Faiths and Denominations

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African Methodist Episcopal Church

The African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) was founded in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, after white Methodist Episcopalians at the city’s St. George Chapel forced those of African descent out of the congregation in 1787. This led to the dedication of the first AME chapel, Bethel AME, in 1794. However, the AME was not represented in Arkansas until 1863 after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Arkansas’s earliest AME congregation formed under the leadership of the Reverend Nathan Warren. Warren, reared a slave in the District of Columbia, arrived in Arkansas in 1819 with Robert Crittenden, who served as the first secretary of the Arkansas Territory. Upon Crittenden’s death in 1834, Warren purchased his freedom from the family, married, and lived as …

Amish

The Amish have attempted five times during the twentieth century to develop communities in Arkansas. All five began with high expectations of other Amish joining them and establishing roots in the state nicknamed the “Land of Opportunity.” Although Amish were once scattered throughout the state, only a few Old Order Amish live in the state in the twenty-first century. The Amish can trace their roots back to the 1500s and the Anabaptist tradition. The Anabaptists were separatists who developed their own communities, believed in adult water baptism, and practiced pacifism. The men wore beards while the women wore long dresses and head coverings. One of their more controversial practices was that of shunning, the practice of avoiding and not speaking …

Anglicans

Arkansas Anglicans are individuals and parishes that, while having some historical connection with the Episcopal Church, have sought to disassociate themselves from it. This disassociation stems from a variety of theological and moral reasons, including such matters as the authority of the scriptures, the ordination of women, the introduction of a prayer book widely perceived as revisionist, and the ordination of a non-celibate homosexual man as bishop. Broadly speaking, Anglicans are Christians who identify themselves with the history and mission of the Church of England. The Episcopal Church was for many years the only Anglican presence in America. However, in 1873, several hundred evangelical Episcopalians, protesting departures from traditional worship practices, left to form the Reformed Episcopal Church (REC), the …

Assemblies of God

The Assemblies of God is an evangelical, Pentecostal organization that was founded in Arkansas in 1914. It has grown to be the largest Pentecostal organization in Arkansas and around the world. Assemblies of God adherents in Arkansas now number approximately 40,000, while the worldwide count has grown to over 62 million people. The modern Pentecostal revival generally traces its roots to a prayer meeting held at Bethel Bible College in Topeka, Kansas, on January 1, 1901. Thirteen years later, after considerable growth and the phenomenal Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles, California, leaders from the churches that had emerged during this time recognized the need to organize in order to ensure doctrinal purity, allow for the formal recognition of ministers, …

Bahá’ís

The Bahá’í faith originated in Persia (present-day Iran) in the mid-1800s as a movement within a minority sect of Islam led by a man known as the Báb (whose name means “the gate”). After his execution by Iranian leaders, one of the Báb’s followers, a man known as Bahá’u’lláh, became the leader of the movement and claimed to be the Messianic figure written about by the Báb. Bahá’u’lláh established the Bahá’í faith as a new religion and, after many exiles, was finally sent to Akka, Palestine (in present-day Israel), where he spent the remainder of his days. Bahá’u’lláh appointed his son, `Abdu’l-Bahá, to assume leadership of the Bahá’í faith upon his death. Central tenets of the Bahá’í faith include the …

Baptists

Baptists make up the largest Protestant Christian group in Arkansas, characterized by the practice of baptism, usually by immersion, on profession of faith in Jesus Christ. They exhibit great diversity in customs, but most Baptists have congregational polity combined with voluntary interconnection of congregations. They also emphasize autonomy (self-governance) of congregations, associations, and conventions. Leading Baptist groups in Arkansas are the Arkansas Baptist State Convention (Southern Baptist), National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc., National Baptist Convention of America, and American Baptist Association. Baptist Denominations  Southern Baptists are members of congregations affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), which formed in 1845 in a split over slavery. (Anti-slavery Baptists, mostly from the North, objected to the practice of Baptist missionaries taking their …

