‘Worship him by grunts and groans’

Virginia deist John Symmes was typical of many of the leading men of the American founding. Author Adam Jortner in his excellent book The Gods of Prophetstown recounts a letter from Symmes to his daughter Anna that captures the deist mood.

‘There be many modes of worshipping the Supreme God,’ he wrote Anna. These included Methodists, who ‘worship him by grunts and groans,’ while ‘Newlights, worship Him by screaming, clapping hands, crying hell fire and damnation, as loud as they can yell … But the best religion after all is to fear God and to do good.’

It was this grunting and groaning and fainting away that earned Wesley so many skeptics, too.

We certainly have changed a lot since then. These days, most of us United Methodists would probably side with the deist Symmes in casting aspersions on the worship of the grunting and groaning Methodists.

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