Monday, August 20, 2012

A New Kind of Methodism (Black and Drury 3-4)

I'm dawdling through Black and Drury's new history of the Wesleyan Church.  Last week I commented on how good the first two chapters are. Today I want to continue my applause into the third and fourth chapters.

Chapters 3 and 4 deal with the period right before the Civil War.  The stories of a few key individuals are given, not least Adam Crooks who went to pastor an abolitionist Wesleyan church in North Carolina at the time. That is chapter 4.  A group of people against slavery in North Carolina called up to the Pennsylvania-Ohio conference asking for an abolitionist pastor and he volunteered.

The church he built now sits on the campus of Southern Wesleyan University, my alma mater.  It has bullet holes and the memory of people like Micajah McPherson who was hanged to within an inch of his life for his opposition to slavery. This heritage stands in sharp contrast to the silence of the Wesleyan Church during the civil rights era, when standing up for equal rights for African-Americans would have been much easier.

So abolition was one of the founding distinctions of the Wesleyan Methodist Church in 1843 when it started. So was opposition to the episcopal form of the Methodist Episcopal Church, a format Wesley himself resisted.  A memorable line on p. 37 is that the founding convention believed that, "If John Wesley were still alive, this was the kind of Methodism that he would endorse."

They adopted a presbyterian model of church government, with some control in the local church (like the congregational approach) and some in the broader church (like the episcopal approach). Two other key elements of the founding church were total abstinence and opposition to secret societies.  The latter prohibition was a matter of great debate over the course of 4 years but was finally adopted.  The former perhaps had a good deal to do with the influx of Roman Catholic (e.g., Irish) immigration that was taking place at the time. The temperance movement would only gain strength in America over the rest of the 1800s until it culminated in Prohibition.

1848 is seen as a crucial year in the history of the fledgling church. Not only was this the year that Adam Crook's church was dedicated, but it was in this year that the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Seneca Falls, New York, hosted Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott for the beginning of the women's suffrage movement in America. This was also the year that an article on entire sanctification was put in the WM Discipline, the first group among the Methodists to have such a statement in its Articles of Religion.

Once again, Black and Drury have done an excellent job of making a distant past come alive, despite  names we may never have heard of.


John C. Gardner said...

The name Orange Scott should be honored in both Wesleyan and American history due to his strong abolitionism. He is largely a forgotten hero not only of our denomination but also the abolition movement.

John C. Gardner said...

Query: My wife and I participated in the Civil Rights Movement. Did the Wesleyan church take strong stands in this period against racism and segregation as well as white violence against demonstrators? And if not, why not?

Ken Schenck said...

The WC in the 60s largely said nothing about the civil rights movement. Tony Casey is doing his dissertation on this in the south where the district conference journals are notable only for their almost complete silence on what was going on around them. I would say that much of the church today remains co-opted by a certain political conservatism that has nothing to do with "true Wesleyan" theology. But it is the people who vote at the conferences who determine who we are at any one moment, not Wesley or our theological roots.