While one faction of the Methodist organization found President Hoover to be praiseworthy for his commitment to Prohibition, another faction did not see it quite that way. Southern Bishop Edwin Mouzon, a Democrat who had opposed Al Smith in 1928, in 1931 criticized the President for lack of commitment to Prohibition. He lamented in a Charlotte, North Carolina, speech that “Herbert Hoover has been in office for two years and not yet does the public know whether he is wet or dry.” Bishop Mouzon complained that no President since Prohibition’s passage had effectively enforced it. Woodrow Wilson “did not approve the form of the law.” Warren Harding “did nothing” because he was interested in “no moral question.” Calvin Coolidge “said nothing and did nothing.” In 1932, Bishop Mouzon criticized the American Legion as a “public menace” and other “bonus seekers” desiring early discharge of a government bonus promised to World War I veterans whom he called “beggars and robbers of the public treasury.” Methodist veterans called Mouzon’s denunciation “un-Christian” and “very detrimental” to the church. [“Veterans Protest Bishop’s Remarks”, Baltimore Sun (October 24, 1932), pg.7].
Not fearing political flashback or loss of tax exemption, in preparing for the 1932 presidential race, southern Bishop James Cannon in 1931 warned Democrats…can you imagine that in today’s world…not to renominate Al Smith or nominate New York Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was “openly and officially committed to repeal of the 18th Amendment”. He insisted “dry” Democrats would not support either candidate. [“Wet Platforms Hit by Cannon M’Bride”, Washington Post (August 1, 1931), pg.3]. Seeing the ‘writing on the wall’, Methodist temperance officials hailed Eleanor Roosevelt as a prohibitionist. [“Roosevelt Not Wet, Pickett Article Says”, Washington Post (May 23, 1931), pg. 1].
The northern bishops, in their episcopal address to the 1932 General Conference, were worried about Prohibition’s repeal, admitting it had become “embarrassing” in some regions. They hoped America would be guided by “reason, conscience, patriotism, and the interests of the family and the home.” They reiterated their absolute commitment to the “permanency” of the 18th Amendment. [Journal of the General Conference, Methodist Episcopal Church (1932), pgs. 180-184]. The General Conference implored “every patriotic citizen to observe the law”, and urge support for political candidates “who stand against the restoration of the liquor traffic in any form.” [Ibid., pg. 654]. I wonder if they did this through voter guides?
Exercising a kind of fortitude you would never see today, during the 1932 presidential campaign, Clarence Wilson warned President Hoover not to abandon Prohibition: “Drys would not support him and would go to extreme lengths to repudiate what they would consider a policy of Judas Iscariot”. He threatened that ‘drys’ would support “an independent candidate” or even vote for a ‘wet’ Democrat as “a rebuke for that kind of leadership”. [“Republicans: Feeling Wetter”, TIME (March 28, 1932)]. By late 1933, with support from a newly elected, wet President Franklin Roosevelt, the US Congress and the states had quickly repealed Prohibition.
Methodism’s political lobby would never again be so influential. A renowned agnostic lawyer, Clarence Darrow, a frequent and friendly debating partner with Clarence True Wilson, denounced Wilson’s Temperance Board as “the Methodist Vatican at Washington” which was the “most brutal, bigoted, ignorant bunch since the Spanish Inquisition.” [McNeil, Clarence Darrow’s Unlikely Friend, pg. 131]. Wilson retired from the Methodist Board of Temperance, Prohibition, and Public Morals in 1936 after a “general breakdown” following over 30 years of struggle for Prohibition. [Ibid., pg. 195].
Southern Bishop Cannon fell from public view more dramatically. His political enemies, led by Virginia’s Senator Carter Glass, were enraged by his dividing the Democrat Party over Prohibition. They sought Cannon’s destruction through allegations of political, financial, and sexual misconduct. Although Cannon was officially vindicated in civil and church trials, his power was broken. Southern Methodism abolished its own Board of Temperance and Social Service in 1934. After Prohibition’s collapse, Bishop Cannon’s demise also roughly applied to the decline of Methodist political influence in Washington.
Methodism did not stop its political involvement with Prohibition but to move to another subject in the coming weeks we will take a ‘detour’ from “The Hypocrisy of Politics in the Church”…we will come back to this…but in the weeks to come we will look at and identify the ‘angels of light‘ we have in today’s society and how they are trying to influence the society to favor Satan. In this time and age it is important to know what we are being presented with and how God’s Word is being twisted to support something it doesn’t. We have to be careful as to how we see the world around us. Even the leaders in some churches may say something from the pulpit but then support something different when not in that surrounding. We see the same from our politicians. We must examine not only what they say, but investigate how they live. It’s one thing to profess a belief in repentance and forgiveness, but quite another when it comes to the exercise of such principles. The next series will be entitled “Politics and the Church – The Church v. the Angel of Light”.
– Bob Munsey