Free Methodism’s Descent form a Vibrant Religious Movement to a Denomination

As the nineteenth century ended the Free Methodist Church began to shift into a period of extended legalism, creating an insular society that little resembled the dynamic, Spirit-filled early history of the denomination. By the 1894 General Conference there was a push back against evangelists and a focus not on sinners but on saints within the church. The massive revivals that spread Free Methodism across the country began to become fewer as the denomination focused on legalistic practices such as simple dress and strict Christian guidelines. Ida Gage’s daughter Edith Gage Tingley illustrates the increasing tension between charismatic faith and … Continue reading Free Methodism’s Descent form a Vibrant Religious Movement to a Denomination

A Historical Overview on Divorce & What the Free Methodist Church Believes

Since I’ve discovered that both Ida Gage and Clara Wetherald were divorced, I’ve been trying to better understand the Free Methodist Church’s position on divorce in the early twentieth century. Today I often hear people refer to the “good old days” when divorce was never an option. What both these women’s stories illustrate is that divorce is not something recent. It’s been a social problem for quite sometime. However, before the twentieth century women had few legal rights and could be trapped in abusive marriages without options. While, I’m not promoting divorce; I also don’t want to endorse people staying … Continue reading A Historical Overview on Divorce & What the Free Methodist Church Believes

Ellen Stowe Roberts: Co-Founder of Free Methodism

Benjamin Titus (B.T.) Roberts is known as the founder of Free Methodism. Yet, standing quietly beside him was his wife Ellen Stowe Roberts. While B.T. Roberts was traveling, preaching, dedicating new churches and attending annual conferences his wife Ellen was back at home at Chili Seminary. While she traveled with him sometimes, her impact on Free Methodism rests in her gentle spirit and quiet witness. I firmly believe that when we note who founded Free Methodism both B.T. and Ellen should be given credit in the same breath. Ellen helped shape B.T. Roberts theology through her connections to Phoebe Palmer … Continue reading Ellen Stowe Roberts: Co-Founder of Free Methodism

Debating Biblical Gender Roles Then and Now

It’s easy to believe that the debates about gender roles in evangelical culture are a recent development. Yet, looking through Free Methodist Magazine archives from over a hundred years ago, it’s clear that the debate on Biblical gender roles goes back centuries. Perhaps, I can justify the tension regarding women’s roles the nineteenth and early twentieth century Free Methodist Church somewhat, but I cannot justify nor understand why this debate still continues. As is always the case we too often forget history and do not learn from the past. In the early twentieth century America was in the midst of … Continue reading Debating Biblical Gender Roles Then and Now

Walter Sellew’s Phamplet “Why Not?”: A Logical Defense on Women’s Ordination

The path to ordain women in the Free Methodist Church seemed to stall with the death of B.T. Roberts after the 1890 General Conference. Yet, the battle wasn’t over. In 1898 the Free Methodist Church for the first time appointed four bishops – Wilson Hogg (aka Hogue), G.W. Coleman, E.P. Hart and Walter Sellew. Sellew is the forgotten advocate for women’s ministry. Yet, without his support I believe recognition of women’s contributions within the denomination would have taken even longer to occur. While women were not granted the right to ordained elders within the denomination until 1974, they were granted … Continue reading Walter Sellew’s Phamplet “Why Not?”: A Logical Defense on Women’s Ordination

What Makes a Free Methodist Feminist?

I’m re-posting this entry since I now have more readers than I did when I originally posted it. It’s my manifesto for what I believe and what I research. Occasionally I’m asked why I call myself a feminist. Now that my blog is getting a few readers I’m getting this question more often. The concept of a “Free Methodist Feminist” seems like an oxymoron. Yet, I stand by this term. I am a feminist.  While there are definitely some feminists who distance themselves from organized religion and view organized religion as just another way to enforce patriarchy, I don’t see … Continue reading What Makes a Free Methodist Feminist?

Ida Gage’s Ministry

Information on Ida Gage and her personal life are difficult to come by. I hope as I do archival research in Wood County, Ohio, next week that I will find out more about her Bowling Green Circuit. I am also hoping that the Free Methodist Magazine archives will shed light on Ida’s personal life. The magazine certainly helped outline Clara Wetherald’s ministry and life, and I’m very hopeful that information on Ida will also be forthcoming. She was prolific in ministry, and as both her and Clara were gifted public speakers there is a record of their various places they … Continue reading Ida Gage’s Ministry

Cultural Influences in the 1890 General Conference Debates

Sometimes even Christians are wrong. Shocker! Christians can have wrong opinions? Yes, we’re only human, and in the case of the 1890 Free Methodist General Conference some of the denomination’s Godly leaders were wrong. I’ve struggle the past few months with how to critique the debate on women’s ordination in the denomination, particularly the 1890 General Conference when the debate was incredibly heated and intense. Yet, I don’t want to say that these men, who were clearly dedicated to their faith and had a heart for service, were evil men. They weren’t evil. What I’ve come to see is that … Continue reading Cultural Influences in the 1890 General Conference Debates

Fighting for Gender Equality in the 1880s “Free Methodist”

B.T. Roberts, the founder of the Free Methodist Church, served as editor of the denominational magazine The Free Methodist from 1887-1890. During that time period he featured women’s original articles, ministry reports and testimonials. Even prior to the denomination officially buying the magazine at the 1886 General Conference it was not unusual to see women’s writings featured in the publication. However, with Roberts as editor I can’t help but feel he specifically featured some articles to promote his platform of Biblical gender equality and women’s ordination. His tenure as the magazine’s editor was during a crucial time. The 1890 General … Continue reading Fighting for Gender Equality in the 1880s “Free Methodist”

Women Still Struggle to Gain Acceptance in Ministry

When I tell other academics that I’m studying the rhetoric of the early Free Methodist movement I get responses such as “Free Methodists? What is a Free Methodist?” or “I’ve never even seen a Free Methodist Church.” I’ll grant that the denomination is small. Currently in North America the Free Methodist Denomination (as of 2007) estimates membership at 74,000, and worldwide there are about 730,000 members.  Yet, this relatively small denomination has a rich history that has been largely unexplored by historians and rhetoricians outside the denomination. I am thrilled that this year marks the 150th anniversary of the denomination’s … Continue reading Women Still Struggle to Gain Acceptance in Ministry