Letter to Neil Alexander


This post was promised last week. I will be commenting on Decision 1264 in two posts later today.

Below is the text of two letters sent to Neil Alexander. Despite first appearances, the links for Google Books are correct.

Obviously, “Editonal” should have been “Editorial”.


April 24, 2014

Mr. Neil Alexander
The United Methodist Publishing House
P. O. Box 801
Nashville, TN 37202-0801

Mr. Alexander,

I have one simple question: where is the General Conference’s authorization for the Discipline’s current Historical Statement? I am aware that, compared with the 1992 Discipline, the 1996 Discipline contained a major revision of the Historical Statement. Yet I have failed to locate an authorization from the General Conference for this revision.

This discussion divides itself into three parts:

I.  The evidence that the 1996 Discipline contains a major revision of the Historical Statement.

II. My search for General Conference authorization.

III. Regardless of its current legal status, the Discipline’s Historical Statement needs a major revision.


One day I was looking through a previous edition of the Discipline – this was probably the 1984 Discipline – and I came across this section title in the Historical Statement:

Black People and Their United Methodist Heritage

This section title was still in the 1992 Discipline. The title of this section is confirmed on page 20 (note 14) of the Quarterly Review, Winter 1989-Winter 1990. This endnote further confirmed that this section was added in 1976. (The Quarterly Review archive is available at http://www.quarterlyreview.org/.)

The 1996 Discipline appeared to contain a major revision of the entire Historical Statement. As further evidence, a web page from the General Board of Discipleship (http://www.gbod.org/live-the-um-way/umc-history) contains this declaration:

The Historical Statement from
The Book of Discipline
Approved by the 1996 General Conference

It was logical for me to search for the General Conference authorizations for each of these two revisions.


The official authorization for the 1976 addition was surprisingly easy to locate. This appears on pages 1829–1830 of the Journal of the 1976 General Conference Volume II (https://archive.org/details/journalportland02unit). (A text search in Volume II on “historical statement” quickly yielded this result.) Here is the “Resolved” language of the approved report:

Therefore Be It Resolved that the General Conference of The United Methodist Church set the historical record involving Black Methodists in proper order and see that it is placed in its proper place in the historical section of the Discipline.

Page 325 of the Journal of the 1976 General Conference Volume I (https://archive.org/details/journalportland01unit) records a summary of the plenary session discussion and approval.

I understand how the desire might have arisen in 1996 to revise the Historical Statement. Imagine my surprise when I failed to find any authorization from the 1996 General Conference for such a revision. Regarding the 1996 Daily Christian Advocate Advance Edition (https://archive.org/details/journaldenver01unit), a search on “historical statement” yields only one result: Petition 21355 on page 811. Regarding what appears to be the complete 1996 Daily Christian Advocate (https://archive.org/details/journaldenver02unit), a search on “historical statement” yields no results. Furthermore, throughout pages 828–940 of the Advance Edition (the material before the Independent Commissions Legislative Committee) I cannot find any petition regarding the Historical Statement.

Now I cannot rule out the possibility that buried somewhere in the 1996 DCA is an authorization for the current Historical Statement. (There could have been a problem with the OCR conversion in the digital copies.) However, if there was an editorial decision to revise the Historical Statement without General Conference approval, such a decision would have violated the 1996 General Conference Plan of Organization. Rule XI.A (from the 1996 DCA Vol. 3, No. 2 page 35): “No non-legislative material shall be ordered printed in the Discipline without first referring it to the committee on Correlation and Editonal Revision for consideration and report to the General Conference for further consideration and final action.” The above assumes that the Historical Statement is “non-legislative” when in fact the Historical Statement was part of the Plan of Union. See page 3050 of the Journal of the 1966 Adjourned Session of the 1964 General Conference of The Methodist Church, Volume III (https://archive.org/details/journalofgeneral03meth).


Aside from its legal status, I believe that the current Historical Statement is seriously wanting. Even allowing for its space limitations, I find the current Historical Statement is at best misleading and incomplete.

Just one example of misleading comes from pages 19–20:

A more important union, at least by statistical measurement, took place among three Methodist bodies—The Methodist Episcopal Church, The Methodist Protestant Church, and The Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Representatives of these churches began meeting in 1916 to forge a plan of union. By the 1930s their proposal included partitioning the united church into six administrative units called jurisdictions. Five of these were geographical; the sixth, the Central Jurisdiction, was racial. It included African American churches and annual conferences wherever they were geographically located in the United States. African American Methodists and some others were troubled by this prospect and opposed the plan of a racially segregated jurisdiction.

The meeting in 1916 has to refer to “A Working Conference on the Union of American Methodism” in Evanston, IL. Its report is available online at https://archive.org/details/cu31924029469206. (This is not an easy report to read since parts are racist.) Page 481 contains the “Proposed Basis of Union” which suggested that “the colored membership of the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Protestant Church, and such organizations of colored Methodists as may enter into agreement with them may be constituted and recognized as one of the Quadrennial or Jurisdictional Conferences of the proposed reorganization.” A racially segregated Jurisdictional Conference was proposed as early as that first meeting in 1916. It did not somehow drift into the proposal by the 1930s.

