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Religion and Violence in Early American Methodism

Taking the Kingdom by Force

Jeffrey Williams

Publication Year: 2010

Early American Methodists commonly described their religious lives as great wars with sin and claimed they wrestled with God and Satan who assaulted them in terrible ways. Carefully examining a range of sources, including sermons, letters, autobiographies, journals, and hymns, Jeffrey Williams explores this violent aspect of American religious life and thought. Williams exposes Methodism's insistence that warfare was an inevitable part of Christian life and necessary for any person who sought God's redemption. He reveals a complex relationship between religion and violence, showing how violent expression helped to provide context and meaning to Methodist thought and practice, even as Methodist religious life was shaped by both peaceful and violent social action.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: Religion in North America


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pp. ix-x

In this study of early Methodist literature on both sides of the Atlantic, Jeffrey Williams explores the language used by Methodists as they spoke and wrote of their religious experiences and as they dealt with social conflicts of one kind or another. Williams’s chronological framework extends from the time of John and Charles Wesley until the mid-nineteenth century. The documents he scrutinizes ...

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pp. xi-xii

I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the many people who helped bring this book to fruition. The staff at the Honnold/Mudd Library at Claremont Graduate University, the Library of Claremont School of Theology, the archives at Duke University, the United Methodist Archives Center at Drew University, and the Mary Couts Burnett Library at Texas Christian University all provided helpful ...

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pp. 1-12

Early Methodist leader Charles Wesley originally, and quite appropriately, set the tune of this hymn to Handel’s March. We know the hymn today as “Soldiers of Christ Arise.” Its origins stretch back to a much longer poem, sixteen verses in all, that Charles composed no later than 1742. The selection has appeared in Methodist hymnals for two and a half centuries, sung by everyone from poor ...

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One. Fighting the Good Fight

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pp. 13-40

These concise entries from the journals of John Wesley reveal a great deal about what Wesley considered constitutive of the Christian life. “True” religion brought righteousness, peace, and joy.1 The experience of salvation included literally feeling “the love of God shed abroad in our heart . . . producing love to all mankind, and more especially to the children of God...

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Two. Contesting the Good Fight: Warfare and the American Revolution

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pp. 41-68

John Wesley firmly entrenched the Christian life in a physical and spiritual battle with God and the forces of evil that required Christians to enlist as soldiers to “fight the good fight” and take “the kingdom by violence.” The militant ways that Wesley described the Christian life raise the question of whether a relationship existed between Christians’ battle against sin and the temporal struggles of war. Did the violent nature of early Methodists’ spiritual battles...

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Three. The Power to "Kill and Make Alive": The Spiritual Battle and the Body in Post-Revolutionary America

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pp. 69-92

In the years following the Revolutionary War, American Methodism underwent one of the most incredible numerical transformations in the history of American religion. In 1773, Methodists counted only ten preachers to minister to a meager 1,160 members. By 1776, the number of ministers had doubled and the total Methodist population more than quadrupled. Growth continued through the end of the century, with Methodists totaling nearly 64,000 in 1800...

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Four. Beating Their Plowshares into Swords: Methodists and Violence in Antebellum America

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pp. 93-130

In 1819, the Methodist Magazine began printing a series of articles on Methodism in the West. The first article in this series included the story of Samuel Tucker, a local Methodist preacher who was attacked by a group of Indians while traveling by boat down the Ohio River in 1790. Tucker’s foes fired several rounds at the preacher’s boat, at least one of which struck Tucker and mortally wounded ...

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pp. 131-160

In 1878, Julia Tevis, a schoolteacher and minister’s wife, penned her autobiogra-phy, Sixty Years in a School-Room. As was common to the period, Tevis paid spe-cial attention to her religious formation and conversion. Like many before her, a camp meeting—which had taken place fifty-five years earlier in 1823—proved integral to Tevis’s conversion. The site was nestled in “a beautiful grove of grand ...

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pp. 161-177

Over the course of this book, I have examined the significance of religious beliefs and practices that Methodists described as a kind of warfare or struggle. I have also drawn out the intersection of this warfare with social violence. Whereas the cosmic struggle against good and evil appeared to discourage Methodist involvement in the Revolutionary War, it took a prominent role in helping the community give religious meaning to the War of 1812 and the extermination of Native peoples in the West...


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pp. 179-202


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pp. 203-218


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pp. 219-230

E-ISBN-13: 9780253004239
E-ISBN-10: 0253004233
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253354440

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Religion in North America
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OCLC Number: 613205852
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Religion and Violence in Early American Methodism

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Methodist Church -- History -- 18th century.
  • Methodist Church -- History -- 19th century.
  • United States -- Church history -- 18th century.
  • United States -- Church history -- 19th century.
  • Violence -- Religious aspects -- Christianity.
  • Language and languages -- Religious aspects -- Christianity.
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