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Methodist Episcopal Church
These voices were dismissed as "croakers" because it seemed they never missed an opportunity to complain, whether in the pulpit, through conference sermons or on the pages of Methodist periodicals. Nathan Bangs is credited with leading the campaign for respectability. As the denomination's book agent and editor of both The Methodist Magazine and the weekly Christian Advocate , Bangs was the MEC's most visible and influential leader up until the s.
Under his watch, the Christian Advocate became the most widely circulated periodical in the world, and the Book Concern was transformed from merely a distributor of British reprints into a full-fledged publishing house providing literature for adults, children, and Sunday schools, as well as producing tracts for the Methodist Tract Society organized in By the s, Methodists were ready to build institutions of higher education.
Citing the lack of non-Calvinist colleges and seminaries, the General Conference encouraged annual conferences to establish ones under Methodist control. Around two hundred were founded by the Civil War.
In addition, the Methodists became affiliated with already existing Dickinson College and Allegheny College in Nathan Bangs was also instrumental in the establishment of the Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church in to help support foreign mission work. While missionaries were appointed and supervised by the bishops, the missionary society raised funds to support them. In , a Liberian Annual Conference was organized. While itinerating in Liberia, Bishop Levi Scott ordained the first African deacons and elders in In , the General Conference created a new position, the missionary bishop , to oversee the foreign mission fields.
The Liberian Conference elected Francis Burns to be its missionary bishop, and he was consecrated in , becoming the Methodist Episcopal Church's first African American bishop. As a missionary bishop, Burns was not considered a general superintendent of the church, and his episcopal authority was limited to his assigned field.
Among these was the St. Louis German Conference, which in was assimilated into the surrounding English-speaking conferences, including the Illinois Conference.
In , Phoebe Palmer took over leadership of a prayer meeting for women in New York City begun by her sister, Sarah. Participants of what was known as the Tuesday Meeting for the Promotion of Holiness sought to receive the blessing of Christian perfection or entire sanctification. Christian perfection was a doctrine that had been taught by Wesley but had in the words of religion scholar Randall Balmer , "faded into the background" as Methodists gained respectability and became solidly middle class.
Palmer had experienced entire sanctification herself in when she made "an entire surrender" to God of everything in her life. Once this consecration was complete, the Christian could be assured that God would sanctify them. In the words of historian Jeffrey Williams, "Palmer made sanctification an instantaneous act accomplished through the exercise of faith. Under her leadership, men began to regularly attend the meetings, including prominent Methodists such as Nathan Bangs, Bishop Leonidas Hamline , and Stephen Olin.
By the s, people from nearly every Protestant denomination were attending the meetings and similar meetings were started around the country, eventually numbering around by These meetings formed the impetus for a new interdenominational holiness movement promoted by such publications as the Guide to Christian Perfection , which published written testimonies from those who had experienced entire sanctification. The movement was largely urban and mainly led by lay people. In the s, a reform movement emerged within the Methodist Episcopal Church to challenge its hierarchical structure.
In particular, reformers wanted presiding elders to be chosen by conference elections rather than episcopal appointment. They also desired representation for local preachers two-thirds of all Methodist clergy and lay people in annual and general conferences. In the aftermath of the General Conference, a number of "union societies" were formed to advocate for reform, while church leaders took actions to suppress any effort to alter the church's episcopal polity.
Presiding elders in the Baltimore Conference began disciplinary proceedings against twenty-five laymen and eleven local preachers for advocating reform. Meanwhile, the number of union societies grew. The refusal of the General Conference to endorse democratic reforms led to a definitive division within the church and the organization of the Methodist Protestant Church. In the same year as the Missouri Compromise , the Methodist Episcopal Church ended its ban on preachers and leadership owning slaves.
Around the same time, it became closely tied to the American Colonization Society and its own Liberian Mission, which proposed sending freedmen to evangelize Africa. According to historian Donald Mathews, "[T]here was no religious denomination more closely connected with colonization than the Methodist Episcopal Church". In the s, abolitionists within the Methodist Episcopal Church sought to recover the church's antislavery witness. Notable abolitionist activity took place within the New England Annual Conference where Orange Scott and others used camp meetings and conference structures to attack slavery and the suppression of antislavery sentiments in church publications.
