Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Methodists and Abolition

An article for the UM News Service by Robert J. Williams:

The Abolitionists” has recently been a part of the American Experience on public television. One has to search hard, though, to find Methodists involved in the recent presentation despite the church’s initial opposition to slavery.

John Wesley opposed slavery after reading the work of Anthony Benezet. Wesley’s Thoughts Upon Slavery, published in 1774, provided a wide-ranging attack, and, in his final letter written on Feb. 24, 1791, he encouraged William Wilberforce to continue his efforts to abolish the slave trade. The original letter is housed in the Methodist Archives Center and Library on the campus of Drew University.

Such opposition to slavery was maintained in the founding years of the Methodist Episcopal Church by Thomas Coke and was confirmed in the early statement of the new church. The Christmas Conference in 1784 resolved, “We view it as contrary to the Golden Law of God.” However, by the 1830s, strong anti-slavery sentiments had given way to grudging acceptance and silence on the part of much of the church.

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