by Connor Kenaston, Yale College ’14
Although this post was written yesterday before the Judicial Council (see the two posts written last night) ruled that the Plan UMC was unconstitutional, we feel that this analysis still applies. Connor writes that his post is “slightly outdated now but still relevant.” I (Diane) argue that it’s not even outdated, since a) if the Judicial Council had not ruled, the “de-toothing” of GCSRW/GCORR would have gone into effect, and b) even with the Judicial Council’s ruling, the aspects of the Call to Action that focus on membership and money (rather than discipleship, stewardship, and justice) are still in effect.
This weekend, I will finish my sophomore year of college. I took my last exam Friday morning, and I just have a few more edits to my term paper for my history course on the American South. I am writing about the role that leaders of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South (MECS) had in racial violence during the early 20th century. In 1844, the Methodist Episcopal Church split over slavery to create a northern branch (MEC) and a southern branch (MECS).
In my paper, I argue that due to the work of African Americans, northern Methodists, and women in the MECS, the MECS attitude toward African Americans gradually developed from evangelism into the ideology of paternalistic uplift (though consistently under the bubble of segregation) and finally to an official anti-lynching platform in 1930. Despite this anti-lynching legislation, the MECS did not present a strong united front against racial terrorism because it was divided over issues such as religion’s role in politics and the pervading influence of the Lost Cause and its heritage of slavery and white supremacy. These divisions contributed to the ambiguity and contradictions of the MECS leadership and forced the MECS position towards racial violence to evolve glacially over a span of 50 years.
I found many eerie connections between the MECS Conference of 1930 and the UMC General Conference of 2012. Recent legislation at General Conference essentially de-toothed the agencies that stand up for women and African Americans, the two groups that were vital for pushing the church’s focus from purely “saving souls” to uplift, and finally to a recognition of the worth of the African American. Recent legislation at General Conference deals with the idea of “vital congregations” which attempts to measure churches primarily on membership & finances. Wait. Doesn’t this sound like the first stage of development, a focus simply on evangelism and numbers? The United Methodist Church seems to be moving backward in terms of standing up for justice.
I argue that the correlation between activism and Methodism indicates that Christianity can inspire a person to pursue justice despite cultural hegemony. However, the divisions and contradictions of Methodist leadership in the South made the church’s position toward racial violence a painfully slow evolution spanning upwards of 50 years. As Methodists, we have a rich heritage of individuals standing up for justice, but we unfortunately also have a heritage of inaction and silence. (Though they may need to do some of their own research since Archives & History took a hit this week) I hope that the delegates to General Conference 2012, 2016, and beyond will consider our Methodist heritage.
- What is the anti-lynching legislation of the 21st Century?
- What are the justice issues staring us in the face today while we focus on boosting membership and financial security?
- When future scholars look back on General Conference 2012, will they be frustrated by our sluggish response to economic injustice, immigration, LGBT, sexism, or racism?
I cannot control the official stance of the church (as frustrating as this may be), but I can address these issues in my own life and on a local level. Individual actions turn the wheels of change- they did in the early 20th century and they do now. I hope that other individual Methodists will stand with me as we attempt to combat these issues over the next four years so that in 2016, our church may stand for justice and not simply for survival.