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Division in America and Expansion Overseas (1844-1860)

 

John Wesley had been an ardent opponent of slavery. In 1789, the General Rules were officially adopted by American Methodism. A rule forbidding participation in slavery, which had not been deemed necessary in England, was included. But as Methodism expanded, that prohibition was relaxed or not enforced where slavery was legal. Because membership spanned regions, classes, and races, contention over slavery ultimately split Methodism into separate northern and southern churches.

At the 1844 General Conference, pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions clashed over episcopacy, race, and slavery. Their most serious conflict concerned one of the church’s five bishops, James O. Andrew, who had acquired slaves through marriage. After acrimonious debate, the General Conference voted to suspend Bishop Andrew from the exercise of his office so long as he could not, or would not, free his slaves. A few days later, dissidents drafted a Plan of Separation, which permitted the annual conferences in slaveholding states to separate from The Methodist Episcopal Church in order to organize their own ecclesiastical structure. The Plan of Separation was adopted and the groundwork laid for the creation of The Methodist Episcopal Church, South.

Delegates from the southern states met in Louisville, Kentucky, in May 1845, to organize their new church. Their first General Conference was held the following year in Petersburg, Virginia, where a Discipline and hymnbook were adopted. The Methodist Protestant Church was also affected by the slavery controversy, splitting in 1858 and reuniting in 1877. The United Brethren and The Evangelical Association, being concentrated in northern states, were able to avoid the passionate struggle that fractured The Methodist Episcopal Church.

Despite conflict and division in America, Methodism continued to expand overseas. In 1847, Judson D. Collins, Moses C. White, and his wife Jane Isabel Altwater landed in Fuzhou, China, under the auspices of the Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Despite a slow beginning, the Missionary Society gained valuable lessons that enabled Robert S. Maclay to enter Japan in 1873. In 1885, William B. Scranton, his mother Mary F. Scranton, and Henry G. Appenzeller began work in Korea. American Methodists also set their sights on South Asia. In 1856, William Butler landed in Kolkata with his wife, Clementina Rowe Butler (one of the future founders of Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society), and two of their children.

European Methodism also began, as migrants, sailors, soldiers, and others who encountered Methodism outside of Europe shared the message back home. Ludwig Jacoby joined the Methodists after immigrating to Cincinnati in 1838. He returned to Germany in 1849 and began gathering a church in Bremen. The Evangelical Association, with ethnic and linguistic links to Germany, sent Conrad Link as its first official missionary to Germany in 1850. Norwegian seaman Ole Peter Petersen, after hearing Methodists in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1845, preached to Norwegians and Danes in America and Norway in 1849. The first congregation in Denmark was established by Christian Willerup in 1856.

From The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church - 2016. Copyright 2016 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.