Buddhists

Buddhists in Arkansas are represented by ethnic immigrants who bring to the state the religious practices of their homelands as well as native Arkansans who have turned to Buddhism for their spiritual needs. Though less than one percent of the population of Arkansas, Buddhists in the state have established temples testifying to their presence, in addition to meeting in a variety of formal and informal groups. Buddhism can be described as a religion, a philosophy, a psychology, a practice, or a way of life. Buddhism’s essentially non-theistic framework, along with its emphasis on personal experience as the only true validation of its teachings, sets it apart from most other religious systems. Despite the varied schools of Buddhist thought and practice, …

Christadelphians

Christadelphians have had a presence in Arkansas since 1852, but their impact upon the state is difficult to measure. Christadelphians, following an interpretation of Christianity as basically apolitical, consider themselves to be strangers and pilgrims on the earth. Consequently, they neither individually nor as a group engage in civic affairs but await political change to be effected upon the return of Jesus Christ. The Christadelphian movement was founded in 1847 by John Thomas, a medical doctor from London, England, who sailed to New York in 1832 and later traveled on to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he became associated with Alexander Campbell and the Restoration movement. His studies during this period led to debates with Campbell, and the two parted company. Those …

Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

The Christian movement called “Disciples” (among other names) came to Arkansas in the 1830s. Ministers who were initially associated with other denominations began work in the state, and then, as Disciples moved west, they were caught up in the wave of those leaving behind their former ties and becoming “Christians only.” Disciples in the United StatesThe Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is one of three denominations descending from the Stone-Campbell movement of the nineteenth century, which has its source in the Second Great Awakening—a period during which a number of Christian denominations underwent changes due to revivals and several new sects were created. Along with Churches of Christ and the Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, Disciples help make the “three streams” …

Christian Scientists

aka: Christian Science
aka: Church of Christ, Scientist
Despite smaller numbers of followers than other denominations in Arkansas, the Christian Science movement has had a significant impact upon the state. A review of the Arkansas code yields numerous citations and accommodations for Arkansans who find that religious nonmedical healthcare meets their healthcare needs. These citations and accommodations are found in both criminal and civil codes and have been introduced in large part by Christian Scientists. Mary Baker Eddy, “the only American woman to found a lasting American-based religion,” according to the National Women’s Hall of Fame, founded the First Church of Christ, Scientist in 1879 “to commemorate the word and works of our Master, which should reinstate primitive Christianity and its lost element of healing.” Thirteen years earlier, …

Church of God in Christ (COGIC)

The Church of God in Christ (COGIC) is a predominantly African-American Pentecostal Christian denomination, headquartered at Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee. Its doctrine and practice are charismatic in nature, much like the Assemblies of God, meaning that they emphasize personal religious experience and divinely inspired powers, such as healing, prophecy, and speaking in tongues. Founded in Arkansas in 1897, the COGIC is the fourth-largest Christian denomination in the United States (as of 2003), with 5.4 million members, behind the Roman Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the United Methodist Church. Its founder, Charles Harrison Mason, became a Christian in 1879. He was baptized by his brother, who was then pastoring near Plumerville (Conway County). Mason later became a minister …

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

aka: Mormons
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (sometimes shortened to the LDS Church, Mormon Church, or Church of Jesus Christ) was first introduced into Arkansas upon the arrival of missionaries Henry Brown and Wilford Woodruff, who came in to Arkansas from Clay County, Missouri, on January 28, 1835. Jonathan Hubble and his wife were the first Arkansas converts. They were baptized by immersion, as is the custom among Latter-day Saints, on February 22, 1835. Years later, Wilford Woodruff, the first LDS missionary to preach in Arkansas, would become the fourth president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. From that modest 1835 beginning, Mormons in Arkansas number 27,559 as of 2012. LDS meetinghouses (chapels) are frequently shared …

