Saturday, October 28, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History  October 29

James Dickson Shaw Surrenders Credential Under Charges of Heresy,  Nov. 2, 1882

The Northwest Texas Annual Conference met in its annual session in Cleburne during the first week of November, 1882.  In addition to the regular business of the conference, delegates also had to deal with heresy charges against one of its most prominent ministers, the Rev. James Dickson Shaw of 5th Street Methodist Church in Waco.  

Shaw was born in Walker County in 1841.  He served in the Confederate Army and in 1870 joined the Northwest Texas Conference of the MECS.  He served Mexia and Lancaster Bell, and in 1878 was sent to 5th Street.
In 1881 his wife, Lucy Frances Shaw died after the birth of their 6th child.  The infant died soon afterward.   A visiting phrenologist, Dr. O. S. Fowler called him an agnostic and soon others in Waco were questioning his orthodoxy.
Formal charges were preferred at the 1882 Annual Conference.  His Presiding Elder admitted that there was nothing of blame in his personal life—The charges were about nothing but doctrine.  Bishop Parker appointed a three person committee of investigation and Shaw went before them and admitted that he had changed his views concerning the inspiration of the Scriptures, the divinity of Jesus Christ, the punishment of the wicked, and the vicarious atonement.  He made a 45 minute statement in defense of his views.
The committee reported on Nov. 3 that it recommended expulsion.  Shaw asked instead if he could surrender his credential.  Not only was he allowed that privilege but he was granted permission to address the conference. 
Shaw was one of the most prominent members of the conference.,  In his address he asked about his status with respect to the offices he held beyond the local church.  He was an associate editor of the Advocate, a curator of Southwestern University, Secretary of the Board of Missions, member of the General Board of Missions, and on the Publication Board of the Advocate.  His surrender of credential meant that he resigned from all those positions.  
Shaw returned to Waco and in Dec. 1882, just one month after surrendering his Methodist credentials, help found the Religious and Benevolent Association.  He soon became the editor of The Independent Pulpit, a forum for free thinkers to discuss not only religious, but also cultural and civic issues.  The monthly magazine attracted subscribers from Texas and beyond.  Shaw remained active in civic affairs.  He served as an Alderman in Waco and helped found the Humane Society.    In his later years he moved from Waco to Glendale, CA, to be with one of his daughters.  He died there in 1926, but his remains were returned to Waco for burial.  

Saturday, October 21, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History  October 21

Texas State Fair Shows Denominational Cooperation October, 1887

October in Texas means the State Fair, Big Tex, and ridiculous fried foods, but when Texas was a predominately agricultural state, the celebration assumed a more important role than it does today—except perhaps for loyal alumni who enjoy the traditional UT-OU football game.

The fair began in 1886 as great commercial and entertainment festival.  Agricultural implement dealers and livestock competitions drew huge crowds from the start, but the real revenue generator was the horse racing which was then legal.  

This was the same era as the beginning of another Dallas institution, the Buckner Baptist Children’s Home also in East Dallas on a 44 acre tract.  Six children moved into their new home in 1881.   

Texas Methodists had not yet begun their home for orphans in Waco (1890) and many of the ladies of what is today First Methodist Church in Dallas actively supported the Baptist Home.  They did so by volunteering at the lunch stand.  As the Dallas Times Herald for Oct. 27, 1887 cheered on the Methodists for helping the Baptist orphanage.  

