One of the legacies of the Second Great Awakening was the Abolitionist Movement, the coalition of whites and blacks opposed to slavery. To support their cause, they frequently quoted Jesus' statements about treating others with respect and love. White Christians in the south, however, did not view slavery as a sin. Rather, their leaders were able to quote many Biblical passages in support of slavery. The Civil War and the divide over the question of slavery thus began in the nation's churches, a decade before fighting began on the battlefields.
The southern members withdrew and formed the Southern Baptist Convention, which eventually grew to become the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S. The Baptist denomination officially split in 1845, with the North Carolina State Convention "cordially approving" of the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention.
By this time, the United States had developed an obvious North/South divide over slavery, one that was based less on moral arguments than on economic realities. The cotton-based economy of the southern states depended largely on the low-cost labor provided by the slave population. In the industrialized North, however, slavery had become only marginally economic. This split was also reflected in the views of the various Christian denominations with respect to abolition. Many Christians in the southern states saw abolition as a massive threat to their culture and economy.
"We believe," states the resolution, "an immediate division of the Methodist Episcopal Church is indispensable to the peace, prosperity, and honor of the Southern portion thereof, if not essential to her continued existence…we regard the officious, and unwarranted interference of the Northern portion of the Church with the subject of slavery alone, a sufficient cause for a division of our Church."
The General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church split into two conferences because of these tensions over slavery and the power of the denomination's bishops. Some anti-slavery clergy and laity of the Methodist Episcopal Church left to form the Wesleyan Methodist Church in America. It continues today as the Wesleyan Church. The southern churches organized the Methodist Episcopal Church (South), at a meeting in Louisville, Kentucky. A group of anti-slavery members in Piedmont, North Carolina withdrew from the Methodist Episcopal Church and joined the Wesleyan Methodist Church
Slavery and race proved to be a divisive factor, leading to the formation of numerous Protestant denominations in the United States. The aftershocks of this splintering of American churches would be felt well into the twentieth century.