Methodists, LGBTQ, and the Triumph of Fundamentalist U

As SAGLRROILYBYGTH are well aware by now, conservatives in the United Methodist Church recently scored a big victory. Did this victory count as a hundred-year-long triumph for conservative evangelical higher ed?

missionary cartoon ad

From the Moody Student, 1969.

Let’s start with a few ifs, ands, or buts. I haven’t been following the story too closely so I invite people more in the know to correct any of these basic facts. But

IF: The special conference on Methodist policy toward recognizing LGBTQ status as ministers, bishops and officiants at same-sex weddings voted to choose a more conservative policy, and

IF: That conservative victory was fueled by support from non-USA bishops, especially from Africa, and

IF: Non-US Methodists have roots in US-based missionary efforts, including the establishment of conservative Methodist schools and colleges….

THEN: Conservative evangelicals have scored an enormous victory with a century-long strategy.

Here’s what we mean: As I argued in Fundamentalist U, one of the biggest things that differentiated conservative evangelical higher ed from other types has always been its emphasis on training missionaries. This hasn’t only been true at Bible institutes and Bible colleges, but also at traditional four-year colleges and universities.

missions flier

From Liberty U., c. 1982

Across the board, from staunch fundamentalist to (more) liberal new-evangelical, evangelical colleges always made missionary training a central element of their vision of proper higher education. Consider just a few examples to show the trend:

  1. One student at Moody Bible Institute in the 1920s remembered that he hadn’t originally planned a career as a missionary. It didn’t take him long to feel the call. As he remembered later, “You can’t be in the Moody Bible Institute very long before you’ll have to face that.”
  2. At Biola, of the forty-five graduates in 1938, forty-three went directly into full-time missionary work.
  3. Wheaton College sent approximately a quarter of its 1950 graduating class into full- time missionary work.
  4. Bob Jones University opened in 1957 a new “Institute of Christian Service,” basically adopting the traditional Bible-institute goals of training missionaries without bothering about academic degrees or credentials.
  5. Even late-comer Liberty University pushed hard for missionary careers among its students, employing a full-time missions director even back in the early 1980s when they had trouble paying faculty salaries.

The trend was clear. Unlike many liberal or secularized schools, conservative evangelical universities and colleges ALWAYS put a primary emphasis on training and sending missionaries.

Mission centered

From Biola’s student paper, c. 1939

I’m not the only nerd who noticed. As the late Virginia Brereton pointed out, by 1962 a full half of all American Protestant missionaries were graduates of conservative-evangelical Bible schools.

And, as William Ringenberg noted in his study of evangelical colleges, “It is difficult to exaggerate the extent to which the early Bible schools emphasized foreign missionary activity.”

So what? What does all this have to do with the recent vote at the UMC? Well—and again I’m not paying super-close attention to all the details, so please correct me if I’m missing some huge facts in the case—if the recent conservative victory came with African support, I have to imagine that a lot of those African bishops, deans, and Methodist eminences had at some point taken part in the programs and institutions originally started by American missionaries, among others. The recent vote capitalized on this century-long strategy of focusing on foreign missions and building educational institutions around the world.

By sending out its students to preach the Gospel to all the world, in other words, American conservatives were planting conservative seeds. Today, those hundred-year-old seeds have borne fruit.

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4 Comments

  1. Agellius

     /  March 1, 2019

    “By sending out its students to preach the Gospel to all the world, in other words, American conservatives were planting conservative seeds.”

    My only correction would be that their intention was to spread the Gospel, not to plant “conservative seeds.” If conservative seeds were planted it’s because conservatives care more about spreading the Gospel than liberals so, so they did more planting.

    But beyond that, it’s possible that the seeds planted by conservatives bore fruit *because* they were conservative; in other words maybe liberal seeds would never have taken root in Africa in the first place, even if they were planted at the same rate. After all, liberal denominations have been shrinking even in this country. [https://www.vox.com/the-big-idea/2017/7/14/15959682/evangelical-mainline-voting-patterns-trump] The Gospel tailored to modern liberal sensibilities doesn’t seem to have a whole lot to offer, when it challenges you to do nothing that liberalism itself doesn’t already do.

    Reply
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