Saturday, June 25, 2011

This Week in Texas Methodist HIstory June 26

Cumberland Presbyterians Defend Church State Separation July, 1838

The governor’s call for a prayer meeting in Houston in August 2011 naturally makes the Texas historian consider the relation of church and state in the Republic of Texas. In a nutshell, the founders of the Republic were adamantly opposed to entangling the affairs of church and state. They were so strong in their separationist beliefs that the first draft of the Texas constitution denied preachers the right to vote. It was modified to allow them vote but not hold office. Homer Thrall credits William Crawford, a member of the convention, for the amendment. The prohibition against clergy holding political office continued through several constitutions.

The Texas Bill of Rights declares that there shall be no religious test for office, that prospective jurors who do not swear to God may still serve on juries, that no public money can be spent for sectarian causes, and no preference shall be given to any form of worship or non-worship. In other words, the Texas Bill of Rights provides explicit guarantees for the separation of church and state.

Cumberland Presbyterians were the first Protestants to organize a Protestant judicatory in Texas. They did so in San Augustine County in 1837. One year later the four C.P preachers who constituted the Texas Presbytery of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church convened in San Augustine County. One of their business items directed Amos Roark to write a “Narrative of the State of Religion within the Bounds of the Presbytery of Texas.”

Included in that narrative is a statement that speaks eloquently to the evils of entangling religion and government

Among the first acts of government of our infant republic was the severance of the unholy alliance that existed in the government from which we separated, between church and state—a union deprecated in every age of the world—a union which all experience declares to be productive of unmixed evil to both church and state—a union which robs the holy religion of our blessed Savior of all those peculiar attributes of meekness, purity, humility, and loveliness which its divine founder so fully invested it, and which he ever intended to be its only ornaments, and which degrades and debases it—making it a mere political engine to be used for the promotion of the selfish, vicious, and unholy purposes of political demagogues and designing and ambitious ecclesiastics.

The full text can be read at the Portal to Texas History sunday school date:1838-1838

Saturday, June 18, 2011

This Week in Texas Methodist History June 19

Death Comes to Pattison During Revival, June 22, 1933

The most common revival sermons of 19th century Methodism were not good natured talks on achieving one’s potential. They were not learned orations on the meaning of the original Greek or Hebrew of the scriptures. Revival sermons were not designed to make people feel better about themselves. A typical revival sermon can be summarized as follows.

You are going to die. If you haven’t made a decision for Christ, you are going to spend eternity in Hell. Tonight, right now, you have a chance to escape an eternity in Hell. Don’t wait until tomorrow, because you may not be alive tomorrow. Do it now.

Stories of persons who were “almost persuaded” and then suddenly died were a stock-in-trade of revival preachers. The most famous of such stories in Texas concerned two young men who accompanied their girl friends from Marshall to the famous Scottsville Camp Ground in the 1890’s. They didn’t make the decision for Christ, and on the way home their buggy was swept away by a flood. They drowned, and their unfortunate end became a sermon illustration for decades.

In June, 1933, unexpected death came to Pattison while a revival was in progress. The station preacher, W. W. Hardt had invited his good friend Bruce O. Power to hold revival services in Pattison (Waller County). On Thursday, June 22, Vernon Pattison (age 15) and Roland Gray (age 7) were in the cotton field. A summer thunderstorm developed, and the two boys took shelter in a shed used to store farm implements. Lightning struck the shed. Both boys were killed.

Funeral services were held the following Saturday, June 24. Rev. Power, who had come to preach the revival sermons, assisted in the funerals. The revival theme of “no one knows the hour” was thus reinforced.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

This Week in Texas Methodist History June 12

Texas Christian Advocate Advises Parents “Cheer Up!” After Death of Child

The Texas Christian Advocate published submissions from its readers. Those submissions often included poetry (always bad), weather and crop reports (often depressing), and death notices (often interesting). The June 13, 1861, TCA, published the following death notice from Smith County.

TEXAS CHRISTIAN ADVOCATE, June 13, 1861, James Tunnell died on the 10th of May, 1861, of bloody flux, after an illness of twelve days, aged 48 years, 10 months, and 27 days.

He professed religion and joined the M. E. Church, South, in early life, after which time he lived a consistent member of the same up to his death. He left a large family and a large circle of friends to mourn their loss; but they mourn not as those who have no hope.

Also, Nathaniel Bascom Tunnell, only child of Perry and Ellen Tunnell, of the same disease, aged 13 months and 14 days.

Parents, cheer up! though little Nat cannot come back to you, you can go to him.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

This Week in Texas Methodist History June 5

The Republic of Texas Legalizes Marriages Conducted by Bond, June 5, 1837

Perhaps you think family law is complicated today. The prevalence of blended families, child custody disputes, disposition of family assets, and similar issues fill our courts. As complicated as they may seem, these issues are child’s play when compared with family law in Texas of the 1820’s and 1830’s.

Mexico invited immigrants to the Texas and gave very generous land grants as an inducement to immigrate. A head of household would usually receive a league (4428 acres) and labor (177 acres). An unmarried man would receive ¼ league (1107 acres). If an unmarried grantee later married, he could then apply for an additional ¾ league. Say “I do” and get 3321 acres!

With such a powerful incentive to marry it is little wonder that Mexican Texas was full of sham marriages, fraud, bigamy, and assorted ruses to be able to present oneself as married. Men who deserted their wives in the United States without benefit of divorce sometimes committed bigamy when they arrived in Texas. Young girls of fourteen or fifteen became the objects of courtship by much older men. Widows were especially prized. A man who married a widow not only got the league but could also file a claim for the league due his wife’s deceased first husband.

Unfortunately for couples who wished to marry, only Roman Catholic priests could perform weddings, and there was always a shortage of priests in the regions of Texas being settled by colonists from the United States.

The combination of powerful incentives for marriage and the shortage of priests meant that many couples who wished to marry did so by means of a marriage bond. The parties would post a monetary bond promising to forfeit the bond if they failed to marry the next time a priest came to their settlement. After they posted the bond, they co-habited and lived as husband and wife. Couples would sometimes live as husband and wife for years with no more legal or religious sanction than the marriage bond. A Visit to Texas; Being a Journal of a Traveler Through Those Parts Most Interesting to American Settlers, New York, Goodrich and Wiley, 1834 contains a description of colonists receiving Catholic marriage at San Felipe. Travelers were often amused to see couples being married and several of their children being baptized on the same day.

Many couples who began living together with the sanction of marriage bonds didn’t bother to go through with the wedding. On June 5, 1837, the Congress of the Republic of Texas declared those marriages to be valid without the benefit of clergy. The Congress of the Republic of Texas also enacted marriage laws very similar to the ones with which we are familiar. Ministers of the gospel, civil magistrates, and ship captains were authorized to marry couples. On July 23, 1837, the Rev. Henry Matthews signed the first marriage license issued in Harrisburg (later Harris) County, Texas, as Mary Smith and Hugh McCrory wed. There was no more need for marriage bonds.