Saturday, October 30, 2010

This Week in Texas Methodist HIstory October 31

Freethinker J. D. Shaw Leaves Northwest Texas Conference, Nov. 4, 1882

This week begins a two part series in which we will tell the stories of two Northwest Texas Conference preachers who withdrew from the conference under pressure. One was a modernist and the other a fundamentalist. The cases are interesting because both men were among the most prominent preachers of their conference.

The battles over modernism in the Methodism are most famous in the 1920s, but the case of James Dickson Shaw (1841-1926) shows that disputes over modernism existed decades earlier.

Shaw was born in Walker County, served in the Confederate Army and then taught at Marvin College. In 1878 he was appointed to Fifth Street Methodist Church in Waco. Annual conferences in those days had to pass on the character of each preacher individually. When Shaw’s name was called at the Northwest Texas Annual Conference meeting at Cleburne on November 2, 1882, no one could say anything negative about his character or his behavior, but his presiding elder reported rumors criticizing his doctrinal purity. A committee was appointed to examine the rumors. Shaw appeared before the three person committee and told them that he had modified his opinions concerning the inspiration of the scriptures, the divinity of Jesus, the vicarious atonement, and the punishment of the wicked.

The committee reported their findings to the full conference, concluding that his views were “detrimental to religion and injurious to the church.” Shaw asked for time to withdraw rather than be expelled and also asked for time to address the annual conference in a farewell speech.

On Saturday, November 4, Shaw delivered that farewell and resigned not just from the conference but from his various offices including an editorship of the Texas Christian Advocate, one of the curators of Southwestern University, Secretary of the Board of Missions, member of the Board of Publications of the Advocate, and member of the General Board of Missions.

Shaw moved back to Waco and only a month after the conference, on Dec. 2, 1882, was instrumental in forming the Religious and Benevolent Association. In 1883 that association began publishing the Independent Pulpit, a monthly twenty-four page magazine that championed the modernist cause. By 1884 the Association had grown large enough to build its own building, Liberal Hall. The Independent Pulpit circulated beyond Texas, and Shaw gave weekly lectures.

Naturally those lectures attracted the scorn of more orthodox preachers. Waco Baptist, B. H. Carroll preached a sermon, “The Agnostic,” aimed directly at members of the Society. The Religious and Benevolent Society did not last. Liberal Hall burned in 1889 and was not rebuilt.

Shaw’s personal life was filled with tragedy. His first wife died leaving him to raise five young children. His second wife also died. In 1910 he moved to California to live with one of his daughters. After his death in 1926, his ashes were returned to Waco.

Friday, October 22, 2010

this Week in Texas Methodist HIstory October 24

Charles Shearn Born in Bath, England, October 30, 1794

One of the most distinguished Methodist lay men of the 19th century, Charles Shearn, was born on October 30, 1794, in Bath, England. He immigrated to Texas in 1835, in time to fight in the Texas Revolution. He and his son were captured by General Urrea’s troops, but when Urrea discovered they were British subjects, the Shearns were released. In 1837, Shearn moved to Houston. His move to the city named after the hero of the Battle of San Jacinto less than a year after its founding was a wise move. As Houston grew, so did Shearn’s mercantile business. He prospered.

Shearn became a civic and religious leader. He was chief justice (old term for County Judge). He was on the city council and served as road commissioner. His service to the church was so great that the Methodist church was named in his honor. He was on the building committee that Robert Alexander authorized in 1842, and was twice fiscal agent for the Texas Christian Advocate. He died in 1871. Shearn was renamed First Methodist when it moved to its present location in 1910.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

This Week in Texas Methodist History October 17

Texas Conference Opens New Headquarters October 20, 1967

On October 20, 1967 a special session of the Texas Conference convened at St. Paul’s Methodist Church on South Main Street in Houston. The purpose of this session was to open the conference’s new headquarters building at 5215 Main Street, just a few block to the north. The conference needed new facilities because of its programs and staff were expanding. The conference had been in a church building boom, and the impending merger of the churches in the Texas Conference (Central Jurisdiction) in just three years would further increase its membership by about 1/6th. It was time for a new facility.

The headquarters occupied some of the most valuable real estate in Houston. It was only a few blocks from the Medical Center which included the world famous Methodist Hospital of Houston, Rice University, and a major cultural and recreational area that included a park, zoo, and museums. Besides its proximity to St. Paul’s, it was also convenient to First Methodist Houston.

