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Monday, October 22, 2012

George McGovern: Religious history

(George S. McGovern)
George Stanley McGovern, the son of a preacher, came very close to being one himself.

His father, Reverend Joseph C. McGovern, was a Wesleyan Methodist Church pastor.  Wikipedia reports that the Wesleyan Methodist Church split from the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1843, mainly over slavery issues.  The early Wesleyan Methodists were anti-slavery, as well as strong proponents of women's rights.  Their itinerant frontier preachers were quite popular with the farmers and laborers of that time.

The Wesleyan Methodists were also noted for their purity doctrines, and young George's participation in "worldly amusements" was curtailed. George also experienced such somber events as the Dust Bowl and the
Great Depression while growing up.  His family was living on the edge of poverty during these hard times, which fostered George's lifelong compassion for the struggling working class.

Wikipedia states that George was also strongly influenced by John Wesley's "practical divinity" teachings.  Wesley had "sought to fight poverty, injustice, and ignorance."  After graduating from high school, McGovern enrolled at Dakota Wesleyan University in his "home town" of Mitchell, South Dakota.  His studies were interrupted by his World War II military service, but he continued with them when he returned home.  After earning a magna cum laude Bachelor of Arts degree in 1946, McGovern began divinity studies at Garrett  Theological Seminary near Chicago, Illinois.

By this time, George had "switched from Wesleyan Methodism to less fundamental regular Methodism."  He was becoming heavily "influenced by Walter Rauschenbusch and the Social Gospel movement."  Although Rauschenbusch had been raised on biblical literalism, he later began to embrace the historical-critical method of biblical interpretation.  With this came Rauschenbusch's emphasis upon substituting "love for selfishness as the basis for human society."

After preaching for a relatively short time as a "Methodist student supply minister," McGovern became frustrated by "the minutiae of his pastoral duties."  He then returned to a love that had been kindled by his wartime experience – the love of politics.  McGovern afterwards became a political science professor…  and the rest is surely history.


Copyright October 22, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved 

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