Friday, July 20, 2012

This Week in Texas Methodist History July 22

John E. Green Supports Sunday Closing Law in Houston, July 1902

One of the social issues that occupied Methodists in the Progressive Era was the enforcement of Sunday closing laws.   The aim of such laws was simple—to keep stores closed on Sunday.  The ban on Sunday activities was often extended to include sporting events, amusement parks, and other secular pursuits.  Church conferences were always scheduled to avoid Sunday travel because so many preachers refused to travel on Sunday. 

Sunday closing laws were widely unpopular among many minority ethnic groups and laborers.  By 1902 Houston had a well developed industrial base mainly centered on the Southern Pacific Rail shops.  Laborers in those shops and others worked six day weeks, and the Sunday closing laws caused significant restrictions on their activities.  German immigrants to Texas  organized a variety of singing societies, Turner Associations (physical culture), nine pins bowling clubs, and shooting societies.  Those societies typically met on Sunday.  Their activities fell under the Sunday laws provisions. 

The main spectator sport of the era was baseball --often played on Sunday afternoons in the summer.  Those games also came under the ban.  When a Nebraska sheriff tried to arrest the team members, a riot ensued in which the Methodist preachers who had accompanied him ended up before the justice of the peace.

In July 1902 Rev. John E. Green, pastor of the McKee Street Methodist Church on the north side of Houston, supported the enforcement effort.  Before he began his sermon, he read a circular letter from the Retail Merchants and Grocers Association supporting the closing.  The letter contained the typical secular rationale for the Sunday closing laws, i. e., that the employees needed a day of rest. 

Green then preached his sermon Character Building which argued that refraining from secular pursuits on Sunday was a main building block of character building. 

In his retirement Green stayed in Houston and wrote a fascinating memoir, John E. Green and His Forty Years in Houston. (1928) The memoir reveals that he kept fighting to uphold Methodist standards of decency in his retirement.  When the marathon dance fad of the 1920’s came to Houston, Green threw himself into that fight.  He claims credit for closing down prize fighting in Houston too, but not without threats from the boxing promoters.  What could they threaten him with?  Not with violence.  After all he was an old man and a preacher.  Beating him up would bring sympathy to his cause.  Instead the boxing promoters threatened to close down football at Texas Methodist colleges.  Now that’s a threat!


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