripping account of his role in the downfall of South African apartheid as one of only two black Americans in the African National Congress (ANC). After marrying a South African law student, Wilderson reluctantly returns with her to South Africa in the early 1990s, where he teaches Johannesburg and Soweto students, and soon joins the military wing of the ANC. Wilderson’s stinging portrait of Nelson Mandela as a petulant elder eager to accommodate his white countrymen will jolt readers who’ve accepted the reverential treatment usually accorded him. After the assassination of Mandela’s rival, South African Communist Party leader Chris Hani, Mandela’s regime deems Wilderson’s public questions a threat to national security; soon, having lost his stomach for the cause, he returns to America. W—Publishers Weekly

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Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

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Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama’s political success and Oprah Winfrey’s financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today… than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits.

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Pax Ethnica Where and How Diversity Succeeds

By Karl E. Meyer and Shareen Blair Brysac

Authors Karl E. Meyer and Shareen Blair Brysac set out what they call a “forthright dissent” against the theory that persistent ethnic strife and violence arise out of “deep, tangled and ancient hatreds and hence may be beyond reach of reason.” They elucidate their thinking with narrative-driven portraits of five places around the world: Marseille, France, home to Europe’s largest Muslim community; Flensburg, Germany, the epicenter of the “Schleswig-Holstein Question” that fueled conflict for over a century but is now peaceful; Kerala, India, a state of Hindus, Muslims, and Christians that leads the country in literacy, life expectancy, and health care; the Russian Republic of Tatarstan, where a Muslim majority and significant Orthodox population coexist peacefully; and New York City’s Borough of Queens, where 2.3 million people speak 138 languages and leaders have embraced diversity.—pulitzercenter

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This book should inspire wandering spirits to discover other ethnically harmonious cities and regions and spread the word: ‘reasonable accommodation’ can work, gloriously…. Meyer and Brysac conclude with a set of guidelines for ethnically harmonious societies. My favorite is ‘Fear not the persistence of minority tongues.’ Could someone please whisper that in the ear of politicians across this incredibly diverse land as they campaign to preserve E pluribus unum?”—Washington Post

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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