I feel like a Johnny come lately to this fascinating discussion of the seizure of the Methodist churches by Federal fiat. I am not looking at my histories of Methodism, but I can offer some insight on the history of the split between the "Northern" and "Southern" Methodists.
One of the tenets of early Methodism was John Wesley's opposition to slavery. I don't think it became a bigt issue among Methodist until after 1832, but as the sectional crisis deepened, it opened a great slplit between Methodist of the Northern Churches, who favored abolition, and Southern Methodists, who of course did nto. The Church at that time was known as the Methodist Episcoapl Church, it having of course come from the Episcopal Church/Church of England, and having for the most part adopted the governance of the Episcopal Church, with the churches being organized into Conferences, either geographic or along State lines.
This unique church organization is what makes the order so doubly offensive. Each Conference (ie, the South Carolian Conference) was a separate legal entity, being governed by a bishop, and in the Methodist church then, as today, legal title to church property -- church buildings, etc. -- is not owned by the local church, nor by the National church, but by the particular conference in which the church property is located. Each conference is thus self-governing. Four or five opr more conferences go together to form a jurisdiction -- today the Southeastern jusridcition of the United Methodist Church is composed of the S.,C., N.C. (two), Georgia (two),Florida, Virginia, Alabama, and Watuaga Conferences --(there may be one or two conferences I missed), and those confernces meet every four years, their only practical function being to elect the bishops.
As a result of the split over the slavery issue, the Southern Conferences split with the Northern church in 1844 and formed the Methodist Episcopal Church (South). The Northern Church (which continued to be knwon as the Methodist Episcopal Church) had no legal right or interest in the church property of their Southern brethren, and because they were not part of the Southern jurisdictions, they had no interest in the election of Southern bishops.
I hope I haven't gotten too bogged down on church governance, but the order flew in the face of the First Amendment, and the due process clause of Article IV of the Constitution. We had a due process clause long before the adoption of the 14th Amendment.
The order amounted to an absolute confiscation of church property. I never heard of such an order before this, and even after the passage of 140 years plus, it makes my blood boil. Does any one know if such an order was implemented in the Carolinas?
The Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Protestant Church (a splinter sect formed in 1828) and the Methodist Episcopal Church (South) did indeed merge again in 1939, forming "The Methodist Church." Some of the more conservative Southern churches refused to agree to the merger, and went their own way. Although the local conferences held title to the buildings of those "seceeding" churches, the policy, at least in the South Carolina Conference, was to follow Horace Greeley's advice, "Errant sisters, go in peace." Those churches form the nucleus for the Southern Methodist denomination today.
In 1968 the Methodist Church merged with the Evangelical United Brethren to form the United Methodist Church.