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 lifeā€”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.  


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