New Zealand Methodism and World War I : crisis in a liberal church
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
During World War I, New Zealand Methodism entered a crisis caused by two sets of problems, both of which reflected the numerical stagnation of the Church in the early twentieth century and the difficulty of communicating the Methodist gospel in a changing society. Firstly, the nature and scale of the war was totally outside the experience of that generation. In attempting to set this war within the context of a progressive view of civilisation, New Zealand Methodists developed the belief that the war was a barbarous anachronism which had been deliberately started by a German nation in league with Satan. Britain was therefore waging a holy war for the most exalted interests of righteousness. The unreality of this view caused theological and evangelistic problems later. But the war also affected and focused attention on a crisis which was developing anyway. It had long been clear that Methodism was not winning the New Zealand people, and concerned Methodists tried to develop solutions. One solution was moral reform through prohibition: this movement passed its peak during the war years. Another was the development of policies of radical social reform, to be developed through the Liberal Party; but the war saw that Party's virtual demise, and less centrist groups rejected the liberal Methodist vision, preferring a class antagonism which was strong in 1919. A further solution was the espousal of evangelical liberalism; but while the clergy preferred this theological standpoint, many of the laity opted for fundamentalism after the war. Thus during the war and in the immediate post-war period, New Zealand Methodism became aware of and concerned over the rejection of its liberal vision of a righteous society by New Zealanders, and even by many Methodists. This thesis will examine the crisis and initial reactions to it.