The Methodist Conscience: Slavery, Temperance and Pacifism

Authored by: Jennifer L. Woodruff Tait

The Ashgate Research Companion to World Methodism

Print publication date:  February  2013
Online publication date:  March  2016

Print ISBN: 9781409401384
eBook ISBN: 9781315613789
Adobe ISBN: 9781317040996


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Is there a Methodist conscience? And if so, what does it look like? Methodists have been prophetic activists on a number of social issues, including those named in this essay’s title. But Methodists also have a long history of preserving the status quo as part of their process of moving from countercultural religious movement to culturally influential church. This essay focuses on British and American Methodism, but recognises that what it means to be a socially involved Methodist is a contested concept across the globe. It also recognises that the official pronouncements of any religious group do not always parallel the thoughts of people in the pews, and that this tension runs strongly through Methodist stance(s) on race, alcohol and war. 1 1

See Steven Tipton, Public Pulpits: Methodists and Mainline Churches in the Moral Argument of Public Life (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2007), for opposition to the political involvement of the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church (UMC); Donald Collins, When the Church Bell Rang Racist: The Methodist Church and the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1998), for resistance to Methodism’s movement towards racial equality; Bill Kellerman’s ‘A Methodist Pastor’, in Jim Wallis (ed.), Peacemakers: Christian Voices From the New Abolitionist Movement (San Francisco, CA: Harper and Row, 1983), for his congregation’s dislike of his peace activism; and Heather Walton’s A Tree God Planted: Black People in British Methodism (London: Ethnic Minorities in Methodism Working Group, 1985), for Methodist troubles with racial pluralism in Britain. A good survey of Methodist social thought, including on these three issues, is the chapter ‘Methodist Social Ethics’ in Kenneth Cracknell and Susan White’s An Introduction to World Methodism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 209–42 (bibliography, 274).

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