Monday, August 27, 2012

"Surviving Success" (Black and Drury on the WC)

For the last three weeks I've been making my way through Bob Black and Keith Drury's magnificent new Story of the Wesleyan Church.

So far we've learned:
Chaps 1-2  About Wesley and the origins of the Wesleyan Methodist Church in abolitionism
Chaps 3-4  About its activist early days that were low church, pro-women (and anti- some other things)

I can think of no better title to capture chapters 5-6 than their own title for chapter 6: "Surviving Success."  The success in question is of course emancipation of the slaves. It called into question the very reason for the church's existence.  With the abolitionist cause over, why continue as a denomination?

10-15% of the church went back to the Methodist Episcopal Church.  In fact, almost all the "best and brightest" exited, including Luther Lee and pretty much all the founders of the connection.  It looks like a really bad decision was made by the grass roots (against the leadership) not to merge with the Methodist Protestant Church. Adam Crooks, the church planter who went to North Carolina before the Civil War, looks to be about the only great leader who stayed, and he wrestled strongly with it.

Black and Drury do a good job of these chapters. They don't have the pessimistic tone of my take-away, but these years were frankly depressing.  After founding Wheaton College and Adrian College, the WMs lost them both because of financial issues. We lost having Asa Mahon in our history because the grass roots refused to merge with the Methodist Protestants.  There was even a 12 year stint from 1879-91 where they backed off on the ordination of women. Laura Smith Haviland left for the Quakers.

The only bright light I see is that the WMs seem to have had the right positions on civil rights for the newly freed slaves.  They opposed President Andrew Johnson's support for Black Codes and veto of a federal Civil Rights bill.  They opposed the KKK when a lot of churches were giving them members.

But you wonder how different church history might have looked if the WMC had merged with the Methodist Protestants, a group twice as large.  Might not have the Free Methodists merged with such a church? Most of the MPs eventually merged back into the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1939.

P.S. Although the WMs were Republicans, they thought Lincoln too soft on slavery because he was a gradualist (wanted to abolish slavery slowly).  It all proved academic anyway.


David Drury said...

Thanks for this series. Very interesting to see your take on the book, which I am loving reading too.

These chapters gave me the most indigestion -- I'm still processing them. It's the history I knew least about when I picked up the book as well.

John C. Gardner said...

This is a good post. I am reading the book with you. The late 19th century was a sad time for our nation with the end of the brief period of Reconstruction and the rise of anti-black disenfranchisement and violence.

Keith Drury said...

you are writing thoughtful reviews Ken, thanks for your added thinking.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I thought that John Wesley was more of the "tradition" of Catholicim (scholar), as well as a revivalist....Doesn't it make it "sticky" for Wesleyans when their identity as a revivalists hooks up with "enthusists"?? Wasn't John Wesley more cool headed and warm hearted?

Even so, should we expect all Christians to be "John Wesleys" in the Wesleyan tradtion. And should all believers be like Jesus in the Christian tradition?!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Good article describing the social conservatism and political liberalism of the Catholic Church..

Angie Van De Merwe said...

This is what you get when you seek a politically liberal agenda that reinterprets history to be "anti discriminatory". You promote reverse discrimination!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

You might like this to promote postmodernism (liberal political agenda) that "personalizes history" for the Islamics....and it goes along with your questioning the "facts" or the movie "2016". Personal history is, well, personal, but it does drive desires sometimes!

John C. Gardner said...

Anyone who does not recognize the history of real racial discrimination in the United States is unfamilar with the works of C. Vann Woodward(e.g. the Strange Death of Jim Crow) or the brillant work of Edward Ayers on the post Reconstruction south. Lynchings, debt peonage, subordination by local government power and rigid segregation were the norm. I do not approve of so called reverse discrimination but it has hardly matched the racial brutality that was rampant from 1875-1940.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

John C. Gardner,
Just because something happened in history does not mean that it continues today and there is a need for "restitution" as some of the "African American radicals" or Palestianian or Indian Americans call for!! Most of us have experienced some form of "persecution", and it is just as emotionally painful as the "African American cause", the "Palestianian cause", the "Womens' rights cause", etc. Progressives don't stop until everything is broken up into bits and pieces and everyone is at war with everyone else! It is more than just "class warfare", it is "minority priviledge"!!!

How about returning to indiviual liberty, responsibility and forget "group identifiers"!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

The POOR are also useful for such progressive purposes!!

John Mark said...

Ken, I bought this book because I am a Drury fan, not a Wesleyan. I have just finished it. I learned some things I never knew before, and can't wait for your evaluation of the chapters on the last several decades.
I remain puzzled. In my denomination, the 'back to Wesley' approach to entire sanctification seemed to cause as much turmoil as did the church growth movement, or the influence of the Jesus People/Charismatic movement, yet in the book, there is a sentence or so that says your discipline was slightly modified to place a bit more emphasis on process in the work of sanctification. I would love for you or Keith to address this. Perhaps I have been wrong, thinking that "our" real struggles have been over ES doctrine when in fact they have been over different approaches to evangelism and 'worship' styles.
I wonder, was the crisis in other denominations not a crisis, or a lesser issue in the Wesleyan church?
No question, the book handles the divisive issues well, and explains them in a way that puts the most positive 'spin' on the direction the church took on any given one. In fact, as you read you find yourself thinking it all makes sense, and should have happened the way it did. Very well done.

John C. Gardner said...

Individual responsibility is important. I did not grow up in a wealthy home and attended segregated schools in the South. Most minorities I have known well are responsible people. I am not in favor of radical group identity and in fact most black Americans historically were segregated by race(not their choice). Today we face a world of class, race globalization and free trade. Hyper individualism is an American weakness. I taught in black universities at a time when it was dangerous to do so. We must gradually move toward a color blind society(which I see as happening at least for the top one third of the income scale). Poverty is due to sociological and individual factors and individual, family and community responsibilities are necessary along with adequate resources. My father benefitted from the GI Bill of Rights after World War 2 and I received National Defense Loans which enabled me to go to college(I paid them off and never defaulted). Don's assume that you can ascribe to me beliefs which I do not hold. Furthermore, history casts a long shadow over our country. I am a patriotic American who loves his country and I don't want to be branded by others with views I do not hold.