I’ll look at two different dates given in the list—1844 and 1956—and highlight some ways you can see each turning point in light of the Methodist Church’s understanding of missio dei.
In 1844, the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States split around the issue of slavery. Leading up to the split, the church was increasingly divided on the issue of slavery; as the issue became more complex, the General Conference allowed each Annual Conference the ability to create its own rules around owning slaves. The issue came to a head around a specific leader, Bishop James O. Andrew, who owned slaves. When the bishop was finally asked, after much deliberation, to step down from his role, the southern Annual Conferences separated from the denomination and formed the Methodist Episcopal Church, South.
In regards to missio dei, this 1844 division reflects very different ideas of God’s calling for Methodists. Northern Methodists believed that, despite the laws of the state, Christians should live out a godly ideal of justice that forbade slavery. In this way, northern Methodists felt a call to be countercultural, questioning the practices of society at the time. Many southern Methodists believed that there was no problem with accepting the state’s endorsement of slavery, and that slavery itself could be a good thing.
In 1956, the General Conference of the Methodist Church granted full clergy rights for women. This was done after hours of debate, and the final decision was to eliminate any discrimination in the denomination. In the debate, some argued that allowing women full clergy rights would mean women would no longer be interested in the existing role of deaconesses. This view would present the missio dei, or God’s calling, for women as to be in a role of helper. Others, who ultimately prevailed, argued that the church’s calling was to grant full equality for women as clergy. In this view, the church’s calling would be furthered by the full participation of women, and that individual women would be able to respond fully if they felt God’s call to church leadership.