Sunday, February 17, 2019

History, Not Prescience (I pray)

              It was odd, today, revisiting the Methodist Episcopal Church’s split over the issue of slavery.
              For the last few weeks I have been teaching the parents of our rather large Confirmation Class. They agreed to share the journey with their kids. While youth counselors and others have been teaching the confirmands, the parents have been meeting with me.
               Some were raised United Methodist. Some came from other traditions. One of the men, I recently baptized (at the same time I baptized his daughters), and another made a reaffirmation of his faith. Anyway, these are really good folk and I am proud they are so engaged.
               In previous sessions I have gone over some of the very basics: Our:
               Origins—“Dry” Anglicanism; Wesley’s at Oxford, in Savannah, on the boat, in Germany; the “Aldersgate Experience” (May 24, 1738); small groups
               Features—bible study and prayer, personal holiness and peer accountability, faith and good works (heart and hand)
What we share with others Christians: Triune God, Salvation in Jesus Christ, Scriptures and Sacraments, imago dei, Kingdom of God
What are our Distinctive Emphases: Aspects and functions of Grace; “responsible Grace” (faith and good works, mission and ministry, personal and social holiness.
              But it was so strange, today, to talk about American Methodist History, and to tell of the moral and spiritual failure of our Methodist ancestors. That is, to acknowledge again the sad fact that economics and prejudice took precedent over faith and its corollaries: hope and love.
              I will have more to say about this in subsequent posts—and about the sermon I preached today, taking a cue from Joshua Rothman’s essay in the January 21, 2019 of The New Yorker entitled, “Choose Wisely: Do We Make the Big Decisions, or Do They Make Us.” But for now, I include the class notes I used today as a reminder, and a primer for what is to come.

              These notes are not exhaustive, of course (I did all this in 45 minutes), but suggestive of the issues back in the day. Are they a harbinger?

(American) Methodist History:

(1744: First “Conference” in London: The Wesley’s, four ordained, four “lay brothers,” asking what shall we preach and how shall we preach it?

1776: Declaration of Independence (Wesley advises American Methodists to stay loyal)

1784: Methodist Episcopal Church formed at “Christmas Conference” and Lovely Lane Chapel in Baltimore

MEC is “anti-slavery” very early. Methodist missionaries encouraged slave-owners in the south to “manumit” their slaves, and many did. Baptist and Methodist preachers in the south encouraged better conditions for slaves based on white Christian’s “paternal responsibilities” for the slaves.
                           BUT: 1794: Cotton Gin—

                           South is desperate to make cotton profitable, and the gins required more labor. Working conditions deteriorated; slave uprisings.

The cotton economy prompted the south became more rigid pro-slavery, while Methodists in the North became more stridently abolitionist.

1832: James Osgood Andrew, a Methodist pastor in Oxford, GA (or Athens), is consecrated bishop. By 1842, he owns slaves.
Multiple theories as to how he acquired them: a) bought a young woman to  protect her from a less kind master, but let her work independently and keep her wages; or b) married a woman who, when she died, bequeathed him a slave left to her; c) subsequently married a widow whose first husband had been a slave owner… these are matters of continuing debate.

1840: Bishop Andrew was investigated by the MEC, but not charged.

1844: He was suspended from episcopal duty, which prompted “articles of separation” to be


1846: The Church splits (at least) three ways: MEC; MEC, South; Methodist Protestant Church (MPC), which is Wesleyan in theology but congregational in polity

1858: ME, South: 511K white members, 197K African American members, 11K Native American

Members; operating (106 schools and colleges)

James Osgood Andrew was founding Trustee of Central University, later renamed…  wait for it… Vanderbilt!

1866: Only 49K African-Americans remain
                           (AME, AME, Zion, CME; Wesleyans, Nazarenes, Salvation Army)

1939: Methodist Church (the three main groups reunite)

1968: The Methodist Church unites with the Evangelical United Brethren
The EUB were themselves a merger of the Evangelical Association/Church and the Church of the United Brethren in Christ (both ethnically German, theologically Wesleyan churches) to form The United Methodist Church (these two “source” traditions are represented by the two tongues of flame on the UM Logo)

2019: ?
Please pray for the delegates and the General Conference.

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