During the final quarter of the nineteenth century, black members of the Methodist Episcopal (ME) Church published a steady stream of anti-Mormonism in their weekly newspaper, the widely read and distributed Southwestern Christian Advocate. This anti-Mormonism functioned as way for black ME Church members to articulate their denomination's distinctive racial ideology. Black ME Church members believed that their racially mixed denomination, imperfect though it was, offered the best model for advancing black citizens toward equality in both the Christian church and the American nation. Mormons, as a religious group who separated themselves in both identity and practice and as a community experiencing persecution, were a useful negative example of the dangers of abandoning the ME quest for inclusion. Black ME Church members emphasized their Christian faithfulness and American patriotism, in contrast to Mormon religious heterodoxy and political insubordination, as arguments for acceptance as equals in both religious and political institutions. At the same time, anti-Mormon rhetoric also proved a useful tool for reflecting on the challenges of African American life, regardless of denominational affiliation. For example, anti-polygamy opened space to comment on the precarious position of black women and families in the post-bellum South. In addition, cataloguing Mormon intellectual, moral, and social deficiencies became a form of instruction in the larger project of black uplift, by which African Americans sought to enter the ranks and privileges of the American middle class. In the end, however, black ME Church members found themselves increasingly segregated within their denomination and in society at large, even as Mormons, once considered both racially and religiously inferior, were welcomed into the nation as citizens and equals.
- © 2011 by The Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture