Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Declaration and Address: A Unity Movement Divides

As the nation was straining toward civil war, congregations began debating issue of slavery and State’s rights.  In an effort to maintain unity, most of the early publications within our movement refused to publish articles or letters about the issue of slavery.  Soon, other issues of “primary concern” emerged that served as identifiers of varying opinions.  Debate over instrumental music and Sunday Schools took front page in most of our early magazines and newspapers.  Those who were opposed to instrumental music and Sunday School programs were generally sympathetic to the South.  Northern sympathizers were advocates of local autonomy on such issues while at the same time pouring money and resources in starting new African American congregations in Illinois and Ohio.  Ultimately, in the U.S. Religious Census of 1906, the U.S. government classified these non-instrumental congregations (Southern sympathizers) as a separate denomination known as the Church of Christ.  Incidentally, it was in the midst of this upheaval of the late 1800’s that led non-instrumentalist minister, M.C. Kurfees and instrumentalist minister, A.C. Hopkins, to work together in founding the first Christian Church in Ashland, later to be known as First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

The second major division began soon after World War II.  Although historians disagree as to the instigating factors, it was clear that the United States was ending a military war and preparing for a cultural war.  Issues of women’s role in the Church, civil rights and scientific theories on human origins challenged the Church’s efforts toward unity.  As had been the case in the mid-19th century, the movement adopted other issues to serve as the public “essentials” to be debated.  Missionary societies, the role of the Eldership, the preparation of clergy and which version of the Bible should be used in public worship became the sanctified “essentials” for debate.  By the late 1950’s the movement embarked on a vast undertaking called Restructure, whereby the present structure of our denomination was established.  As before, those who were supportive of women’s leadership in the Church and sympathetic to the Civil Rights movement were in favor of Restructure.  Those who opposed desegregation and maintained more traditional roles for women opposed Restructure.  By 1971, the final major split occurred with the independent Christian Church forming the North American Christian Convention and those accepting Restructure being identified as the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

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