Methodists and the Crucible of Race, 1930-1975

Methodists and the Crucible of Race, 1930-1975

Methodists and the Crucible of Race, 1930-1975

Methodists and the Crucible of Race, 1930-1975

Synopsis

In Methodists and the Crucible of Race, 1930-1975, Peter C. Murray contributes to the history of American Christianity and the Civil Rights movement by examining a national institution-the Methodist Church (after 1968 the United Methodist Church) -and how it dealt with the racial conflict centered in the South. Murray begins his study by tracing American Methodism from its beginnings to the secession of many African Americans from the church and the establishment of separate northern and southern denominations in the nineteenth century. He then details the reconciliation and compromise of many of these segments in 1939 that led to the unification of the church. This compromise created the racially segregated church that Methodists struggled to eliminate over the next thirty years. During the Civil Rights movement, American churches confronted issues of racism that they had previously ignored. No church experienced this confrontation more sharply than the Methodist Church. When Methodists reunited their northern and southern halves in 1939, their new church constitution created a segregated church structure that posed significant issues for Methodists during the Civil Rights movement. Of the six jurisdictional conferences that made up the Methodist Church, only one was not based on a geographic region: the Central Jurisdiction, a separate conference for "all Negro annual conferences." This Jim Crow arrangement humiliated African American Methodists and embarrassed their liberal white allies within the church. The Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision awakened many white Methodists from their complacent belief that the church could conform to the norms of the South without consequences among its national membership. Murray places the struggle of the Methodist Church within the broader context of the history of race relations in the United States. He shows how the effort to destroy the barriers in the church were mirrored in the work being done by society to end segregation. Immensely readable and free of jargon, Methodists and the Crucible of Race, 1930-1975, will be of interest to a broad audience, including those interested in the Civil Rights movement and American church history.

Excerpt

I received an introduction to the Methodist Church structure when my father, a Methodist minister, moved to a two-church charge in rural South Carolina. in the small town there were several Baptist churches, a Presbyterian church, and several Methodist churches, one of which was my father's. Across the street, there was a southern Methodist church that had defiantly formed after most southern white Methodists reunited with their northern counterparts in 1939. Two blocks away from my father's church was another Methodist church. It belonged to the same denomination, but it was in a different annual conference and had a different bishop; also, one congregation was all African American and the other was entirely white. Despite being part of the same denomination, the two churches had no direct contact with one another. It was as if they were worshipping different gods. Even as an elementary school student, I knew enough about Christian teachings to know that there existed a serious discrepancy between professed beliefs and practices. I watched the Civil Rights movement unfold around me knowing that change was occurring in the nation, in my state and community, but I wondered what change, if any, might occur in these two churches, particularly on Sunday morning. It is a question that on an expanded scale animates much of this book.

In writing this book, I have largely focused on Methodists who are part of the United Methodist Church today. This is not to say that African American Methodists who are part of other denominations, particularly the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AMEZ) Church, or the Christian Methodist Episcopal (CME) Church, are not fully Methodists. Nothing could be further from my intent. I have simply used . . .

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