Thursday, March 25, 2010

Evangelical Heritage 2

I've read chapters 2-4 since last I posted. Chapter 2 was on Finney. Chapter three on someone named Theodore Weld. Chapter four on the "Lane rebellion" and the founding of Oberlin College.

Don Dayton's main point in chapter 2 is that social reform was a principal element of Charles Finney's ministry, sometimes excised from sources about him. He even encouraged women to pray in the presence of other men.

Theodore Weld was a vocal opponent of slavery and advocate for immediate abolition. He lived, ate, worshipped with freedmen from the south. Dayton makes a strong case that Weld demonstrates that abolitionists were not all long distance friends of the slaves. Weld truly lived out his belief that these freedmen were entirely equal to him. He was also refused to take over his wife's property upon marriage because he considered her an equal.

Probably most striking to me was the story of the founding of Oberlin College. I feel quite confident that, if the 43 year old Ken Schenck who is typing this post were transplanted to 1834 and didn't know much of what came after, he would be a moderate abolitionist rather than some of these radical individuals.

Oberlin vowed to "strive continually... while living, provide for the widows, orphans, and famlies of the sick and needy." Blacks were admitted to Oberlin right alongside whites from the college's inception (the first college ever to do this). They were opposed to the relocation of Indians. Many of them were pacifists, some even vegetarians as a physical discipline. Antoinette Brown, the first ordained woman in America (ordained in a Wesleyan Methodist church), was not allowed to take classes officially but did so unofficially.

Let no one call un-Wesleyan anyone who advocates social activism along these lines--toward civil rights, toward equal rights for women, toward the empowerment of the stranger in our midst. Perhaps we might argue the wisdom of the tactics some of these individuals took at the time. But it goes without saying that the founders of the Wesleyan Methodist Church were not particularly considered "conservative" in their day, and we should share their values.

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