The Sacred Mirror: Evangelicalism, Honor, and Identity in the Deep South, 1790-1860

By Robert Elder | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
In the Publick Manner
Honor, Community, Discipline, and the Self
in the Local Church

So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one
members one of another.
—ROMANS 12:5, KJV

Looking back on his long career as a Methodist minister, William Capers remembered vividly an incident that occurred at one of the small, backcountry churches that lay along his circuit in the Chester district of South Carolina in the first decade of the nineteenth century. At one of his stops, a place called Carter’s Meeting House, a large crowd had gathered, composed of members of the local Methodist society as well as the local community. They were all interested in the church trial of a woman accused of adultery. As Capers remembered, “Her father-in-law, and the connections on that side generally believed her guilty,” while the woman’s husband loudly and pitifully proclaimed her innocence, being, as Capers thought, “partially deranged” by the shame of the situation. All the community, including the society members, were “intensely enlisted” on one side or the other of the matter, and when a group of society members chosen by Capers found the woman guilty, the crowd erupted into violence. In the midst of the fight, Capers saw several society members doing their part and the “poor crazy husband fighting his father.” The young minister was unable to restore order, and some members of the crowd were openly hostile. One “vulgar woman” screamed at the well-born Capers to “go home and suck his mammy,” a reference to his youth as well as his privilege.1

For Capers, this event was a turning point in his career, the moment he realized that in the war between the church and Satan, the spoils did not go to the meek. Yet it also serves as a striking illustration of the way that church discipline in evangelical churches intersected with the concerns of honor, shame, and reputation in the local community. The fact that a crowd gathered to hear the church’s verdict was not surprising to Capers, though it might seem puzzling to us now. Historians have often

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