We shall not be moved: Resistance to changes in Methodist leadership
Social change has a profound effect on religious institutions, especially when that change calls into question an institution's existing authority structures. Challenges to the group in power generally provoke resistance from that group, as well as those who are comfortable within the existing framework. For many, such a power structure is sacred, representing God's intended order, whereas challengers are perceived as pursuing their own worldly interests.
The theory of Pierre Bourdieu suggests that all such struggles are rooted in worldly interest, through various forms of material and symbolic capital. Bourdieu's concepts of habitus and field seek to expose the arbitrary nature of domination patterns that are embedded in social structures. Such patterns, he claims, are unconsciously perpetuated by both the dominant and the dominated players in a particular field, through a process of socialization that is a dialectical interplay of social structure and human agent.
This dissertation uses Bourdieu and other theorists to examine three different challenges in the history of American Methodism, when proposed changes to existing leadership models provoked strong resistance. These contests for power arose following periods of significant social change, in keeping with Bourdieu's contention that challenges most often occur at such times. Using the uniform context of the Methodist General Conference, where denominational policy is established, the dissertation analyzes transcripts of floor debates in key years to discern how religious rationales may mask deeper fears related to larger currents of social change.
In discussing unification with northern Methodists in the early twentieth century, white members of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South held out for a segregated structure where African Americans would have no leadership over white Methodists and no voice in church governance. Women's leadership as lay delegates was hotly debated in 1888, as was their ordination in the 1920s before being granted full clergy rights in 1956. The current United Methodist Church is deeply divided over the place of gays and lesbians within the church. The dissertation examines the genesis of church statements condemning homosexual "practice" in 1972 and the addition of language in the 1980s to prohibit their ordination.
0320: Religious history
0703: Organizational behavior