Church of the Nazarene

The state of Arkansas was one of the cradles for the early expansion of the Church of the Nazarene, America’s largest Wesleyan-holiness denomination. Nazarenes are evangelical Methodists who emphasize John Wesley’s core preaching, including the conversion of sinners, the sanctification of believers, and the witness of the Holy Spirit to these Christians’ experiences. The Nazarenes grew from the nineteenth-century holiness movement in American Methodism. The denomination was constituted by mergers in 1907 and 1908 of three regional Wesleyan-holiness bodies located on the East Coast, on the West Coast, and in the South. A strong missionary spirit emerged early in Nazarene life; that spirit is the primary reason why the denomination today is global in scope and structure and why over …

Churches of Christ

The churches of Christ make up the second-largest religious fellowship in Arkansas in regular attendance numbers, behind the Southern Baptists and just ahead of the United Methodists, according to a 2000 study. Congregations of the churches of Christ are found in all of the state’s seventy-five counties. Of the three branches of the Restoration Movement, the others being the Christian Churches and the Disciples of Christ, the churches of Christ are the largest branch. This was not always so, however. Background The Restoration Movement, which emerged out of the nationwide Second Great Awakening which swept the frontier beginning in the 1790s, began dually on the Kentucky frontier in 1801, under the leadership of Barton W. Stone, and in 1809 in …

Cobbites

The Cobbites were a religious group that began in White County in 1876 under the leadership of the Reverend Cobb. Their strange behavior eventually culminated in the gruesome murder of a local citizen and several Cobbites. The group did not last past 1876. Cobb called himself “the walking preacher.” Little is known about him, not even his full name, other than that he came from Tennessee to White County in 1876. To his followers, he claimed to be God or Jesus Christ. He apparently believed he could perform the works of God, and he used a sycamore pole to command the sun to rise each morning and did the same each evening to command it to set. His followers were …

Cowboy Churches

Cowboy churches are a version of Christian worship typified by a relaxed “come-as-you-are” ethos and generally following western themes and décor. The movement came to Arkansas with the new millennium and has enjoyed a growing audience. A typical cowboy church service is short on ceremony, relying instead on literal, plainspoken Bible teaching, often accompanied by preaching and gospel music played by a country and western band. Baptisms are sometimes included, often performed by plunging a person into a stock tank. Congregations are supported by a battery of ministries and host trail rides, cookouts, barrel races, and roping contests. Congregants—many of whom feel alienated by other types of worship services—come from all segments of society. The ministry has its roots in …

Cumberland Presbyterians

Beginning in 1812, the Cumberland Presbyterian (CP) denomination sent missionaries to preach the Gospel and establish congregations on the Arkansas frontier. Members of these new congregations wrote to friends and family back east, encouraging them to come to Arkansas. Many came in response, especially from middle Tennessee. Nearly 300 Cumberland Presbyterian congregations have been organized in Arkansas and over 1,000 pastors ordained. The denomination’s support of rural churches (not requiring the consolidation of smaller congregations) has made country living more tenable in Arkansas. In 1802, the Presbyterian Church formed the Cumberland Presbytery (covering Kentucky and Tennessee). Controversy erupted when the new presbytery’s leaders felt forced to ordain “unqualified” preachers because too few educated preachers would come to the frontier. The …

Episcopalians

The Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas encompasses the geographic boundaries of the state of Arkansas. The diocese is composed of twenty-four self-sustaining parishes and thirty-one mission churches overseen by the Bishop of Arkansas. The bishop is assisted in pastoral work by approximately 100 ordained clergy, including priests and deacons both active and retired. As of 2006, the Episcopal Church in Arkansas has approximately 15,000 members who are subsequently members of the 2.2-million-member Episcopal Church in the United States and the seventy-seven-million-member worldwide Anglican Communion. The Episcopal Church’s Beginnings in Arkansas In 1835, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, dealt with how to evangelize the American West. It established three large missionary districts encompassing all territories outside …

