Saturday, January 19, 2008

This Week in Texas Methodist History January 20

Joint Commission on Unification Convenes in Savannah, Jan. 23, 1918

Most readers of this column are familiar with the creation of the Methodist Church in 1939 with the unification of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Methodist Episcopal Church South, and the Methodist Protestant Church. Less well known is the unsuccessful attempt during the 1910s and 1920s to unify the MEC and MECS. The General Conferences of 1914 (MECS) and 1916 (MEC) authorized the creation of a Joint Commission on Unification. Although the Commission recommendations were eventually rejected, its deliberations were part of the process that led to the 1939 merger.

There were fifty members of the Commission, five bishops, ten clergy, and ten laity, from each denomination. All were male. Two were African American, including Robert E. Jones, elected Bishop in 1920 and famous for the founding of Gulfside in Mississippi.

Texans on the Commission included Bishop Edwin Mouzon of Dallas, President Robert S. Hyer (laity) of SMU, and President C. M. Bishop (clergy) of Southwestern University. Texans could also claim Horace DuBose of Nashville since he held appointments at Galveston (St. James), Houston (Shearn), and Marvin in Tyler (twice). John M. Moore had served both Travis Park in San Antonio and First Methodist Dallas. Moore later wrote The Long Road to Methodist Union (1943) about the events under consideration.

The Commission convened five times from December 1916 to July 1919. The 500 pound gorilla in the room was the status of African Americans after a potential reunion of the MEC and MECS. The problem stemmed from the different methods by which the two denominations implemented segregation during Reconstruction. The MEC created segregated annual conferences, but did not segregate general conference. The MEC sponsored a separate general conference that was known first as the Colored MECS, then the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church, and eventually the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.

The three Texans all participated. Hyer’s contributions mainly consisted of asking clarifying questions and seeking more precision in the recommendations. Both Mouzon and Bishop participated much more fully.

At the second meeting, in Traverse City, Michigan, Bishop Mouzon was obviously irked by the difficulty of travel arrangements he had undergone. As the meeting was concluding, New Orleans and Savannah were offered as possible sites for the next meeting. Mouzon then nominated Browsnville. His motion lost to Savannah.

The third meeting of the Commission opened in Savannah on January 23, 1918. During the two week session, President Bishop defended the MECS positions at great length. MECS delegates wanted the African American MEC conferences to be organized into a separate General Conference. MEC delegates were willing to put them in a separate Jurisdictional Conference. That is, of course, what eventually happened in 1939.

Much of the Commission’s time was debating terminology. It coined the terms “Jurisdictional Conference” (rather than “Regional Conference”), “Judicial Council” (rather than “Supreme Court”). Delegates debated “Negro,” “Colored,”, and “Afro American,” eventually accempting Robert E. Jones’ preferences on the subject. During one of the deliberations about terminology, Mouzon passed on the famous “Ura Hogg” canard as follows.
Once upon
a time, in the good State of Texas, we had a great Governor
whose name was Hogg and he called himself Hogg, and further
more the story runs that he had a boy whose name was Ura
Hogg and he had a girl whose name was Ima Hogg. I think
that is a true story, but whether it is fable or fact, the principle
is all right. A name ought to mean something and not some
thing else.


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