I also consider the quoted sentences from pages 19–20 misleading because they suggest that racial segregation within the Church began in the 1930s. In 1916 the Methodist Episcopal Church had racially segregated annual conferences. This is immediately obvious from Doctrines and Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church 1916 (http://google.com/books?id=xQQRAAAAIAAJ), ¶ 498 on page 345. This wasn’t a recent change either; see Doctrines and Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church 1888 (http://google.com/books?id=-E8NAAAAYAAJ), starting at ¶ 439 on page 231. The quoted sentences from pages 19–20 suggest that the northern branch of Methodism had no complicity in segregation.

The Discipline’s current Historical Statement is also incomplete. After the death of John Wesley, it concentrates almost exclusively on North America. I say “almost” because Africa and Asia do get a mention after 1968. To give one example from Africa: many discussions of African evangelism mention the incredibly successful work of William Wadé Harris. His work in the Côte d’Ivoire deserves recognition in the General Discipline.

Revising the current Historical Statement raises the question of the legal process of revision. It also brings us back to the question that opened this letter: where is the General Conference’s authorization for the Discipline’s current Historical Statement?

Please note that I will be posting this letter online at my blog: attendingcircuses.wordpress.com. I don’t have the exact URL as of yet; I’ll wait until either copy of this letter is likely to be delivered (presumably by Monday, April 28). I will be happy to link to any public response.


Steven B. Wiegner

UPDATE 2014-05-17:

I’ve been remiss in updating, but I suppose it’s appropriate that I update the day before Heritage Sunday (¶¶ 262, 264.1).

Mr. Alexander responded in a letter dated April 30th that I received on May 8th. He has indicated in his remarks that he is aware of my difficulties in locating any authorization from the 1992 General Conference as well as the 1996 General Conference. Mr. Alexander has stated that he is researching this issue.

I appreciate Mr. Alexander’s prompt reply. While I wait for the results of this research, I will also be engaging in research and discussions.


A February observation

Warning: This post covers early twentieth century white supremacy.

The writer James Loewen introduced me to the term “nadir of American race relations“. The first sentence of the linked Wikipedia article correctly specifies the period: “from the end of Reconstruction in 1877 through the early 20th century”. At the same time, this same first sentence misses the point by stating that this was “the period in the history of the Southern United States”. This nadir might have been more open in the South, yet it was not limited to the South.

The nadir of American race relations is a difficult subject for many reasons. I am going to limit this post to an observation concerning how the current Discipline “glosses over” this reality. In a sense I am discussing events and attitudes that took place decades before I was born. In another sense, I am discussing historical interpretation that was written during my lifetime. How we write history today matters. Continue reading

A question about the current Discipline’s “Historical Statement”

In some ways today is especially appropriate to ask a question about the current Discipline‘s “Historical Statement”. (In remembering Pearl Harbor, we also need to remember that the conflicts leading to the Second World War started before the United States entered the war.)

My question in this post is simple, but it requires a little background.

The General Board of Discipleship (GBOD) has on its website this page, which contains material “reprinted from an out-of-print book, A Brief History of The United Methodist Church, published in 1999″. The page states, “The text of the ‘Historical Statement’ is from The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, 2008, pages 9-20. Copyright © 1996 The United Methodist Publishing House. All rights reserved. Used by permission.”

I just noticed that the “Historical Statement” contained is not the Historical Statement from the 2008 Discipline. The difference I just noticed is understandable. The section “Developments and Changes Since 1968” in the 2008 Discipline contains an additional sentence after “A Spanish language hymnal, Mil Voces Para Celebrar, was published in 1996.” The additional sentence in the 2008 Discipline is, “A Korean language hymnal, Come, Let Us Worship: The Korean-English United Methodist Hymnal, was published in 2000.” This additional sentence obviously couldn’t have been included in the 1996 Discipline. It would have been describing a future event. I could raise questions based solely on this additional sentence, but I won’t because there’s a more basic question I want to ask.

The material at GBOD says that the Historical Statement from the Discipline was approved by the 1996 General Conference. It also says that the last major revision of the “Historical Statement” was approved in 1992.

My question is simple: where in the 1992 Journal and/or the 1996 Journal did the General Conference approve the “Historical Statement”? For convenience, I link to both journals below:

1992 ADCA: https://archive.org/details/journallouisville01unit

1992 DCA: https://archive.org/details/journallouisville02unit

1996 ADCA: https://archive.org/details/journaldenver01unit

1996 DCA: https://archive.org/details/journaldenver02unit

I can’t answer this question because I can’t find any place in either journal where the General Conference approved the revised Historical Statement. It is certainly possible that I can’t find this approval because I’ve been searching for the wrong term.

That’s the basic question. More background is “below the fold.”

Continue reading