Greek Orthodox

The ancient Christian Greek Orthodox Church claims a founding by Jesus Christ and his apostles, as described in the Book of Acts in the Bible, along with a claim to an unbroken historical existence. Orthodox Christianity endeavors to lead all peoples of all nationalities toward a dynamic spiritual relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Arkansas has an estimated 2,000 Greek Orthodox Christians, out of a total 1.5 million in the United States and approximately 300 million worldwide. The teachings of Orthodoxy are described in the Nicene Creed, adopted in AD 325 by an ecumenical council: belief in one God, creator of all things, and his Son, Jesus Christ, who was crucified for the world’s salvation and …

Hindus

As of 2009, Hindus represent less than one percent of the population of the state. This small group of Arkansas Hindus is very committed to preserving and promoting the religious and cultural diversity of its religion. Hindus also contribute significantly to the educational and economic life of Arkansas. Hinduism is regarded by many scholars as the world’s oldest living religion, and it is the third largest in number of adherents. Currently, there are about one billion followers, ninety percent of whom live in India, where the religion originated. Hinduism is not only a religion but also a culture and a philosophy. Fundamental to the ideas and practices is the belief in ultimate truth/reality, called Brahman, and its identity with the …

Incoming Kingdom Missionary Unit

One of Arkansas’s quirkiest religious groups, the Incoming Kingdom Missionary Unit, located at Gilbert (Searcy County), was founded shortly after World War I. A Midwestern clergyman, the Reverend John Adams Battenfield (1876–1952), taught that the world would end “shortly” amid “a great world-wide war between Catholics and Protestants.”Therefore, the faithful, those who heeded Rev. Battenfield’s message, needed to prepare for this impending event by fleeing their present communities and establishing themselves in completely self-sufficient communities, or “Kingdom Units,” in scattered remote mountain areas across the nation. From here, they would emerge after the holocaust and establish the Millennial Kingdom of God. In each community, all property was to be communally owned, government was to be in the hands of the …

Interfaith Arkansas

Interfaith Arkansas is an ecumenical and interfaith organization bringing together several religious groups for programming in two major areas: unity/relationships and mission/service. The following faith traditions make up the membership of the organization: Christian, Jewish, Baha’i, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, and Unitarian. Within each faith tradition, various expressions and denominations are represented. Interfaith Arkansas is rooted in the international and national ecumenical movements that developed after World War II. The World Council of Churches began in 1948 in Amsterdam with 147 churches from around the world involved in its formation. Its early roots were in the lay movements of the nineteenth century and the 1910 Edinburgh world missionary conference. The National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States, …

Jehovah’s Witnesses

Since early in its history, the religious movement known as Jehovah’s Witnesses (or the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society) has been represented in Arkansas. As of 2009, Arkansas has 110 English-speaking and 24 Spanish-speaking congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses, with a total membership estimated at 10,000 adherents. Jehovah’s Witnesses tend to be noted especially for their outreach through door-to-door visits (featuring distribution of their literature, Watchtower magazine) and through their occasional conflicts with society related to questions of patriotism, health, and religious observances. The origin of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is closely tied to the work of Charles Taze Russell, who was strongly influenced by the Adventist movement in the United States in the nineteenth century. He concluded that most Christian churches …

Jews

Jews have always been a tiny minority of Arkansas’s population, yet their history in the state is long and deeply rooted. In the mid-nineteenth century, Jewish immigrants from Europe established communities and congregations throughout Arkansas. Despite their small numbers, Arkansas Jews have been committed to preserving their religious traditions even as they assimilated into the culture of their town and state. In the process, Jews became an active part of the state’s civic and economic life. As in many other Southern states and rural regions, the Jewish population has experienced significant decline over the past several decades, especially in small towns, though Jewish life and culture continues to flourish in Little Rock (Pulaski County) and the growing community of Bentonville …

