Even with the forward progress the Methodist Church had made in race relations, all was not yet well. Some black demonstrators protested at the 1968 General Conference in Dallas for not addressing racism more aggressively. One protesting group declared ,”We find no indication that the uniting conference intends to take immediate steps to deal with racism in its structural life.” Bishop Nolan Harmon preached,”The church had much more influence on earth when it talked of heaven.” [“Race Issue Explodes at Church Merger Sessions”, New Journal and Guide (April 27, 1968) Page 1]. Delegates created a new General Commission on Religion and Race and also voted $20 million for a Bishops’ Fund for Reconciliation to target inner-city needs. [Murray, Crucible of Race, Pages 204-205].
At the special 1970 General Conference in St. Louis to complete the Methodist merger with the Evangelical United Brethren, “black power” militants disrupted the Council of Bishops meeting and briefly exchanged shoves with some bishops. In the episcopal address delivered by Bishop J. Gordon Howard, he admitted:”Advances in eliminating racism do not come easily. Those in control do not readily relinquish privileges that they have enjoyed and they exert pressures and restrictions which often are cruel.” James Lawson led Black Methodists for Church Renewal (BMCR) in demanding millions in church funding for BMCR as well as 30 percent of all church agency board slots, demands that were only partially met. The General Commission on Religion and Race observed,”White racism, subtle and overt, still pervades our Church.” [Murray, Crucible of Race, Pages 217-217]. No matter how much a church may try to avoid politics, when people come together with varying agendas politics is going to enter the equation. Leadership can deny politics in the church but it is there…it’s part of the human nature.
By action of the 1972 General Conference, all Central Jurisdiction annual conferences were folded into geographic annual conferences in 1973, though logistical concerns with the Mississippi merger persisted until 1975. Official Methodist church segregation had now structurally ended. [Murray, Crucible of Race, Pages 228-229].
As I have proposed, as long as we have humans interfacing with each other we are going to have political involvement. Methodist activism for racial integration had, by the mid-1960’s expanded to include rambunctious protests over other political controversies to include primarily the Vietnam War. The Methodist Church chose to exhibit strong opposition to the war. Included in the political activities of the church was also the questioning of a Catholic to possibly becoming the president. The Methodist Church had chosen to move even deeper into political involvement…not only in politics that impacted the church, but in politics that had nationwide implication.
Next week we will move from a still unsolved solution to racism to the politics of Vietnam and Watergate. Instead of putting politics aside, the church got even more deeply involved. Now, I do not criticize the church for having an opinion on politics…I believe the church should be the conscience of our government. I started writing this “Politics and the Church” because of a pastor who stated politics did not belong in the church, even to the point of removing Christian published voter guides. I cannot help but think that maybe there was some ulterior motive but then that’s neither here nor there. I will continue in my search for when politics was no longer part of the church.
– Bob Munsey
“Many men owe the grandeur of their lives to their tremendous difficulties.” Charles Haddon Spurgeon