About this blog’s name

The short answer: for many decades within the Methodist Episcopal Church, “attending circuses” was an actionable item of the same severity as “disobedience to the Order and Discipline of the Church.” This was true for all members.

The long answer: the 1872 General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church made one change to the Discipline that has withstood time. This change is described in the margin of page 410 of the Journal of the General Conference as “Paragraphs in Discipline to be numbered.”

This General Conference made another change to the Discipline that has not withstood time. Pages 379-380 of the Journal contains the adopted “Report No. III on the State of the Church”:

STATE OF THE CHURCH—REPORT NO. III.

Sinful Amusements.

Your Committee has considered a large number of memorials and petitions from members of the Church in different sections of the land, deploring the sinful amusements too often indulged in by members of the Church; also many resolutions and pastoral addresses emanating from Annual Conferences and other official bodies belonging to our own and sister denominations. Influenced by these, as well as by their own personal observations, your Committee is of opinion that there is just cause for alarm, and a necessity for General Conference action, in order to arrest, if possible, practices which portend so much evil to the Church and to the world.

The General Rules of our Church prohibit such diversions as cannot be used in the name of the Lord Jesus; “the singing those songs or reading those books which do not tend to the knowledge and love of God.” This rule is sufficiently comprehensive, but not explicit enough to meet the wants of the times.

We would therefore recommend that the chapter on imprudent conduct (Discipline, page 128) be so amended as to read: “But in cases of neglect of duty of any kind, imprudent conduct, indulging sinful tempers or words, the buying or selling or using intoxicating liquors as a beverage, dancing, playing at games of chance, attending theaters, horse races, circuses, dancing parties, or patronizing dancing schools, or taking such other amusements as are obviously of misleading or questionable moral tendency, or disobedience to the order and discipline of the Church.”

Here is how ¶ 340 appeared in the 1872 Discipline:

But in cases of neglect of duty of any kind, imprudent conduct, indulging sinful tempers or words, the buying, selling, or using intoxicating liquors as a beverage, dancing, playing at games of chance, attending theaters, horse-races, circuses, dancing-parties, or patronizing dancing schools, or taking such other amusements as are obviously of misleading or questionable moral tendency, or disobedience to the Order and Discipline of the Church; first, let private reproof be given by a Preacher or Leader, and if there be an acknowledgement of the fault, and proper humiliation, the person may be borne with. On a second offense, the Preacher or Leader may take one or two faithful friends. On a third offense, let him be brought to trial, and if found guilty, and there be no sign of real humiliation, he shall be expelled.

Lest one wishes to contend that the Methodist Episcopal Church, South was by comparison licentious, one must confront this ruling from 1858 of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South’s College of Bishops (reported on page 110 of McTyeire):

A Presiding Elder decided in the case of a local preacher complained of for having the art and science of modern dancing taught, that the case came under the rule of the Discipline forbidding “improper tempers, words, or actions.” This decision, on appeal, was sustained by the Bishop, on the ground “that it is contrary to the spirit of the Discipline and of the New Testament to teach the art and science of modern dancing anywhere, or to practice promiscuous dancing anywhere,” and all the Bishops concurred.

There is a lesson in all of this somewhere. What that lesson is, I have no idea.