Texas History: Revolutionary Church
“Houston is infested with Methodists and ants!” This was the opinion of French Catholic missionary Emmanuel-Henri-Dieudonné Domenech as he surveyed Texas in 1848. After the Texas Revolution was won, Protestant churches blossomed throughout the Lone Star State. But it wasn’t always like that.
When Stephen F. Austin received approval from the Mexican government to bring settlers into Texas, he knew that the state religion was Roman Catholic. No other religions were lawful, so he opposed preachers who wanted to start Protestant churches. But those settlers who had attended church elsewhere were determined to do so in Texas.
The town of San Felipe de Austin was fertile ground for the Protestants. As early as 1824, the Methodists held services outdoors. Austin noticed the meetings and angrily said, “One Methodist preacher would cause more harm… than a dozen horse thieves.”
Indeed, freedom of religion was one driving force behind the Texas Revolution. The more resistance to starting churches that the settlers encountered, the more engaged they became in separating themselves from the Mexican government. There were some notable voices of leadership who opposed religious tyranny.
In 1835, the year before he became commander of the Alamo, a young lawyer named William Barret Travis wrote to the Methodist publication Christian Advocate and Journal with this appeal: “I request that the Methodist church, with its’ excellent itinerant system, has hitherto sent the pioneers of the Gospel into almost every destitute portion of the globe, should have neglected so long this interesting country. In sending your heralds to the four corners of the earth, Remember Texas!”
One of the more outspoken Methodist ministers was Henry Stephenson (1772-1841). In 1834, Stephenson was placed in charge of the Methodist endeavor to build churches in Texas. Mirabeau B. Lamar is quoted as saying that Stephenson was “a zealous and sincere man.” It is thought that Stephenson was instrumental in rebuilding the Methodist congregation in San Felipe following the Runaway Scrape of 1836.
In 1838, a Frenchman named Frederic LeClerc attended a Methodist worship service in San Felipe and wrote in his journal that “a large hall being used for church services, two sets of benches, one for women, and for men. An old carpenter from Massachusetts delivered very austere sermons which were well received.”
The writers of Texas History have emphasized that the Texans desired independence. However, few historians have emphasized that freedom of religion and the ability to worship God without government interference was the driving passion of the common folk. While leaders of the revolution pontificated about political issues, parents wanted their children to know God and to be taught the principles of the Bible.
And this is still needed today. As it says in Ephesians 6:4 GNT – “Parents, do not treat your children in such a way as to make them angry. Instead, raise them with Christian discipline and instruction.” Support your local church!