It has become more than apparent that groups both inside and outside of the Methodist Church have made substantial efforts to sow dissent and disunity among the traditional Methodist family — often for political gain, personal influence, and financial reward. This social and political movement is most commonly known as the conservative or religious right or sometimes as the evangelicals. There are other subdivisions and micro communities in this movement, and it is worth noting that there are many people and groups that would refer to themselves as evangelical or even theologically or politically to the right-of-center that do not share the same goals as these more radical factions.
While there is no doubt that some in this movement are earnest in their passionate beliefs, it is also obvious that many more simply seek to divide a thriving faith group for purposes of political power and their own self righteousness.
John Wesley believed that the faith experience took scripture as its lead, but needed tradition, reason and experience to understand and live in the fullness of Christ. Leadership within the reactionary groups would have us dispense with Methodist tradition, ignore all forms of reason, and dismiss our common or individual experience, instead demanding uncritical obedience in their own narrow minded interpretation of scripture.
Whenever the “Christian Right” is mentioned, invariably and short list of standard issues come to mind. Frequently it is the church’s and society’s dealings with abortion and human sexuality. These two “hot button” issues have become their call to arms, and their personal views on these two issues (and their refusal to acknowledge anyone else’s understanding or experience) have served in their effort to split our church communities. There are other issues that are at stake however, and as a forum of people interested in the Methodist Church, it will help us to study how these wedge issues are taking our eyes off of the larger picture, which is to redefine what it means to be a Methodist, to strike down our ability to worship freely, and to dismantle what John Wesley worked so hard to create for us. Hyperbole? We only have to look at the terrible fighting within our local and global church to see the greater effects. Where there was once harmony, there is now great discord. Pastors and parishioners alike have been run off from their churches. Sadly, where once it was OK to have a difference of opinion on matters of faith, often we hear of people turned away from the love of Christ for their beliefs, questions, sexual identities, or even social associations.
More often than is generally known, the seeds of discontent are sown from outside political organizations often funded generously by political groups, third parties, and wealthy donors. While characterized as massive grass roots movement, the right leaning organizations who seek to influence millions of worshippers are most often seeded and funded by a small handful of these single-minded benefactors.
Debate is healthy, discussion is necessary, and opposing viewpoints often help us to remain self critical and allow us to examine all facets of our faith journey. But there is no place in Methodism for intolerance, condemnation, and abuse. Jesus Christ offered his love unconditionally. Love God, Love Your Neighbor. There is no way to spin that for personal gain.
Most alarming are studies that show that people feel alienated when the church is in such crisis. New and current members and prospective disciples are turned off at the thought of turmoil and division. Strategically, this plays well to those that would rather destroy the temple than keep the doors open to all.
So why don’t we lay down and quietly accept this criticism rather than defend our faith? WWJD? Jesus did not allow a governor to command his obedience, or the established church to dictate prejudicial doctrine. He organized his community to follow him. And when he did, he did not call them to violence or hatred. He called them to stand up for the love of God.
The JohnWesleyClub is a growing group lead by Methodist laypeople to defend our Wesleyan heritage. We invite other lay people, clergy, staff, and retired clergy to come to our table and share in our forums. We will publish articles, conversation, and commentary from a variety of authors. You will be encouraged to comment and share your thoughts and experiences. You may bring forth the issues that you would like to hear more about. We will link and tag other groups that would share our concerns. Some of what you will read will be quiet reflections and sober discussions. Some of what is here amounts to no less than calls for activism in defense of our church. There will be calls for support with your gifts, your time, and your talent in connection with our values. We would hope to encourage, inspire, and lead you to take leadership roles within your local, district, conference, and global church bodies.