Bishop John Christian Keener (1819–1906)
“He had the richest Teutonic blood in his veins.”
According to Ed Bain (at Ancestry.com), Bishop John Christian Keener was a near cousin of Joseph and Ulrich Keener. John was the editor of the New Orleans Christian Advocate from 1866 to 1870 and an American Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South from 1870 to 1898. He was a member of the first graduating class of Wesleyan University (1835), but he parted with John Wesley on the issue of slavery. He founded an Methodist Episcopal Church, South mission in Mexico, was “highly esteemed by Jefferson Davis, and served as Superintendent of C.S.A. Chaplains west of the Mississippi River during the Civil War” (Wikipedia).
A collection of tributes to Bishop Keener published after his death in 1906 indicates that he “feared any movement that looked toward organic union with anything or anybody.” With respect to the Civil War, he is said to have “resented the slightest imputation upon the motives of his people, and never apologized for a single act” — which may explain why nobody in my family ever mentioned “one of the most remarkable men in the South” whose “strenuous life was bound up with the city of New Orleans” (Galloway, 1906).
Ed Bain’s synopsis includes this particularly vigorous and adoring tribute:
“In person, Bishop Keener was large and well developed. He was portly with vigorous health and a strong constitution. He had a florid complexion light hair, blue eyes and smooth features. In repose he had a classic face and a transparent countenance. When in the pulpit and under the glow of deep thought and strong emotion, there was something almost angelic in his expression. He had the manner, the pose, the movement and the impressive presence of a leader of men. To look at him was to recognize one on whom nature had lavished gifts and graces of an extraordinary character. He bore all of the marks of a man born to rule. He would have commanded attention in any of the influential walks of life. As a preacher he was almost incomparable. His sermons were masterpieces of pulpit eloquence and power. A volume of his sermons would be a genuine contribution to our pulpit literature. He was a scholar by training and habit but did not confine himself to theology and was learned in science and art and literature. But with all his greatness, he was as simple as a child, and his heart was as tender as a woman’s. His genial nature and warmth continually brought him into sympathy and touch with the humblest of men.”
“[I]ntensely and aggressively Southern in every fiber of his being,” Bishop Keener was “firmly fixed by the agonies and horrors of reconstruction” after the war (Galloway, 1906). He also wrote and edited several books, including Post-Oak Circuit, Studies of Bible truths, and The Garden of Eden and the Flood. In 1890, while other Methodists were starting to reach out to African Americans, he told the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South that “we now have a solidly white church, for which we thank God” (Murray, 2004).
— Bain, Ed. Synopsis: Joseph Keener. Ancestry.com.
— Galloway, Charles B. Bishop John Christian Keener, Methodist Episcopal Church, South. 1906.
— Keener, John Christian. The Garden of Eden and the Flood. Methodist Episcopal Church, South. 1900.
— Keener, John Christian. Post-Oak Circuit: By a member of the Red river conference. Ed. by Thomas O. Summers. E. Stevenson & F. A. Owen, 1857.
— Keener, John Christian. Studies of Bible truths. Methodist Episcopal Church, South. 1899.
— Murray, Peter C. Methodists and the Crucible of Race, 1930–1975. University of Missouri Press, 2004.
— John Christian Keener papers, 1864–1865. Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University.