200 Years of United Methodism
An Illustrated History

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Uncle Sam a Teetotaler

With the words, "Uncle Sam a teetotaler" and "Germany gone democratic," Methodists launched a campaign in 1919 to celebrate their mission board's centennial. Closely linked to the Liberty Loan bond drives of World War I and the idealism that led to Prohibition, the Centenary Campaign called for "the conquest of the 150 millions whose evangelization is the accepted task of Methodism" and for raising $8 million a year for five years to support and expand the church's foreign mission work. Woman's Missionary Society of the Evangelical Church, Cleveland, Ohio. Photograph, 1922.A similar campaign was launched by the Evangelicals under the slogan, "The whole church in a forward movement with Christ as leader." Both campaigns reported success in gaining pledges in spite of a postwar economic depression. Nevertheless, they marked the end of idealism.

By the 1920s Americans were becoming wary of such highfalutin rhetoric as "Uncle Sam a teetotaler" and "Germany gone democratic." German democracy was teetering on the edge of chaos and tyranny. Prohibition of booze was increasing the scale and sophistication of organized crime in the United States. And Methodist missions directors, responding unrealistically to the amount pledged during the campaign of 1919, authorized the spending of more money than they ever were to receive, with the result that missionaries were called home from many fields.

Cutbacks in action and uncertainties of belief characterized the 1920s. President Harding, campaigning for a return to normalcy, cut back on President Wilson's crusade to make the world safe for democracy. Churches cut back their foreign mission commitments and concentrated on building programs at home. Theologians cut back the Social Gospel's dream of building the kingdom of God on earth and began to talk about the sinfulness of all earthly kingdoms. Social activists cut back their enthusiasm for legislating morality when they noticed their nation's capital had 300 licensed saloons before Prohibition and 700 speakeasies afterward. And many Americans, listening to Sigmund Freud's claim that religion was an illusion without a future, cut back on religion.

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