Methodist Morals

Darryl W. Stephens. Methodist Morals: Social Principles in the Public Church’s Witness. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2016.

Six-session participant and leader’s study guide by Ruth A. Daugherty, designed for congregational and classroom use.

Methodist Morals offers keen insight into the public church, interpreting the United Methodist Social Principles as a dynamic discourse about morality and human rights in light of faith. Revised every four years by the General Conference of The United Methodist Church, the Social Principles exposes the moral deliberations of this distinctly American and increasingly “worldwide” church as it struggles to achieve community across multiple languages and cultures. Perhaps no other document provides as rich a depiction of Protestants participating in the moral argument of public life.

This is the first full-length study of Methodist social teachings in over fifty years. Examining official Methodist teachings from institutional, historical, and cross-cultural perspectives, the author provides a rich analysis of this case study of Protestant social witness, drawing on his expertise in church polity, Methodist history, and Christian social ethics. A wide range of comparisons—with documents of the United Nations, with moral debate in Germany and Zimbabwe, and with historical Methodist statements of social witness—shows the Social Principles to be a unique form of social witness. The issues of war, abortion, human sexuality, and marriage illustrate the messiness of democratic deliberation in an ecclesial context and the evolution of a people ever concerned with the sin of “worldliness” even as they become more attuned to transforming social structures. Stephens also contrasts this conception of the public church with the ecclesiologies of prominent Methodist ethicists Stanley Hauerwas and Paul Ramsey.

Intended for students of Methodism, ecumenical church leaders, and scholars of Christian social ethics and contemporary US mainline religion, this work reveals the challenges to and possibilities for achieving moral community in an increasingly global and diverse world.


“Stephens expertly illuminates how the Social Principles is challenged to address the global nature of the Church.” —Dr. Jessica M. Smith, writing for the General Board of Church and Society, UMC

“For anyone who wants to understand the role of the church in public discourse, Methodist Morals is a must read! . . .The book represents the best of scholarship in service to the church and society!” —Bishop Kenneth L. Carder

“This highly accessible book is even-handed, clearly written, and thoroughly engaging.” —the Rev. Andrea Brown, UMC

Reviews and Mentions

Review by David N. Field, Wesley and Methodist Studies 13, no. 1 (2021): 101–3.

Review by Wonchul Shin, Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics 38, no. 1 (2018): 205–6.

Review by Kathryn Johnson, Methodist History 55, no. 3 (April 2017): 208–9.

Martin E. Marty, “Meanwhile, United Methodists…,” Sightings, University of Chicago, November 21, 2016.

Review by Jessica M. Smith, United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society, November 14, 2016.

Related Publications

Darryl W. Stephens, “Moral Exemplar or Ethical Professional? Clergy and Sexual Sin in Methodist Church Law,” Methodist Review 3 (2011): 55–99.

See alsoUnited Methodism at the End of White Christian Americaon this website.


Portions of this research were supported by Emory University, through grants by the Fund for International Graduate Research (2006) and Graduate Division of Religion (2004).