One finds many stories of denominational rivalry between Baptists and Methodist, but we should not overlook the many examples of denominational cooperation.  Supporting each other’s institutions was common.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History October 15

San Augustine Church Hosts Political Debate, October, 1848

The first U. S. Presidential election in which Texans voted is not usually remembered as one of the important elections in U. S. history.  The Democrats nominated Senator Lewis Cass of Michigan to succeed the outgoing Democrat James K. Polk, and the Whigs hoped to capitalize on the same strategy that had produced their only presidential victory.  In 1840 they nominated the popular general, William Henry Harrison, and had won. Unfortunately Harrison served only a month before dying.  In 1848 the Whigs returned to a military hero with little or no political experience, Zachary Taylor. 
As the election of 1848 approached, a debate was held in San Augustine, at the time one of the centers of political power in Texas.  The venue was the Methodist church, one of the oldest churches in Texas.
The Whig case was argued by a very young man, David Holland Epperson, of Clarksville.  Epperson was only 22 years old and had been in Texas only since 1847 when he moved from Mississippi to Texas after attending Princeton.  His youthful charisma had already enabled him to win a seat in the Texas Legislature and be named as Elector in the upcoming election.  His opponent was the sitting congressman from eastern Texas, David Kaufman.  Kaufman was also fairly young (b. 1813) and had also been a Princetonian and lived in Mississippi.  He was a veteran Texas politician, having served in office most of his adult life. 
Much of the debate centered on Texas expansionism.  Candidate Taylor was on record opposing the claims of Texas to what are today the lands of eastern New Mexico, including Santa Fe.  He even said that he would personally lead an army to prevent an attempt by Texas to occupy those lands.  Kaufman was best known for his advocacy of annexing all of eastern New Mexico all the way to Santa Fe. 
Cass was quite popular in Texas because, even though a northerner often sided with Texas in the Senate.  He was so popular that a county in Texas was named for him.  When the Civil War broke out, he did not support the Confederacy so Texans briefly changed the name of Cass County to honor Jefferson Davis but later the county name was changed back to “Cass.”   

Taylor won the election without Texas votes, but like Harrison, also died early.  David Kaufman also lived a short life, dying in Washington in 1851 while still in his 30s.  Kaufman County is named for him.  

As the Civil War drew nearer, Epperson worked to keep Texas in the Union.  After the war he worked to secure railroad expansion in Texas, and moved to Jefferson.  He spent the last years of his life in Jefferson in his famous House of the Seasons which still exists and is on the National Register of Historic Places.  He died in 1878.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History October 8

Religious Survey of Brazoria County Reveals Editor’s Ignorance  Oct. 9, 1847

A.    J. McGown (1817-1871) was one of the most significant preachers in early Texas.  He was a Presbyterian minister, a veteran of the Battle of San Jacinto, and missionary to the United States from Texas.  (His missionary efforts were designed to recruit Presbyterian ministers to come to Texas.)  In November, 1846 he began publishing the Texas Presbyterian, the first denominational newspaper in Texas at his Victoria home. 
Although some preachers of the era were parochial and insular in their outlook, McGown was interested in promoting the interests of the various denominations.  He cheered on the Methodists in their camp meetings and encouraged them to start their own denominational newspaper, which they soon did.  He particularly praised the Methodists for their evangelization efforts among Germans.   In one particularly ecumenical passage, he wrote,
  While we disclaim the idea of looking upon the Baptist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, or Methodist ministry as the only hope of the world, or even of Texas, we do look upon a pious and educated ministry as the only hope of the church universal under God. 

As with almost all newspapers of the 1840s, a great deal of the content was copied from other newspapers.  The October 9th issue of the Texas Presbyterian contained one such report of the conditions in Brazoria County.  It was obviously written by someone with little knowledge of the denominations.  Here is how it appeared.

The following clergymen preach statedly in the county viz.
Bishops Wesson and Johns of the Methodist E. Church
Bishop J. T. Paxton, Presbyterian
Bishop Noah Hill, Baptist
Bishop Harrison, Episcopal
Union Sunday Schools exist at Brazoria and Velasco. 

A Baptist bishop!  Really?    The two Methodists are James Wesson and I. G. John.  John eventually moved to Nashville and became a editor of church publications and officer of several General Conferences, but he was never elected bishop.  Wesson spent a long, distinguished ministry in Texas.  He is buried at Navasota in the same cemetery as Martin Ruter.