Methodist Board of Temperance, Prohibition, and Public Morals

A Temperance Leader

methodist board of temperance
The Methodist Building

The Methodist Board of Temperance, Prohibition, and Public Morals. It was a powerful force in the temperance movement. In 1920, it built the Methodist Building on Capitol Hill in Washington. This was to increase even more its power in the nation’s capital.

After Prohibition began, the Methodist Board of Temperance pushed for its aggressive enforcement. It also tried to stop any criticism of Prohibition.


In 1925, it charged that vaudeville acts and comic strips were giving wet (anti-prohibition) “propaganda” in New York City. It called New York “a foreign city, run by foreigners for foreigners according to foreign ideas.”

The founder of the Methodist Board of Temperance was Clarence True Wilson.  He was a hard-liner. Wilson wanted five-year imprisonment for anyone who bought a pint of bootleg alcohol. He urged the government to send the marines to speakeasies. They should shoot occupants who refused to leave.

methodist board of temperance
Bishop Cannon on trial.

By far the most controversial leader was Bishop James Cannon, Jr. His powerful career came to a very un-Christian ending. He misused church money to fund an opponent of a political enemy. Hoarded flour during WW I, which he sold at great profit. Engaged in illegal stock market manipulation with a corrupt broker. And had a sexual affair with his secretary. That, while his wife was ill.

Methodist Board of Temperance


The Methodist Board of Temperance was dissolved after a merger of Methodist denominations in the 1960s. The united church created the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS). The assets of the Society were placed into a trust in 1965. The provisions of the trust  are clear. They require that the trust’s assets must be used exclusively for “work in the areas of temperance and alcohol problems.”

The trust’s assets are now over $40 million. But complaints continue that the church violates the terms of the trust. It is using the money to fund programs unrelated drinking. Such things as on antiwar, environmental, gay rights and other activities. Church officials argue that they interpret the trust’s language to include a variety of social causes.

Common Problem for Donors

This is a common problem. Gifts to churches, colleges and other groups are often misused. That is, not used as the donors were promised. This suggests that contributing to endowment funds might not be wise. See Donor Intent.


    • Photo courtesy of Garrett Peck. Mr. Peck offers a Prohibition tour of DC.