The building was made possible mainly through the generosity of R. E. (Bob) and Vivian Smith, members of First Methodist Church. Bob Smith had climbed the economic ladder from roughneck to driller to petroleum company owner. He invested his money in Harris County real estate and invested his time in civic service to Houston. At one time he owned more than 11,000 acres of Harris County property. He served on a variety of boards including the Houston Symphony, the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, and the Methodist Hospital. He was instrumental in bringing major league baseball to Houston and, with Roy Hofheinz, building the Harris County Domed Stadium (the Astrodome). He served on the boards of both Texas Wesleyan College and Southwestern University.

The generosity of the Smiths allowed the conference to move fairly quickly on the project. On April 29, 1966 a special session of the conference was held at Lakeview to discuss the issue of a new building. In June the 1966 annual conference authorized borrowing $275,000 for the project. Sixteen months later the building was open for business.

The special session convened at 1:30 p.m. on October 20, 1967 at St. Paul’s and conducted a few pro forma business items. Dr. Charles Allen presented a Bible to his parishioners, Bob and Vivian Smith, and thanked them for their donation. Conference members processed to the new headquarters. Vivian Smith cut the ribbon. Several dignitaries participated in the ceremony. Houston Mayor Louie Welch, Rabbi Hyman Schachtel, Episcopal Bishop Milton Richardson, and Roman Catholic Bishop John Morkovsky were all there.

The total cost of the building, landscaping, carpeting, parking area had been $364.602. The furnishings cost another $61,000. The indebtedness of $275,000 to the Great Southern Life Insurance Company of Houston was covered with a twenty year note at 6% interest. The monthly payment was $1971.75. The modern building contained the Bishop’s office, conference staff, the two Houston District Superintendents, the Houston District Board of Missions, and the Houston office of the Methodist Home. The Smith Building, since remodeled and expanded, continues to serve the needs of the conference.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

This Week in Texas Methodist History October 10

Texas Conference (CJ) Passes Two Anti-Lynching Resolutions October 15, 1946

One of the continuing threads of the history of the United States is the inherent tension in a federal system between the powers of the federal government and those of the states. The specific issues have changed through the years from South Carolina’s attempts to “nullify” the collection of U. S. tariffs in the early 1830s to the present attempt by several state attorneys general to nullify the extension of health insurance.

It may surprise many readers of this column to know that a major flash point between states rights advocates and advocates of federal power was whether the federal government should protect African Americans by passing a federal anti-lynch law. Conservatives argued that a federal anti-lynch law would usurp the police powers of the states. The battle was mainly fought at the quadrennial Democratic National Convention. Liberals would bring a resolution to the Platform Committee asking that the Democratic Party support a law that would use the law enforcement resources of the federal government to punish lynch mob participants. Conservative Southerners would defeat the resolution.

A call for the passage of such a law was a constant feature of the African American press during the 1920s and 1930s, and at least some MECS women, including Jessie Daniel Ames, founder of the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching, adopted the cause.

The passage of a federal antilynching was still an uphill battle, and lynching continued to occur. The states rights argument that law enforcement was a local issue was contradicted by the fact that local police officers sometimes participated in the lynching, local grand juries seldom indicted the murderers, and guilty verdicts for those criminals were few and far between. Even guilty verdicts sometimes resulted in insignificant penalties.
A particularly egregious lynching had occurred about 60 miles east of Atlanta, Georgia, on July 25, 1946 George and Mae Dorsey and Roger and Dorothy Malcolm; two young African American couples were brutally killed by a lynch mob. George Dorsey had recently returned from five years military service in the Pacific theater.

In this case the FBI did investigate, but no indictments were returned. President Truman did introduce antilynching legislation. Southern conservatives killed it. No one was ever charged at either the state or federal level for these four murders.

It was in this context that the Texas Conference (Central Jurisdiction) met at Boynton Chapel in Houston from October 15-20, 1946. The conference passed two resolutions dealing with lynching. One was composed by a committee and called upon President Truman to bring the perpetrators of the Georgia lynching to justice. The other was submitted to the conference by the Rev. A. W. Carr, a retired minister, who had joined the conference in 1900. Carr described the lynching as “the most dastardly, base and cowardly act ever perpetrated against the Negro in the United States.” Carr’s resolution also called upon President Truman to seek justice.

The passage of these resolutions was one small step on the road to racial justice. It would be more than a decade before federal legislation authorized national law enforcement