Formed in 1968 by a union of the former Evangelical United Brethren Church (EUB) and the Methodist Church, the United Methodist Church was born in South Carolina against the backdrop of the civil rights movement. There were no EUB churches in the state, but after the unification of the Methodist Church in 1939, black Methodists from the South Carolina Conference of the former Methodist Episcopal Church were members of the all-black Central Jurisdiction and white Methodists from the South Carolina Conference of the former Methodist Episcopal Church, South, were members of the all-white Southeastern Jurisdiction. In 1964 the General Conference of the Methodist Church set the goal of a racially inclusive United Methodist Church. No reference to the Central Jurisdiction appeared in the Plan of Union, and 1972 was set as the date for eliminating racial structures altogether.
In 1966 the white South Carolina Conference approved the transfer of black Central Jurisdiction conferences into the Southeastern Jurisdiction and requested Bishop Paul Hardin, Jr., to appoint merger committees to plan the creation of a single, interracial South Carolina Conference. In 1968 the Central Jurisdiction was abolished, and the white conference was designated the “South Carolina Conference (1785)” and the black conference was designated the “South Carolina Conference (1866).” Both became part of the Columbia Episcopal Area, with Hardin as resident bishop. The two groups held joint pastors’ schools and leadership training programs.
However, creating an interracial structure proved difficult. Merger committees of the two conferences proposed a plan in 1970. While in June 1971 the 1866 conference adopted it, the 1785 group defeated it. Bishop Hardin then appointed a smaller committee of six of the 1785 conference. Their plan was adopted by the white group and defeated by the black group. New committees of six from each group presented a final plan, which was adopted in January 1972. On June 5, 1972, the two conferences met separately for the last time in Spartanburg, and that evening the merged conference convened.
At first there were separate black and white districts within the conference. In 1974 Bishop Edward Tullis created twelve interracial districts, and in 1984 Bishop Roy Clark announced his intention of making interracial pastoral appointments, a process that moved slowly. In 1988 native son Joseph Bethea was the first black bishop appointed to South Carolina since the merger.
Issues other than race occupied the attention of United Methodists in the state. Attacks on the National Council of Churches (NCC) in the 1960s led to a conference study of NCC structure and policies. By the mid-1970s women entered the ordained ministry in increasing numbers but were slowly accepted by the churches. There were sharp debates over the Vietnam War in the 1970s. In the 1980s and 1990s conservative evangelicalism made increasing inroads among clergy and laity. Successive conference resolutions deplored the flying of the Confederate flag over the State House in Columbia and the adoption of a state lottery.
Huff, A. V., Jr. “The Evangelical Traditions II: Methodists.” In Religion in South Carolina, edited by Charles H. Lippy. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1993.
———. “A History of South Carolina United Methodism.” In Morgan David Arant and Nancy McCracken Arant, eds., United Methodist Ministers in South Carolina. Columbia: South Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, 1984.