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Religion Library: Methodist

Exploration and Conquest

Written by: Ted Vial

Methodism, with its use of lay preachers and its system of small societies linked by circuit riders was well-adapted to thrive at the outer edges of European exploration and conquest.John Wesley sent missionaries to America beginning in 1769.Circuit riders from New York began arriving in Canada in 1791.Following the War of 1812, British and Episcopal Methodists (Americans) agreed that the British would work in Lower Canada (Quebec), the Americans in Upper Canada (Ontario).Missionaries from the Episcopal Methodist Church (the main branch of American Methodism) reached India in 1817, China in 1847, Korea in 1884, and the Philippines in 1898.

In the United States, the story of John Chivington (1821-1892) demonstrates the ugly side of entanglement with expansion and conquest.Chivington was an ordained Methodist minister, known as the "fighting parson."He earned this nickname because of his strong anti-slavery position, which he held while serving a congregation in Missouri.When pro-slavery members of his congregation warned him not to preach and came to church services to tar and feather him should he attempt to preach, he got into the pulpit with a Bible and two revolvers, declaring "By the grace of God and these two revolvers, I am going to preach here today."

In 1860 Chivington was made presiding elder of the Rocky Mountain District of the Methodist Church, and started a church in Denver.In 1862 he declined a commission as military chaplain in order to serve as a major in the First Colorado Volunteer regiment.By 1864 there was a great deal of tension between Plains Indians and white settlers.On November 29, 1864 Chivington led a regiment of Colorado volunteers to the Cheyenne reservation outside Denver and slaughtered between 200 and 400 Cheyenne. The Cheyenne had been promised safety on the reservation.Most of the men were away hunting, and most of the dead were women, children, and the elderly.

In 1884, Otto von Bismarck, Chancellor of the German Empire, convened a conference in Berlin to coordinate the efforts of European powers colonizing Africa (the so-called "scramble for Africa").Although there was language at the conference about humanitarian efforts, the reason for the conference was to reduce friction and inefficiency between Germany and its rivals.The British received east and southern Africa, and there has been a strong Methodist presence in those regions since that time.

In Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia), a mission was established in 1900, and the Bible and Methodist hymnal were translated into Shona.The mission provided schools and orphanages as well as working to spread Christianity, but it did not separate mission work from British imperialism.For example, even in places where Africans and Europeans lived close by each other, it segregated schools and churches and health facilities.Missionaries encouraged Africans to live on mission farms, where they could not only be exposed to Christianity, but where missionaries could attempt to replace other aspects of African culture and economy with European practices.The Methodist Church in Zimbabwe had leadership and members on both sides of the anti-apartheid struggle.When the church hesitated to take a strong stand, many black members dissociated themselves from the leadership and threw their support behind the liberation forces.


Study Questions:
     1.    Where did Methodist missionaries travel?
     2.    Who was John Chivington?
     3.    How were Otto von Bismarck's political machinations affect the presence of Methodism in the heart of Africa?
     4.    What was the result in Zimbabwe of the intermingling of mission and colonialization?

 

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