The development of the social creed of the Methodist church
Brown, Forrest Raymond
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The purpose of this Dissertation is to trace in Methodism, with particular reference to the official records of the Methodist Episcopal Church, the rise of social interest and action which led to the formulation and adoption of the Social Creed. The Creed is a comprehensive statement of ideals and purposes for the redemption of society. These principles are grounded in the Christian Gospel, which is in essence a social gospel. The social gospel of Methodism is not to he understood aside from personal salvation. The Church emphasizes personal religion and personal experience as the primary conditions of a changed society, believing that individuals who claim allegiance to Jesus Christ are also accepting a moral imperative to use what they gain in ways beneficial to mankind. This spirit of service had rise in the Holy Club at Oxford, and the work of John Wesley. The first widening of the social field in America came to pass in connection with slavery, an issue which finally brought division in the Church as well as in the Nation. Freeing the black man by law and war did not free him from the slavary of ignorance and white-man's prejudice. The Freedmen's Aid Society came into existence as an agency of rehabilitation. After thirty-five years of effort in behalf of the negro, Methodism succeeded in electing a colored bishop. Larger considerations of race developed along with the black-white issue and the increase of immigration. The Methodist opposed Chinese exclusion, and Japanese exclusion, taking a firm stand against all race discriminations, claims of racial superiority, and rampant nationalism. Paced by widespread illiteracy, the Methodists developed schools, not only for the care of their own, but for all who would come. The Church became a power in education, maintaining that education is second in importance only to religion. It pioneered in industrial education, and early provided facilities for advanced study. The schools of the Church have been prolific in the output of teachers, and their work among negroes has been outstanding. Millions of dollars have been raised for maintenance and endowments, all invested in the youth of the world. Methodism has been an ardent supporter of the public schools, believing that an ignorant suffrage is one of the greatest dangers to democracy. In early years the Methodists adopted strict rules against the use, buying, and selling of spirituous liquors. The pressure of vested and private interests caused these rules against buying and selling to be laid aside, but they were restored in 1848. The Methodist Church now stands opposed to any licensed liquor trade whatsoever, affirming that the traffic endangers the peace and security of individuals, of society, and of government. While in one sense the fight is against sin, the problem is now considered to be social, to be remedied by social action, the program for reform to be determined by enlightened public opinion. When the temperance crusade failed to accomplish desired reforms, the Church turned to legal measures, a procedure which marked a distinct change in thought as well as in method, establishing a precedent in social action. Methodists were chiefly responsible for the Prohibition Amendment. The statute was an evidence of the hitting power of the Church. After giving attention to the servants of the Church relative to wages, living conditions, and opportunities for education, the Methodists reached out into society to claim fairness, equality, and opportunity for all men, and set to work with characteristic spirit to accomplish practical results. Not content with a mere ideology, they devoted their resources to the attainment of social ends. Statutes and institutions do not alone mark the results. Changed attitudes and opinions are of first rank in the accomplishment of reform. The Methodist power of propaganda has been at times tremendous. Starting with the institution of slavery, the Church exercised her forces in the cause of freedom as the natural birthright of the individual, freedom to choose his way of livelihood, to organize, to provide for the security of himself and his family against disease, unemployment, and occupational dangers. In short, Methodism has stood for the transcendance of human rights over the domination of wealth, powers, systems, and machines, for the elevation of personality to god-like character in a Kingdom of God on earth as a premise to the Kingdom of Heaven. Out of an age where wars were not in all instances held to be un-Christian, up from days when the Church insistently gave of her own to fight for cause, Methodism has evolved to the present stand against war, risen out of nationalism to internationalism and considerations of world peace, world tribunals, and a family of nations. Methodism has helped to win wars. Now it stands against all war, declaring that war is not inevitable, refusing to believe that any emergency can arise between nations which cannot be settled by arbitration. The rights of conscientious objectors are recognized, and urged upon the consideration of nations and individuals. The confluence of many avenues of interest and labor is found in the Social Creed, which is the gospel in terms of modern society, and is itself a summary of the growth of social thought and effort, as well as a program for future reform. The roots go deep, to any point where the Methodist enthusiasm for redemption touched society, awakening compassion for man, and desire to improve him and the conditions in which he lives. It rose out of the context of life as social changes caused the Church to develop an adequate social gospel. In giving form to these high principles, and according them prominent place in the life of the Church, Methodism has rendered an important contribution, in the process of which the Church has been true to a well-deserved reputation for leadership in the crusade for social righteousness. The main purpose of this study is to trace the rise of the Creed. Conclusions reached regarding its nature, and effect are as follows: 1. The Creed declares for Christian-Democratic principles and processes for social improvement. 2. It is the product of those same principles and processes, as well as a starting place for future reform. 3. It is a most important witness of the increasing spread of the spirit of the social gospel. 4. The Social Creed of the Methodist Episcopal Church was the basis of the social platform of all American Protestantism. 5. The main authority of the Creed lies in the universal nature of the statements themselves; they strike to the heart of the problems of society.
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