Kelleyite Churches of Christ

The Kelleyite Churches of Christ constitute a small Christian denomination located in west central Arkansas. Its founder was Reverend Samuel Kelley, a Baptist preacher from Illinois who lived in southern Pike County. Although Kelley claimed to be orthodox in his beliefs, his strong advocacy of the possibility of “final apostasy” caused him to be excluded from the local Missionary Baptist associations in 1856 and 1858. Shortly after the Civil War, he became the pastor of the Philippi Missionary Baptist Church in western Hot Spring County. About 1866, a controversy arose within Philippi congregation over allowing non-Baptists to participate in the church’s communion service. Within a short while, the church rejected its traditional Missionary Baptist beliefs and adopted Reverend Kelley’s theology. …

Lutherans

Lutherans have lived in Arkansas since the end of the eighteenth century, although the first Lutheran churches in the state were not built until the 1860s. There are not as many Lutherans in Arkansas as there are in the Great Lakes and northern Prairie states, but they are part of the blend of cultures and faiths of Arkansas. History of LutheranismLutherans are named for Martin Luther (1483–1546), an Augustinian friar and university professor who lived and worked in Wittenberg, Saxony (now part of Germany). Luther did not intend to create a new church, but rather to reform (or correct) the church of his time. In his teaching and preaching, Luther proclaimed the mottos “Grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone.” He …

Methodists

Methodism came into what is now Arkansas at least two decades before statehood, just as it had been brought to North America at least two decades before the American Revolution. Led by John Wesley, an Anglican priest; his brother Charles; and a few others, Methodism had begun as a movement within the Church of England in the 1720s. Wesley never considered himself anything but an Anglican priest, but after the Americans had won their independence, his followers here demanded a new and separate church. Structure of the Church Wesley’s followers studied and worshiped as small independent classes or societies until the Methodist Episcopal (ME) Church in America was officially organized in Baltimore in 1784. At that time, the church had …

Muslims

Islam is the world’s second-largest religion, with 7 million Muslims living in the United States and more than 2.1 billion all over the globe. The largest concentrations of Muslims can be found in South Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, with Indonesia being the largest Muslim country. The majority of Muslims began arriving in Arkansas in the 1960s as part of an exchange program with the universities in the state. Most of the students came from the Middle East, India, and Bangladesh. The universities had no formal student organizations at the time, but the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County), Arkansas State University (ASU) in Jonesboro (Craighead County), and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UA Little Rock) …

Pentecostal Church of God

The Arkansas District of the Pentecostal Church of God is, with 150 churches, the largest district within the denomination. The Pentecostal Church of God is also one of the largest Pentecostal denominations in Arkansas, exceeded only by the Assemblies of God, the Church of God in Christ, and the United Pentecostal Church. Several Arkansans have played prominent roles in the fellowship’s formation and continued leadership. Formation and AdvancementOn December 29 and 30, 1919, a small group of pastors, evangelists, and other individuals from across the United States and Canada met in Chicago, Illinois, in an attempt to unite their efforts for evangelism. Among those present for this meeting was Arkansan Eli Jackson DePriest, an evangelist from Black Rock (Lawrence County). …

Pentecostals

Pentecostalism is a “Spirit-driven,” renewalist movement within Protestant Christianity that began in the last part of the nineteenth century. Today, it is a fast-growing and influential religious tradition in Arkansas and worldwide. The term “Pentecostal” is derived from what is known as the Upper Room outpouring—the physical manifestation of the Holy Spirit as described in chapter two of the book of the Acts of the Apostles. The Holy Spirit is described there as descending upon the followers of Jesus Christ with the sound of wind, tongues of fire, and the ability to speak other languages. This outpouring is known as Pentecost in Greek (because it marks the fiftieth day after Pesach/Passover), “Feast of Weeks” in English (also known as “week …

