The Methodist Unification: Christianity and the Politics of the Jim Crow Era

The Methodist Unification: Christianity and the Politics of the Jim Crow Era

The Methodist Unification: Christianity and the Politics of the Jim Crow Era

The Methodist Unification: Christianity and the Politics of the Jim Crow Era

Synopsis

"Draws upon previously neglected primary sources to offer a ground-breaking analysis of the intertwined political, racial, and religious dynamics at work in the institutional merging of three American Methodist denominations in 1939. Davis boldly examines the conflicted ethics behind a dominant American religious culture's justification and preservation of racial segregation in the reformulation of its post-slavery institutional presence in American society. His work provides a much-needed, critical discussion of the racial issues that pervaded American religion and culture in the early twentieth century.' -Wendy J. Deichmann Edwards, Academic Dean and Associate Professor of History and Theology, United Theological Seminary, Dayton Ohio ?A discerning, sober, and troubling probing of the preoccupation within the Methodist Church with Christian nationalism, civilization as defined by white Anglo-Saxon manhood, and race, race consciousness and ?the problem of the Negro? that was foundational to and constitutive of a reunited Methodism. A must read for students of early 20th century America.' -Russell E. Richey, Emory University In the early part of the twentieth century, Methodists were seen by many Americans as the most powerful Christian group in the country. Ulysses S. Grant is rumored to have said that during his presidency there were three major political parties in the U. S., if you counted the Methodists. The Methodist Unification focuses on the efforts among the Southern and Northern Methodist churches to create a unified national Methodist church, and how their plan for unification came to institutionalize racism and segregation in unprecedented ways. How did these Methodists conceive of what they had just formed as ?united? when members in the church body were racially divided? Moving the history of racial segregation among Christians beyond a simplistic narrative of racism, Morris L. Davis shows that Methodists in the early twentieth century - including high-profile African American clergy - were very much against racial equality, believing that mixing the races would lead to interracial marriages and threaten the social order of American society. The Methodist Unification illuminates the religious culture of Methodism, Methodists' self-identification as the primary carriers of "American Christian Civilization," and their influence on the crystallization of whiteness during the Jim Crow Era as a legal category and cultural symbol.

Excerpt

In 1939 in Kansas City, Missouri, at a location intentionally selected for being only a few miles from the geographic center of the United States, nine hundred delegates representing three Methodist churches—the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and the Methodist Protestant Church—met at what they called “the Uniting Conference.” At that conference they formed what was at the time, the largest, and arguably the most powerful, Protestant church in the United States. But the new Methodist Church—the name of the merged denomination—was racially segregated to its core. Black and white congregations had been segregated in previous church structures, but the fresh Methodist Church constitution added yet another layer of separation between racially distinct congregations. As they had been before the merger, white Methodist congregations in the new church were bound together in regional conferences. Black Methodist congregations, though, were grouped in one sprawling national conference. Black Methodists, and the minority of whites who agreed with them, saw the further institutionalization of racism as a severe setback and a lost chance for the new church to take a stand against the prevailing injustices of racist U.S. culture. As one Methodist historian put it, the creation of the segregated Methodist Church “capitulated to the countercurrents of American racist proclivities, and yielded to the prevailing morality of the society.” in failing to push back against the desires for the increased power and influence that would accrue as a result of creating a larger national church, the new church surrendered its ethics to “those temporal pragmatic considerations of the world rather than the eternal claims of justice.” As the successful merger vote was announced at the end of the conference, and the new church officially began, the delegates rose to sing a celebratory hymn of Christian unity, “We're Marching to Zion.” But in one corner of the segregated auditorium, most of the eighty-seven black . . .

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