MESQUITE, Texas (BP) — Terry Turner understands the value of knowing African American history by having seen the importance of discovering his own family’s history.
Turner, a past president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, began looking into African American history as part of his doctoral research and discovered a connection between his story and the larger story of African Americans.
He was introduced to the research of Harvard sociology professor Orlando Patterson who examined the links between the breakdown of African American families today and slavery.
“Patterson brought to my attention that the greatest problem that African Americans were given from slavery is a history of disconnected fathers and husbands,” said Turner, whose own research and story became the basis of his book, “God’s Amazing Grace: Reconciling Four Centuries of African American Marriages and Families.”
“Because those roles were destroyed, we’ve never been able to redefine them in the African American community,” Turner said, noting, “Of course fathers lead families. No family is complete without a father.”
Turner experienced this himself at age 10 when his father passed away. The pain and stress of growing up without a father followed him for years. Later, he had a child out of wedlock, continuing a cycle of absentee fatherhood into a new generation. Eventually, Turner came to faith in Christ, got married and had additional children.
For his first 25 years of pastoral ministry, Turner counseled couples to live out Christian principles in their marriage, but he struggled to find the satisfaction he felt should have come from his own marriage and family. He began his doctoral work at Dallas Theological Seminary with an emphasis on family and marriage, in part to get answers to the pain in his own family.
As he researched the broader history of African Americans for his dissertation, Turner became interested in his lineage, tracing his family back to Warren and Elvira Turner, both born into slavery. Warren had conceived a son with another woman before gaining his freedom in 1865. Even after marrying Elvira, Warren fathered another child out of wedlock.
Later generations of men in the Turner family continued this pattern of risk factors including cohabitation and out-of-wedlock births. During slavery, Turner said, nearly nine out of 10 African Americans cohabited because it was their only option.
“I believe these risk factors were handed down to us through the generations of time,” said Turner, senior pastor of Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church in Mesquite, Texas. “The Bible tells us that the sins of the father would be handed down to the third and fourth generations. A lot of time we don’t take into account how what our parents went through impacts our lives. … Many of the risk factors present in my life were also present in my great-grandfather’s life.”
SOURCE: Baptist Press