Presbyterians

American Presbyterians have always emphasized mission, evangelism, education, and reform, but disagreement over theology, governance, and reform resulted in the denomination splitting and parts reuniting several times. Currently, the largest group is the Presbyterian Church, USA (PCUSA), formed in 1983 when the “Southern” Presbyterian Church in the U.S. (PCUS) and the “Northern” United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (UPCUSA) reunited. (The union of the PCUSA and the United Presbyterian Church of North America in 1958 had created UPCUSA). Other Arkansas denominations include Cumberland Presbyterian Church (CPC) and the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). The Presbyterian Church is a connectional church. Individual congregations are connected to other congregations through three governing bodies: presbytery, synod, and the general assembly. Founders of Arkansas …

Religious Society of Friends

aka: Quakers
Quakers in Arkansas, though small in number, have played an important role in education and race relations, providing teachers and schools for African Americans after the Civil War and organizing interracial programs during the school integration crisis. The Religious Society of Friends, commonly known as Quakers, began in England during the religious ferment of the 1600s through the ministry of George Fox. Quakers believed that all people could develop a personal relationship with God without the intervention of traditional priests or rituals. They worshiped in silence until led to speak by the spirit. They developed testimonies of peace, simplicity, equality, and integrity. Friends’ local congregations are called Monthly Meetings and may affiliate with Quarterly and Yearly Meetings based on both …

Roman Catholics

aka: Catholics
Roman Catholicism is the oldest form of Christianity in the state, yet it has remained the faith of a minority of the population. Catholicism first arrived in Arkansas via Spanish explorers and a French Jesuit missionary, and there were a few Catholics living at Arkansas Post (Arkansas County) during the French and Spanish colonial era of the eighteenth century. Once Arkansas became attached to the American Union by the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the area underwent a demographic and religious metamorphosis. A wave of Anglo-American Protestants overran the area so that, by 1850, Catholics made up approximately one percent of the total population of the state. The great European migration to the United States between 1840 and 1920, which contained …

Salvation Army

The Salvation Army of Arkansas has served communities around the state since 1895 with programs such as social services, a youth department, music and arts, disaster relief, and camps. In times of crisis and calm, the Salvation Army has rallied to support the people of Arkansas, exemplifying the motto “Doing the Most Good.” The Salvation Army was founded by Methodist minister William Booth and his wife, Catherine, in London, England, in 1865. William Booth rejected the traditional church setting in favor of communicating the message of Christianity to the people directly. Booth walked through the streets of London preaching the gospel to the homeless, the impoverished, and the hungry. His behavior drew criticism from church leaders in London, resulting in Booth …

Seventh-Day Adventists

The Seventh-day Adventist Church (SDA) is a Protestant denomination characterized by its observance of the biblical Sabbath (Saturday), its emphasis on the imminent second coming of Jesus Christ, and its fundamental creed, “The Bible, and the Bible alone.” Officially founded in 1863 by Joseph Bates, James White, Ellen G. White, and J. N. Andrews, the SDA Church grew out of the Millerite movement of the mid-1800s. Its founder, William Miller, preached from his farm in Low Hampton, New York, that the second coming (Advent) of Jesus Christ would happen on October 22, 1844. The day passed without incident and became known as the “Great Disappointment.” Many of Miller’s followers disbanded following this, but a small group of Adventists continued their …

Unitarian Universalists

Although Arkansas’s church-going population can be generally characterized as religiously conservative, the state is nevertheless represented on the liberal end of the religious spectrum by a relatively small group of Unitarian Universalists with churches and fellowships in six communities. The largest is the Unitarian Universalist Church of Little Rock, which began as a Unitarian Fellowship in 1950. National RootsTwo struggling religious denominations in the United States, the Unitarians and the Universalists, merged in 1961. Each had developed independently, but a shared liberal perspective that values free will and resists dogma provided common ground. The religious ideas at the core of each date to the beginning of the Christian church in Europe and fueled long histories of dissent from established teachings. …