Why Methodism’s Broken Heart? Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee and Indiana: 1816-1876

“…, attitudinally—precisely where it proved most successful, namely in its heartland states stretching west from the Delmarva across middle America? ”

Team Members/Contributors

Russell E. Richey Emory University, Candler School of Theology Contact Me

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From its late 18th century landing on the Delmarva Peninsula, an initially anti-slavery Methodism advanced west across middle America, its circuit riders and class meetings welcoming into membership Blacks as well as whites. In this ‘border’ state homeland, Methodism went early into torment over slavery, retreated from its initial anti-slavery witness, suffered through several racially-inspired denominational schisms, and, in the major 1939 reunion, structured in sectional-racist denominational divisions (jurisdictions). Virtually all Blacks went into a national Central Jurisdiction. The five regional jurisdictions live on, dividing the church sectionally. Gradually, the Central Jurisdiction bled churches and ministers into one of the previously white jurisdictions. Jurisdictional sectionalism persists, however, discord now flagged on abortion and homosexuality. Further, racial separatism lingers, markedly and especially at the congregational level.

The four selected states and their conferences exhibit Methodism’s old and ongoing strains (see Appendix 1). In them the sectional racist spirit surfaced gradually in the period 1816-1876. In the 1844 Methodist Episcopal Church division over slavery, Ohio and Indiana marched with the MEC (north) and Tennessee and Kentucky with the MEC South. In the latter two, however, some anti-slavery sentiment persisted and in the two northern states considerable racism and some pro-slavery advocacy. Methodists invested significantly on both sides of the Civil War. The sectional and racial commitments, matured in the years studied, have stayed vibrant in two (now jurisdictioned) Methodisms.