"Then you will know the truth and the truth will make you free." John 8:32
On November 8, 1842, five ministers (Orange Scott, Jotham Horton, LaRoy Sunderland, Luther Lee, and Lucius Matlack) announced that they were withdrawing from the Methodist Church they had loved and faithfully served.
In his book explaining why they were leaving Methodism, Orange Scott gave two main reasons: the evil of slavery, and the oppressive hand of the bishops. There would be no slave-holders in this new denomination…..and there would be no bishops, either!
To make sure their reasons were clearly understood they named their new denominational magazine The True Wesleyan – intending their emphasis on the TRUE.
This newly formed denomination grew rapidly. Others were drawn by their passion for social justice in the name of Christ and the Gospel. Scott said on one occasion, “We are anti-slavery, anti-intemperance (anti-alcohol) and anti-everything wrong.”
They also boldly announced their intention, as a denomination, to disobey the Fugitive Slave Law which required an escaped slave, even in the North, to return him to his owner. This was an early example of civil disobedience, and those who took part were following in the footsteps of Peter and the apostles, who said to the Sanhedrin: We must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29)
Orange Scott died of tuberculosis and exhaustion in 1847, just four years into the life of the new denomination he helped to establish. Not only the Church, but also the nation lost one of its strongest anti-slavery voices. Historian Donald Mathews of Princeton and the University of North Carolina paid him that tribute. At Scott’s funeral, Luther Lee said, “He lived in advance of his age.” He gave his life to persuade the nation of the evils of slavery. We, today, are a nation persuaded.
The place of Wesleyans in the Abolitionist Movement was underscored in 2002, when the Oxford University Press published an important legal reference entitled The Oxford Companion to American Law. On the cover, superimposed over a view of the Supreme Court Building, is a painting that depicts one of the most historic cases ever to come before that court. It was the trial of the slaves on the Spanish ship Armistad, who successfully rebelled against their captors but were then recaptured in American waters. Should they be returned to their owners as property?
An American abolitionist, Lewis Tappan, funded their legal defense, and former President of the United States John Quincy Adams pled their cause in court. Lewis Tappen was a colleague of LaRoy Sutherland, one of the founders of the Wesleyan Methodist denomination. They were both named on a wanted poster in New Orleans, and the price on their heads was $10,000. Their crime: being abolitionists. After the trial the Armistad Defense Fund became the budget for the American Missionary Association, including Wesleyan pastors and their church members.
The Wesleyan Church from its inception stood out from the Methodists and other mainline denominations because of their stand against social evil and moral injustice. Because they stood up they stood out.
God used this Wesleyan movement we belong to rouse the moral conscience of our nation and caused it to right a terrible wrong. God is calling Wesleyans today to stand for holiness and righteousness and against the moral evils of our day. The time has come to stand up so we can stand out.