The Civil War to World War I (1860-1913)
Bitterness between northern and southern Methodists had intensified in the years leading to Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860 and then through the carnage of the Civil War. Each church claimed divine sanction for its region and prayed fervently for God’s will to be accomplished in victory for its side.
The Civil War devastated The Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Its churches lay in ruins or were seriously damaged. Many of its clergy were killed or wounded, and its educational, publishing, and missionary programs were disrupted. African American membership declined significantly during and after the war. In 1870, the General Conference voted to transfer all remaining African Americans to a new church. The Colored Methodist Episcopal Church (now The Christian Methodist Episcopal Church) resulted. The Methodist Episcopal Church, Methodist Protestants, United Brethren, and Evangelicals also lost preachers and members but did not suffer the same economic loss as southern Methodism.
The period from the Civil War to World War I saw growth in membership for all branches of Methodism, Evangelicals, and United Brethren. The value of church property increased dramatically, Sunday schools were strengthened through increased training of teachers, and publishing houses maintained ambitious programs to furnish members with literature. Higher educational standards for the clergy were cultivated, and theological seminaries were founded. The period was also marked by theological developments and controversies. The holiness movement, which emphasized a Christian’s experience of entire sanctification, together with the rise of liberal theology and the Social Gospel Movement, were sources of conflict.
Rural and poorer segments of the church, especially those associated with the holiness movement, were skeptical of prestige and affluence. A Methodist preacher, Benjamin Titus Roberts, had formed the Free Methodist Church in 1860 to oppose worldliness, especially the grand middle class churches in cities financed by renting pews. In 1895, the Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene (now the Nazarene Church) was formed under the encouragement of Phineas Bresee, a Methodist Episcopal preacher, presiding elder, and delegate to the General Conferences of 1872 and 1892. The goal for the new denomination, founded in 1894, was to have churches furnished to welcome the poor where holiness was preached.
Two other issues that caused substantial debate in the churches during this period were lay representation and the role of women. Methodist Protestants had granted the laity representation from the time they organized in 1830. The clergy in The Methodist Episcopal Church, The Methodist Episcopal Church, South, The Evangelical Association, and the Church of the United Brethren in Christ were much slower in permitting laity an official voice. It was not until 1932 that the last of these churches allowed lay representation.
Even more contentious was the question of women’s ordination and eligibility for lay offices and representation in the church. Women had been ordained in holiness denominations as early as the 1860s, and the United Brethren General Conference approved ordination for women in 1889. However, The Methodist Episcopal Church and The Methodist Episcopal Church, South, did not ordain women until well after their reunion in 1939.1 The Evangelical Association never ordained women. Lay representation for women was also resisted. Women were not admitted as delegates to the General Conferences of The Methodist Protestant Church until 1892, the United Brethren until 1893, The Methodist Episcopal Church until 1904, and The Methodist Episcopal Church, South, until 1922.
Mission work continued to rise on the agendas of the churches. Women formed missionary societies beginning in 1869 to educate, recruit, and raise funds for these endeavors. Missionaries like Isabella Thoburn, Susan Bauernfeind, and Harriett Brittan, and administrators like Bell Harris Bennett and Lucy Rider Meyer, motivated thousands of church women to support home and foreign missions.
Domestic mission programs sought to Christianize the city. Home missionaries established schools for former slaves and their children. In 1871, the southern Methodist church ordained Alejo Hernandez, making him the first Hispanic preacher ordained in Methodism, although Benigno Cardenas had preached in Spanish in Santa Fe, New Mexico, as early as 1853. Significant Methodist ministries among Asian Americans were instituted during this period, especially among Chinese and Japanese immigrants. A Japanese layman, Kanichi Miyama, was ordained in California in 1887.
Methodism continued to expand in Asia, Europe, Africa, and Latin America. From 1870 to 1875 Methodist missionaries embarked on revival campaigns in India south of the Ganges River under the leadership of James M. Thoburn, and the famous holiness evangelist William Taylor. These efforts gave birth to the South India Conference in 1876. Thoburn also began work in Southeast Asia when he opened mission work in Rangoon, Burma (Myanmar), in 1879. In 1885, he led the establishment of Methodist work in Singapore, which later expanded into the Malaya Peninsular and Sarawak to become the Malaysia Annual Conference in 1902. The conference also sent the first Methodist pastor to Indonesia in 1905. Methodism reached the Philippines when Thoburn organized work in Manila in 1899, which quickly grew to become the Philippine Islands Annual Conference in 1908.
At the Methodist Episcopal General Conference of 1884, a petition from the Liberia Conference was presented, asking for a resident bishop in Africa. William Taylor was elected to the episcopacy as missionary bishop to Africa. Taylor went with two specific assignments: overseeing Liberia and expanding missions on the African continent. Between May 20 and September 10, 1885, the Methodist Episcopal Church founded five strategic points to start their work in Angola. In 1886, the bishop and his party entered the Lower Congo. Taylor also visited the king of Portugal in 1886 and received permission to do mission work in Portuguese East Africa (Mozambique). Taylor established self-supporting churches in southern Liberia, Sierra Leone, Angola, in what is today Mozambique, and in Zaire. In 1896, Joseph Crane Hartzell was elected Bishop for Africa, and by 1897 the Methodist Episcopal Church reached Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). During this period, annual conferences other than those in the United States were organized regionally into what was termed central conferences.
1. The Methodist Episcopal Church ordained women as “local elders” starting in 1924. However, The Methodist Church (1939) did not grant full clergy rights to women until 1956.
From The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church - 2016. Copyright 2016 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.