This Week in Texas Methodist History November 8
Northwest TexasAnnual Conference Condemns Modernism
The Northwest Texas Annual Conference met in Canyon from Nov. 11-15, 1925, with Bishop James Dickey presiding. In addition to the usual business of conference, the delegates also inserted themselves into the debate over fundamentalism and modernism at SMU.
Historians have long debated the causes of the rise of fundamentalism in the immediate post-World War I era. Perhaps it was a reaction against Progressivism; disillusion with the results of World War I; maybe a reaction against the new discoveries of physics and psychology that showed uncertainty, relativism, and the role of the unconscious. Whatever the underlying causes, the fundamentalists focused on opposition to three areas---rationalism, higher criticism in theology, and evolution. A denominational university like SMU, just getting off the ground, was bound to be buffeted by the conflicts.
The contest was engaged as early as the 1917-1918 academic year. A teacher of sophomore English, Katherine Balderson, assigned a novel in which a character was a clergyman who lost his belief in the literal interpretation of scripture. Such an innocent assignment by today’s standards resulted in a summons to defend herself before the theological faculty headed by Bishop Mouzon.
Several years later Professor John A. Rice (1862-1930), Professor of Old Testament at SMU incurred the wrath of J. Frank Norris (1877-1952) pastor of First Baptist Church of Fort Worth and a leader in the fundamentalist movement. Rice’s book, The Old Testament in the Life of Today, argued that an oral tradition lay behind the Old Testament text---not very radical by today’s standards, but inflammatory to Norris who had already made a name for himself in trying to purge Baylor of all traces of modernism. Fundamentalists filled the pages of the Christian Advocate with denunciations inspired by Norris, and in 1921 Rice offered to resign (with conditions) even though Bishops Mouzon and Moore had come to his defense. Rice went on to pastorates in Oklahoma, appointed by Bishop Mouzon, where he was pastor of Boston Avenue MECS during the construction of its magnificent sanctuary.
The next victim of the fundamentalists was Mims Workman who taught religion in the College of Arts and Sciences. At least one of his students testified to a gathering of fundamentalists in Fort Worth about his liberal lectures. Although Workman was supported by many students, President Selecman let him go.
The controversies at SMU and similar ones at Southwestern University made life difficult for at least some preachers. How could they defend their denominational institutions against these charges of rationalism, higher criticism, and evolution?
One way would be to pass a resolution which would tie conference financial support to a loyalty oath. That’s just what happened in the Northwest Texas Conference in 1925.
Here is the text of the resolution they passed which they made a standing rule of the conference
Before this Conference will consider making an appropriation to any institution of learning, there must be placed in the hands of the conference secretary and the chairman of the Board of Education, the following statement signed by the present of the institution of learning, the dean of each department and all the teachers of science, sociology, and teachers of the Bible.
There is no teacher in our school, within my knowledge, who believes or teaches that man had his origin in a lower form of animal life.
All the teachers of our institution, within my knowledge, believe, without mental reservation, equivocation, or without interpretation other than that of the accepted standards of our Methodist Church, in the inspiration of both the Old and New Testament, and in every statement of the Apostle’s Creed.
The rule remained two years and was modified at the 1927 Annual Conference.