Recovering a Heritage | Sojourners

Recovering a Heritage

The preceding essay in this series was devoted to the emergence of the Wesleyan Methodist Connection of America. There the career of Orange Scott was traced to show how his growing concern about slavery and resulting abolitionist activities increasingly put him at odds with Methodist leadership that attempted to crush such disruptive "agitation." The result was a rare phenomenon—a denomination founded in protest against a social evil and the accommodation of the churches to it.

This essay focuses on another early Wesleyan Methodist, Luther Lee. This man left behind several volumes of sermons (The Evangelical Pulpit, 1854-1864) and a number of other sermons published individually in pamphlet form. These materials provide some insight into the preaching of a church body devoted wholeheartedly to reform activity in an era in which the "social gospel" was still considered to be a part of "evangelicalism."

Luther Lee was born November 30, 1800, into an impoverished up-state New York home. At the age of nineteen, Lee reaffirmed the faith of his childhood and, though nearly illiterate, moved toward the Methodist ministry. After several years’ service in frontier circuits and efforts to overcome his lack of education, he rose to a leadership role—largely because of his powers as a revivalist and his ability in debate. (Lee gained quite a reputation for debating Universalist ministers on the question of "universal salvation.") In 1837 Lee became an abolitionist and immediately threw himself into the anti-slavery struggle. "Logical Lee," as he came to be known, was especially in demand to defend ministers in church trials for such offenses as "agitating the slavery question" or "patronizing abolitionist publications." After a period of service as an agent of the Massachusetts Abolition Society and helping to organize the anti-slavery Liberty Party in 1840, Lee joined Orange Scott and others in founding Wesleyan Methodism.

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