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Transformation but not defeat

September 14, 2020

“That we are in a critical and fateful hour no one can deny. The entire world is in serious trouble. There is confusion everywhere. Turn where you will, there you find the rampant forces of racial prejudice, assertive nationalism, blind economics, coupled with the age-old human passions and lusts. All these are contesting every inch of Christian progress. The Christian movement is hindered not only because some oppose its teaching, but because so many ignore it.” (Bishop Arthur J. Moore “Apathy or Advance!” The 1935 Report to the Board of Missions of the Methodist Episcopal Church South)

Leave it to Bishop Moore to mention the elephant in the room in such a blunt manner, but is he speaking in 1935 or 2020? Racial tensions, nationalism, and economics have certainly been in the news lately. All that’s missing is a global pandemic and it would be an exact match. This means what’s old is new again!

So, what was going on in 1935 to make Bishop Moore begin his address to the Board of Missions of the Methodist Episcopal Church South in this manner? Well, the United States was still recovering from the Depression and the Dust Bowl continued to plague the grasslands with Black Sunday occurring that spring. Under President Roosevelt, the New Deal created the Works Progress Administration in an attempt to get people back to work and the Social Security Act was passed. The Harlem Race Riots erupted in New York because a rumor circulated that a Puerto Rican shoplifter had been brutally beaten and Mary Bethune McLeod created the National Council of Negro Women. And, if this wasn’t enough, Adolf Hitler reinstated the German Air Force and began rearmament in defiance of the Versailles Peace Treaty of 1919.

After surviving the first six months of 2020, we can all imagine how the people of 1935 must have felt. The trouble and confusion that Bishop Moore references is all too familiar, but Bishop Moore never leaves us with the trouble and confusion, and this is where the power lies. He goes on to write:

“We may be in a time of transformation but not of defeat. The growing complexity and difficulty of work may call for reconsideration and restatement of plans and programs, but I was never so sure that in all the turmoil and confusion of individuals and nations Christ’s uncompromising conquest goes on. The missionary enterprise rests not upon our human frailty and shifting economic conditions, but upon God’s unchanging purpose and Christ’s unwearied compassion for all men. In my heart is the assured hope of final and glorious success.”

I cannot know today what the next six months of 2020 have in store for the South Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church, but I do know that it does not rest upon our shoulders. It lies squarely with God’s purpose and Christ’s love, and for this, we are truly grateful. So, to quote another of Bishop Moore’s titles, “Fight On! Fear Not!”

Anne Packard serves as Conference Historian and director of the Arthur J. Moore Methodist Museum on St. Simons Island. Contact her at director@mooremuseum.org.

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