History of the Methodist Federation for Social Action
Originally the Methodist Federation for Social Service, MFSA was founded in 1907 by
several Methodist Episcopal clergy (including Frank Mason North, author of “Where
Cross the Crowded Ways of Life”) to direct church attention to the enormous human
suffering among the working class. Immediately the Federation became Methodism’s
unofficial rallying point for the Social Gospel and achieved in 1908 the adoption of the
first denominational social creed.
For almost four decades thereafter the Federation was led by Bishop Francis J.
McConnell and Harry F. Ward, an outstanding church ethicist and activist. During the
1920’s and 1930’s this leadership was fully shared by Winifred Chappell, a deaconess
and devoted advocate for the workers’ struggle.
In the 1930’s the Federation adopted as its goal the replacement of an economic
system based on the struggle for profit by “social-economic planning to develop a
society without class or group discriminations and privileges.”
MFSA attained the height of its growth just following World War II under the leadership
of Jack McMichael. However, with the coming of the anti-communist hysteria of the
McCarthy period, relations with The Methodist Church became very strained and the
Federation came under sharp attack.
In the wake of these events MFSA experienced a serious decline. However, a dedicated
remnant, including such leaders as Mark Chamberlin and Lee and Mae Ball, saw the
importance of an independent advocate of social action in the church and kept the
Federation alive, above all – through the publication of the Social Questions Bulletin
(which begun in 1911).
Over the past three decades MFSA has experienced a broad revival and has
re-established the Federation as a force within United Methodism. In 1974 MFSA sent
organizers to support the striking non-professionals at the UM hospital in Pikeville,
Kentucky. In 1979 the Federation issued a documented study of the New Far Right
presence in the denomination and rallied forces to stem its influence. MFSA was the
leading force in the struggle for UM support of disinvestment from South Africa,
especially by the Board of Pensions. The Federation makes a major impact every four
years at the denomination’s General Conference. New MFSA conference chapters
continue to be organized and units now total 37.
The Federation unites activist United Methodists to promote action on the liberation
issues confronting the church and society and to witness to the transformation of the
social order that is intrinsic to the church’s entire life, including its evangelism,
preaching, counseling, and spirituality.Taken from www.mfsaweb.org