Christian Methodist Episcopal Church (CME Church)
Founding and Early History
Between 1860 and 1866, more than two-thirds of the black membership of the Methodist Episcopal Church South (MECS; later United Methodist Church) left that church to join other Methodist bodies then competing for the membership of freedmen. Most joined one of two independent black denominations from the North, the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME Church) and the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Zion (AME Zion), where they enjoyed greater autonomy and freedom of expression. In order to prevent further losses, the MECS resolved in 1866 to support the creation of a separate black denomination. Four years later, forty-six black delegates and a committee representing the MECS convened in Jackson, Tennessee, to establish the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church, the first African American denomination established in the South.
At the inaugural conference in 1870, black representatives of the new church expressed their commitment
The CME Church's decision to maintain close ties with the MECS in the aftermath of the Civil War (1861-65) earned the new church the enmity of northern Methodist denominations hoping to attract new members from among the freedmen. Claiming to be the true redeemers of former slaves, members of the AME Church, AME Zion, and the northern Methodist Episcopal Church questioned the new denomination's fidelity to the MECS and referred condescendingly to the CME Church as "the rebel's church."
What the CME Church's critics dismissed as mere paternalism, however, was at least in part a calculated bid to secure the transfer of church property to the new denomination. MECS financial support was based on the condition that the CME Church remain politically neutral. Given its uncertain circumstances, the new church had little choice but to submit to MECS demands. In any case, whether motivated by sincerity or expediency, the CME Church's decision to forsake political activity for the support of the MECS created a tension within the denomination between paternalism and autonomy that remained unresolved until the twentieth century.
The "Paine College Ideal"
In 1882 Georgia native and CME bishop Lucius Holsey appealed to the MECS for financial support in
The Paine Institute's founding established a practical model for interracial cooperation that CME officials would subsequently apply to all aspects of the church's administration. The "Paine College Ideal," as it came to be known, ensured that the second generation of CME leaders would stay the course of accommodation and political neutrality established by the denomination's founders at the inaugural General Conference. Indeed, during the last quarter of the nineteenth century, church elders resisted efforts to forge closer ties with more politically active black Methodist bodies, preferring instead to maintain a cooperative, albeit subordinate relationship with the MECS. By emphasizing educational uplift, ecumenism, interracial cooperation, and cautious civil rights activism, the CME Church pursued a pragmatic strategy that enabled it to prosper amid the impending hostility of the Jim Crow South.
Ecumenism and Civil Rights
In 1954, the same year in which the U.S. Supreme Court issued the landmark Brown v. Board of Education desegregation decision, church elders voted to change the denomination's name to the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. The name change, which became official in 1956, not only signaled the church's repudiation of Jim Crow–era racial subordination but also highlighted a more ecumenical emphasis on religious, rather than racial, identity. Thereafter, the church became more active in the civil rights movement, particularly in its support for the legal strategy of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Othal Hawthorne Lakey, The History of the CME Church, rev. ed. (Memphis, Tenn.: CME Publishing House, 1997).
C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence H. Mamiya, The Black Church in the African-American Experience (Durham: Duke University Press, 1990).
C. H. Phillips, The History of the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church in America (New York: Arno Press, 1971).
Harry V. Richardson, Dark Salvation: The Story of Methodism as It Developed among Blacks in America (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press, 1976).
Raymond R. Sommerville, An Ex-Colored Church: Social Activism in the CME Church, 1870-1970 (Macon: Mercer University Press, 2004).
David S. Williams, From Mounds to Megachurches: Georgia's Religious Heritage (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2008).
Edward A. Hatfield, New Georgia Encyclopedia
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