Methodism, Manhood, and Honor



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Paul Harvey

Some of you will recall the wonderfully memorable series "Adventures in Christian Retail" posted a while back by our contributor Charity Carney. Start at that link for Part I. Part II is of this series is up here. Part III, the finale, is here. Extended responses informed from his own academic work on capitalism and American Christianity, from Ole Miss Prof. (soon-to-be) Deg, are here and here.
Ministers and Masters - Cover
Besides working in the past for "Christian Chain," Charity also just happened to be a Ph.D. student of George Rable at the University of Alabama. She finished a few years back, and last year published her book based on her Ph.D. dissertation, Ministers and Masters: Methodism, Manhood, and Honor in the Old South (LSU Press, 2011). She graciously gave me a copy at the last Southern Historical Association.

I've got all things Civil War era on the brain as I grade midterm papers over this weekend and midterm exams coming up soon for my Civil War course, so it seemed as good a time as any to devote a couple of posts to Charity's book (first) and afterwards to reprint a longer version of a review of her mentor George Rable's book, God's Almost Chosen Peoples, published in 2010 by UNC Press. It'll be an Alabama-centric weekend.

Charity's book caught my eye in part because it reminded me of my first (very forgettable) academic article, " ' The Character of Ministerial Manliness,'" which explored somewhat similar themes about the tensions inherent in being a minister in a culture of manly honor, in my case having to do with post-Civil War Southern Baptist ministers. Charity's work is a much fuller, extended study of that issue for antebellum Southern Methodist ministers. As she writes, "the combination of cultural influences and Methodist disciplinary practices created a distinctive manhood for ministers who were eager to prove their masculinity as southern men and their spiritual purity and authority as southern ministers." In doing so, the developed "aggressive characteristics linked with moral purity," replacing violence and the competition for wealth with "strict discipline and ecclesiastical infighting." They exalted a family structure which their patterns of itineracy made difficult, sometimes impossible, to fulfill for themselves, and preached independence while remaining dependent on congregants. Their encounter with southern hierarchy compelled them to advocate for a highly centralized episcopacy which contrasted dramatically with the spiritual egalitarianism and democratic impulse of the Methodist faith. They felt the need to "prove themselves as powerful patriarch while also submitting to church discipline."

Charity provides a short, concise, but deeply insightful exploration of the lives and contradictions of these men, and more generally of the concept of evangelical masculinity as it developed in the antebellum South (with plenty of, and obvious, reverberations down to the present day). Ed Blum hits it exactly in his short description of the book: "Methodist ministers became upholders of slavery who sought spiritual correction from the enslaved. They longed to lead their wives and children by becoming servants to these dependents. In Ministers and Masters, we find neither the drunken, violent southerner, nor the erudite, gentleman theologian. Instead, we encounter a new creation: the southern Methodist man."

Congratulations to our blog contributor for her outstanding first book. Next up are my thoughts on George Rable's massive work of scholarship on religion in the Civil War era, God's Almost Chosen Peoples. My students in my Civil War class have heard plenty of quotes and quips from this work already, unbeknownst to them.

2 comments:

Christopher at: March 18, 2012 at 9:17 PM said...

Thanks for this, Paul. I have a review of Ministers and Masters--along with a couple of other books on broadly related subjects--in the works that I'll hopefully have posted here soon.

Paul Harvey at: March 18, 2012 at 9:20 PM said...

Excellent, Chris, look forward to that.

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