Despite their efforts, Nathan Bangs kept abolitionist messages out of church periodicals, and the bishops also sought to suppress abolitionists for the sake of church unity. Abolitionist clergy were censured , brought up on disciplinary charges, and appointed to difficult assignments as punishment. Southern Methodists responded by defending the morality of slavery and asserting that, as a political matter, slavery was an issue that was outside of the church's authority to adjudicate. Condemning the MEC as "not only a slave-holding, but a slavery defending, Church," these men organized a new Methodist church on explicitly abolitionist grounds in called the Wesleyan Methodist Church not to be confused with the British church of the same name.
Despite the Wesleyan Methodist secession, the anti-slavery movement among northern Methodists continued to grow, with conferences passing anti-slavery resolutions preceding the General Conference. Over the objections of southerners, General Conference created a committee on slavery that recommended the conference act to "separate slavery from the church". Most damaging to church unity, the General Conference ordered Bishop James Osgood Andrew , a slave owner, to "desist from the exercise of this office so long as this impediment remains" on the basis that his owning slaves would prevent him from effectively ministering as a bishop in the North.
A committee of nine was appointed to study the possibility of an amicable separation of the church. It proposed a Plan of Separation that would provide for determining a geographic boundary between the two churches and a peaceful division of property, such as the Book Concern and the pension resources of the Chartered Fund.
Despite concerns that this proposal would cause "war and strife in the border conferences", it was approved by General Conference. As it required an amendment to the Restrictive Regulations, however, the plan had to be ratified by three-fourths of the annual conferences and was rejected by the northern conferences. This action started a contest between northern and southern conferences to recruit as many border stations and circuits as they could, especially in the Delmarva Peninsula, western Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio and Missouri.
Meanwhile, the MEC General Conference declared that the Plan of Separation had failed to receive the required conference votes and could not be used to legally divide the church. Swormstedt that the creation of the MECS was legal. The Genesee Conference in New York was most effected. There, reform-minded Methodists led by B. Roberts protested slavery as well as other signs of cultural accommodation, such as pew rents which alienated the poor and the decline in revivalism and holiness teaching.
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The conference leadership reacted to this by harassing and expelling Roberts and his colleagues who then went on to organize the Free Methodist Church in Concerned about defections to the Free Methodists, the General Conference declared owning slaves to be "contrary to the laws of God and nature" and inconsistent with the church's rules. This sparked a wave of petitions from border conferences demanding a return to a neutral position on slavery. Kentucky and Missouri would soon become religious battlegrounds as Methodists divided into pro-Union and pro-Confederate camps.
The Methodist split over slavery paralleled a national split. The controversy over slavery led the Southern states to secede from the Union and form the Confederate States of America , actions that led to the American Civil War. No denomination was more active in supporting the Union than the Methodist Episcopal Church.
Historian Richard Carwardine argues that for many Methodists, Abraham Lincoln 's election as US president in heralded the arrival of the kingdom of God in America. They were moved into action by a vision of freedom for slaves, freedom from the terror unleashed on godly abolitionists, release from the Slave Power 's evil grip on the state, and a new direction for the Union.
Methodists contributed many chaplains to the Union Army and were heavily involved in the Christian Commission , a Protestant organization that provided religious services to soldiers and contributed to revivals within the army between and It portrayed the War as a great moral crusade against a decadent Southern civilization corrupted by slavery. It recommended activities that family members could perform in order to aid the Union cause. While the MEC was overwhelmingly supportive of the war effort, a minority of northern Methodists disagreed with the church's political stance.
In Ohio, Methodists who sympathized with the anti-war Copperheads coalesced into a new denomination, the Christian Union. After the Confederacy's defeat, Methodists formed a major element of the popular support for the Radical Republicans with their hard line toward the white South. Resolved, That no terms should be made with traitors, no compromise with rebels.
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That we hold the National authority bound by the most solemn obligation to God and man to bring all the civil and military leaders of the rebellion to trial by due course of law, and when they are clearly convicted, to execute them. In a highly controversial move, the Northern MEC used the army to seize control of Methodist churches in large Southern cities over the vehement protests of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Historian Ralph Morrow reports:. A War Department order of November, , applicable to the Southwestern states of the Confederacy, authorized the Northern Methodists to occupy "all houses of worship belonging to the Methodist Episcopal Church South in which a loyal minister, appointed by a loyal bishop of said church, does not officiate.
During Reconstruction , Northern denominations all sent missionaries, teachers and activists to the South to help the Freedmen. Only the Methodists made many converts, however. The focus on social problems paved the way for the Social Gospel movement a few years later.