Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Ministers and Masters: Methodism, Manhood, and Honor in the Old South

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Ministers and Masters: Methodism, Manhood, and Honor in the Old South

Article excerpt

Ministers and Masters: Methodism, Manhood, and Honor in the Old South. By Charity R. Carney. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2011. Pp. xi, 188. Acknowledgments, notes, bibliography, index. $35.00.)

In Ministers and Masters: Methodism, Manhood, and Honor in the Old South, Charity Carney examines how Methodist ministers created a definition of masculinity that was consonant both with their culture and their calling. It is a clerical dilemma as old as the Rule of St. Benedict's liberal use of Roman martial language to define the life of the ascetic. Thirteen hundred years on from St. Benedict, Carney argues that the dual forces of the Methodist stress on the doctrine of the spiritual equality of all believers and the particular demands placed on the circuit rider led to the creation of a culture that both conformed to and challenged prevailing southern norms.

Drawing heavily on Bertram Wyatt-Brown's notion of the South as an honor culture, Carney assesses Methodist ministers in both the public and private spheres in chapters on manhood, patriarchy and church polity, marriage and family, and slavery. Working primarily from ministerial biographies and Methodist periodicals from roughly 1790 to 1860, she argues that Methodist ministers, whose calling precluded them from gambling, drinking, politics, and other masculine pursuits, established their own conventions of masculinity as a clerical brotherhood. High among these were participation in public or printed debates, the fortitude to discipline erring church members, and a rugged simplicity of dress, all witnessing to the belief that "the more honor they could bring to their God, the more honor they brought to themselves" (p. 37). Bishops, presiding elders, and ministers were to exercise patriarchal authority over those in their charge and filial piety toward those in authority over them. Carney argues that southern ideas of patriarchy had a particularly notable influence on the strength of the office of bishop in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South following the break with northern Methodists in 1844.

In the domestic sphere, Carney stresses that the doctrine of spiritual equality, which emphasized that all believers were children of God, created particular tensions with southern norms. For ministers' wives, who shared the circuit riders' financial hardships and managed the household during their long absences, this meant an unusual level of partnership and mutual support. …

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