Previous posts in this series:
Chapter 4 surveys the life and ministry of Adam Crooks; the Wesleyan Methodist connection with the call for Women’s Rights; and further developments regarding the doctrine of holiness in the 1844 Discipline.
In 1843, a little over a month after the Utica Convention, Edward Smith planted a Wesleyan Methodist Church in Leesville, Ohio. One of the church’s first members was a young man1 by the name of Adam Crooks. Disenfranchised by the apathy that he saw surrounding the issue of slavery, Crooks immediately felt at home amongst the Wesleyan Methodists who just months before had made their antislavery stance abundantly clear at the Utica Convention.
At the age of twenty-three, Adam Crooks agreed to move to North Carolina to serve as pastor. His abolitionist beliefs would put him at odds with many in the Carolinas. It was a risk, however, that he was willing to take. And in the spring of 1848, Freedom’s Hill, “the first Wesleyan Methodist church in the slaveholding South, was dedicated.”[1. Robert Black and Keith Drury, The Story of the Wesleyan Church (Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2012), 49. "By 1849 at least eight Wesleyan Methodist churches had been planted in North Carolina and Virginia, and the original core group of forty had increased to almost four hundred despite threats and persecution."]
Crooks’ ministry was not easy by any stretch of the imagination. It is reported that he “was dragged form his pulpit and thrown into jail for disturbing the peace with his antislavery activities.”2 His was not a solitary struggle, however. A charter member of Freedom’s Hill, Micajah McPherson, was lynched by a mob that was seeking to conscript his son for the Confederate army.3 The Hulen family would have three sons brutally executed by Confederate vigilantes.4 Suffice it to say, “Adam Crooks’s oft-repeated question was not just rhetoric: ‘Can you give your life for the cause?’”5
Wesleyan Methodists weren’t just vocal regarding the ills of slavery, however. Wesleyan Methodist leaders and churches would be at the forefront of the call for Women’s Rights. The Wesley Chapel, in Seneca Falls, New York, would host the first Woman’s Rights Convention in the United States.6 The conference was held in July of 1848. Lucretia Mott would be among the convention’s speakers.7 Borrowing the language of the Declaration of Independence, the convention would draft a declaration, The Declaration of Sentiments, which called for an equality of rights between men and women. Seven Wesleyan Methodist “were present and signed the declaration, along with three others who had family ties to the church.”8
The convention and accompany declaration didn’t just outline what Wesleyan Methodists would hope would one day become a reality. Rather, they echoed the current reality of congregational life in Wesleyan Methodist churches. At the level of the local congregation, “women [already] enjoyed full voting rights as members in Wesleyan Methodist churches, and Wesleyan Methodist schools were all coeducational.”9
The Wesleyan Methodist call for the abolition of slavery and Women’s Rights came about because “social reform and holiness went hand in hand for the Wesleyan Methodists.”10 Wesleyan Methodists believed that “‘professed holiness’ that could pass by men and women stripped of human rights and dignity without stopping to help was not biblical holiness at all.”11 Not surprisingly, the fledgling denomination, which believed that holiness of heart and life mattered, believed it necessary to further define and refine its beliefs regarding holiness. Thus, the 1848 Discipline makes “a sharper distinction between deliverance from the guilt of sin (justification) and cleansing of the pollution of sin (sanctification).”12
- The Wesleyan Methodist doctrine of sanctification wasn’t just ingenious theology. Early Wesleyan Methodists believed that the doctrine had profound implications for everyday life. As such, Wesleyan Methodists advocated for the rights of slaves, women, the poor, etc. When did Wesleyan Methodists lose sight of the radical, social implications of this doctrine? Who might modern day Wesleyans need to serve as advocates for?
- Wesleyan Methodists have long valued the role of women in churches. Why are there so few women pastors in the Wesleyan Church? Why are many of the women pastors on staff, serving under male senior pastors, rather than serving as solo and/or senior pastors?
- Wesleyan Methodists were radical. Crooks was pulled from his pulpit and imprisoned.
- He was nineteen at the time. ↩
- Ibid., 50. ↩
- Ibid., 51. McPherson somehow managed to survive. His wife would eventually nurse him back to health and he would serve the Freedom’s Hill church for another thirty years. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Ibid., 54. ↩
- Ibid., 53. ↩
- Ibid., 53. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Ibid., 55. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Ibid., 56. ↩