Methodism and Abstinence: a History of The Methodist Church and Teetotalism
Curtis, Jonathan Paul
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
This thesis has two overarching aims. The first aim is to understand the origins and development of temperance and abstinence in British Methodism, particularly through the theology that informed what may broadly be called the Methodist teetotal movement in its period of greatest popularity from 1830 until 1919. The second is to consider the downfall of this movement in the period from 1945 until 1974, when the Methodist Connexion adopted the view that each Methodist “must consider his personal attitude to all drugs in relation to his Christian vocation”. The need for the study arises from the relative dearth of historical investigation regarding Methodism and abstinence. Representations of Methodism and abstinence tend either to be partisan or to lack wider understanding of the abstinence movement, or the theology of Methodism. Methodologically, this thesis attempts to hold together historical and theological considerations; it is important to consider both the socio-economic contexts in which diverse abstinence and teetotal movements arose and the theological motivations that drove British Methodist belief and practice. Regarding the origins and development of temperance and abstinence in British Methodism, it is proposed in this thesis that the Bible Christians were the first organised Methodist abstainers, and that their practice was likely to have been influenced by John Wesley's theologies of sanctification, holiness and Christian perfection. The thesis is an attempt to counter the Bible Christian’s diminished historical significance, as well as to investigate the likely impact of the theological underpinnings for their abstinence. Regarding the downfall of temperance and abstinence in British Methodism in the period from 1945 until 1974, this thesis will propose that a loss of focus upon holiness as a catalyst for abstinence was detrimental to the growth and continuation of the teetotal movement throughout Methodism after World War Two. It will highlight the general rejection of this focus on encouraged abstinence in the second half of the twentieth century, acknowledging the changes and disagreement within British Methodism to which this dismissal led. Concluding comments allude to the need for a renewed witness within British Methodism to societal and theological imperatives for both temperance and abstinence.
PhD in Theology