This Week in
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
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
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
which argued that refraining from secular pursuits on Sunday was a main
building block of character building. 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!