In 1930, northern Bishop Francis McConnel defended Prohibition to a Congressional committee. He reminded Congressmen that the eighteenth Amendment was approved by 46 out of 48 states. This even went beyond the limits of a ‘voters guide’. He reminded them that flawed enforcement did not justify repeal any more than the failure to enforce traffic laws. “Anything that hurts the fundamental welfare of the child, the home or society is a concern of the Church and no amount of sophistry will prevent the Church from stating its minds and conscience on the matter.” [“The Opposition of the Church to the Liquor Traffic”, Christian Advocate (March 20, 1930), pg. 357]. I can’t help but wonder how the Bishop would view today’s churches?
A northern Methodist newspaper editorialized in 1930: “When a church, possessing well-settled and openly declared moral convictions — whether related to peace, or to divorce or to narcotics or to Prohibition — exerts itself by all honorable methods to make its ideals prevail in the field of government, we submit that such action is righteous, justifiable and within the proper interpretation of the law.” The editorial rejoiced that “wet” forces recognized that Methodism was the “keystone” to resisting any repeal of Prohibition. [“The Church and Politics”, Christian Advocate (April 17, 1930), pg. 484]. For this reason Methodism’s Board of Temperance had been headquartered in Washington, DC. Where would these leaders be in today’s world. Would they be told politics does not belong in the church? In 1930, several congressmen denounced northern Methodism’s Board of Temperance’s “interference” with the US government. I wonder how many of the congressmen were receiving ‘donations’ from the makers of ‘spirits’? The more things change the more they stay the same. In response, an official from that Board explained that the church’s General Conference had created the Board to relate the Gospel to the “economic, political, industrial and social relations of life, and which will crystallize opposition to all public violations of the moral law and to all attempts to undermine or destroy established civil and religious liberties.” The church’s motives sprang from an “intense loyalty to Americanism and democracy. It was pointed out that the Board’s staff and officers included both Republicans and Democrats. The Board’s focus was on “principles of morality and human brotherhood”. [“Why Methodists Work from Washington”, Christian Advocate (June 26, 1930), pg. 817]. We must never forget that we are both citizens of Heaven and citizens of Earth, and we have obligations to both.
Clarence Wilson defended his Board of Temperance more pithily, decrying some who were “terribly indignant” over padlocking saloons while “unblushingly” advocating the “padlocking of our pulpits.” He explained: “A church is not simply here to get people to Heaven, but to make this a better world here and now.” Wilson rejoiced,”This world is not big enough to hold in peace the militant church of Jesus Christ to save men, and the licensed liquor traffic with its open saloons to destroy them and their children.” [“The Moral Lobby in Washington”, Christian Advocate (April 10, 1930)]. Unfortunately today the leaders in some churches have themselves ‘padlocked’ their own pulpits.
Southern Methodism’s bishops warily noted to their General Conference that a defiant opposition to Prohibition had risen. They urged support for all government officials striving to defend the law against the “liquor evil”. They reminded attendees that just because the law had been passed it did not mean that there was nothing more to do. The “forces of evil never sleep” and the church must remain awake. The southern bishops said the church can have “no alliance with partisan politics.” But the church is the “eternal enemy of unrighteousness” and will battle against “iniquity and on the side of personal and public righteousness.” [Journal of the Twenty-First General Conference, Methodist Episcopal Church, South (1930), pgs. 378-379].
Northern Methodism’s Board of Bishops in 1930 saluted President Hoover’s “decisive stand” for enforcement of Prohibition and declared the “special obligation” of Christian people to stand with him. They lamented that “wet propaganda” had reached the level of “treasonable utterances” and they urged Methodists to a “new sense of obligation” to support the US Constitution. Methodists were summoned to a “renewed devotion” to Prohibition and the “final overthrow of the organized liquor traffic.” [“On Prohibition and Law Enforcement”, Christian Advocate (May 29, 1930), pg. 677].
The victories, or so they seemed, were not without opposition or detractors. Strengths started to fall apart and controversy led to the eventual failure of Prohibition. Next week we will close this section on the church’s involvement in attempting to cure what they saw as a serious societal problem. One would hope the failure to not be of such character as to discourage the church from being the conscience of government and society.
– Bob Munsey