Who Determines Denominational Policy?

Methodism in Postwar America

The Interlude of the 1950s

The Re-emergence of Radicalism

Radical Consolidation

Reaction to Radicalism

Questions for United Methodism

Endnotes and Bibliography


In May 1947 a 120-page book, Behind Soviet Power by Jerome Davis, was mailed to approximately twenty-two thousand Methodist ministers. The book was accompanied by a letter on the stationery of the Division of Foreign Missions of the Board of Missions and Church Extension of the Methodist Church. It bore the signatures of the president and the chief administrator of that agency. The letter claimed that the book "a substantial contribution to understanding of Russia" and urged the recipients to read it. Authorization and presumably funding for the mailing was given by the Administrative Committee, Division of Foreign Missions.

Behind Soviet Power is an apology for the Soviet system particularly for Joseph Stallin Events of the past forty years have demonstrated the degree to which this book is propaganda. Nevertheless, it is difficult. to imagine how in 1947 responsible church leaders could have taken this book seriously. An example of the tone is illustrated by the following quotation from a chapter entitled, "Is Stalin a Dictator?
Whether or not Stalin can be called a dictator depends how the word is defined. From the American point of view he is no more a dictator than were Roosevelt or Churchill, who were not dictators at all. . .1

A third of a century later in 1980, David Jessup, a United Methodist layman and a staff member of the AFL-CIO's Committee on Political Education, became concerned about the orientation of some organizations receiving funds from his denomination. Using the published reports of several church agencies for 1977 through 1979, he studied the organizations that had received funds from United Methodist agencies. He concluded that denominational organizations had granted a total of $442,000 to a variety of politically leftist groups whose aims were questionable both from the perspective of democratic ideology and Christian theology. Jessup then prepared a report which was circulated among delegates to the 1980 General Conference.

One situation to which Jessup objected was a grant of $15,300 in 1977 and another $6500 in 1978 made to the Women's Division of the General Board of Global Ministries. The Coalition's publication blamed the United States for the arms race and excused the Soviet Union for being forced to play catch-up.

The Soviet Union - unlike the U.S. is literally surrounded by hostile powers and unreliable allies....think about how frightening the world must look to a Soviet military planner - faced with an economically and technologically superior adversary (the U.S.) which perpetually pushed for an advantage in the arms race, which has intervened militarily or through its intelligence agencies in Indochina, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Iran to name but a few, which maintains a vast global network of military bases...and which has never even pledged not to be the first to use nuclear weapons.2

Jessup's research did not go unanswered Not only was the "Jessup Report" attacked in the church press, but an official reply was also prepared and mailed to each of the more than thirty-five thousand United Methodist clergy. This reply defended the actions of the agencies and their support of the organizations in question.

The world of the late 1980s is vastly different from that of the late 1940's. Nevertheless, a third of a century after the circulation of a book extolling the Soviet system and lavishing praise on Joseph Stallin, some United Methodists agencies were giving funds to groups which by no stretch of the imagination could be classified as either Christian or democratic.

United States foreign policy has been and continues to be a subject of debate within the United Methodisdenomination'ss book will trace the Methodist position on American foreign policy from the end of World War II to the present. It will focus on such factors as the denomintion's position on war, peace, nnationaldefense and participation in the military; the relationship of the United States to Soviet Russia and other nnationswhich are pperceivedto be part of the Communist bloc; the church's perception of the colonialism and liberation movements; and the United Methodist position on the economic role of the United States in the world, including the multi-national corporations.

The subject will be presented chronologically. The time after World War II is divided into four periods. Primary sources include the minutes and records of denominational bodies such as the General Conference, the general boards and agencies, the statements of the Council of Bishops and other church-related organizations.

This is a book about how a major Protestant denomination, the United Methodist Church, has reacted to a particular public policy, in this case United States foreign policy. It is also a study about how a denomination determines what its official stance will be. It is therefore a book about conflict.

Christian people are loyal to their church and what it represents. They are also members of a larger society and loyal citizens of their country. For approximately half a century there has existed within Methodism a small but influential group of persons whose assumption about American society has been different from that of the great majority of ministers and laity. The result has been a conflict of loyalties which continues but is not always understood. I hope this book will help United Methodist people understand and deal with this conflict, since how it is resolved will, to a significant degree, determine the role that the United Methodist Church will play in society and even determine the future of the denomination itself.

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