Methodism and Politics in the Twentieth Century
by Mark Tooley
Bristol House, 2012
(406 pages, $27.95, hardcover)
reviewed by Robert Benne
Anyone who has ever wondered why Methodists at the elite level—agencies, boards, bishops—seem to have addressed every political question under the sun will benefit from reading this book. In it, Mark Tooley, president of the Institute for Religion and Democracy and a prolific journalist, tells the story of the social witness in the twentieth century of what was once called "America's church." According to Tooley, Methodism's "history of political involvement over the last century forms an essential and largely overlooked part of American history. Understanding America may be impossible without understanding the central role of Methodism in shaping culture and politics" (xii).
Tooley notes that, apart from his anti-slavery and anti-revolutionary sentiments, John Wesley himself was studiously nonpolitical. So how did the American branch of the church he founded become so active in political life? Part of answer can be traced back to the first part of the nineteenth century, when the Second Great Awakening occurred. In that great movement, Evangelicals set their sights on "Christianizing" an America that was undergoing chaotic growth and expansion. Almost all the Protestant churches in the country at the time tended to tone down their distinguishing marks and join the powerful Evangelical bandwagon. Methodists formed a key segment of the movement, and their numbers grew greatly—from about 65,000 in 1800 to some six million by 1900 (7). Methodists were the spearhead of the Evangelical movement in America.
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