200 Years of United Methodism
An Illustrated History

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Two kinds of idealism irradiated the American spirit during the first years after the Civil War. Southern idealism worshiped at the shrine of departed glory, northern idealism at the shrine of approaching glory. Southern idealism was nostalgic. It dreamed of the return of the Cotton Kingdom, in which chivalry inspired by the novels of Sir Walter Scott had briefly reigned. Northern idealism was progressive. It dreamed of material and moral progress marching in lock step toward the kingdom of God in America.

This linking of might and morals can be seen in a change in the United Brethren position on war. In 1849 the church's General Conference declared, "We believe that the spirit that leads men to engage voluntarily in national warfare is unholy and unchristian and ought not to be tolerated by us." President and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant's personal copy of the Methodist Hymnal autographed with their names and embossed in gold on the leather binding, 1877.By 1865, when the defenders of slavery had yielded to superior force, the General Conference was prepared to say, "We believe it to be entirely consistent with the spirit of Christianity to bear arms when called upon to do so by the properly constituted authorities of our government for its preservation and defense." This about-face signaled the birth of a new ideal, that of believing American might and Christian right were leading the procession towards God's kingdom.

Southerners closed their eyes at first to this procession and saw projected on their eyelids the splendor of days of yore--saw this until about 1880, when leaders like Atticus Haygood summoned them to open their eyes, saying: "There is nothing weaker or more foolish than repining over an irrevocable past, except it be despairing of a future to which God invites us. Good friends, this is not 1860, it is 1880. Let us press forward, following the pillar of cloud and of fire always." Meanwhile, northerners had been following the cloud of smoke belching from transcontinental locomotives and the fiery glow of steel furnaces into a future they hoped would bring the rule of Christ on earth.

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