I usually am a happier human and Christian when I ignore politics…both American and Methodist. Richard Rohr, in a recent interview on The Liturgists podcast (listen here), mentioned that he was very impressed by Methodism because it didn’t produce “angry Christians.” For the most part, he’s right. We try to unite around a rich belief in Christ that transforms us into a people making a difference in the world. We try to hold the left and the right together in the center of Christ’s cosmic love that brings reconciliation to this world. But this year, I made the mistake of not only following General Conference, but then reading the comments sections. In between an apparent unity found in amazing worship and celebrations of service in the world, there seemed to be a lot of angry Methodists.
You’ve probably heard the motto: In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity. Methodists often assume John Wesley said this, Catholics often assume Augustine said this. Apparently the originator of the phrase was Marco Antonia Dominis, a 17th century archbishop who sought reform in the Catholic Church but was ultimately deemed a heretic. In any case, the phrase has been the motto of Christian peace-keepers everywhere. The closest thing Wesley said to this was, “As to all opinions which do not strike to the root of Christianity, we think and let think” (The Character of a Methodist, 1.1).
The problem with these mottos is this… How do we define what is essential and what is adiaphora. The question in Christianity right now seems to be “Is the ordination and marriage of homosexual Christians essential to the faith or is it a non-essential?” I think the real question behind this has more to do with hermeneutics, or HOW we interpret scripture. Wesley’s sermon On A Catholic Spirit (read it here) clarified what were essentials and non-essentials for him. And the beautiful thing about Wesley is that he poses questions instead of cramming belief statements down your throat…
Essentials: 1) Is your heart right with God, and do you trust God “upholdeth all things by the word of his power”? 2) Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, crucified, and have you disclaimed all your own good deeds as loss before his righteousness? 3) Is your faith “filled with the energy of love,” seeking all your happiness in God alone? 4) Have you made it your vocation to do God’s will above all else, in the name of Jesus Christ? 5) Are you more concerned with pleasing God than pleasing others? 6) Do you love your neighbors and enemies alike so much that you would rather be cursed so that they might be blessed? 7) Do you prove that love for others with your words and actions?
I don’t usually end up very hopeful for God’s kingdom when I spend a lot of time worrying about American politics, or United Methodist politics. Maybe you feel the same about your tradition. But I love the questions Wesley asks, the natural progression that moves from complete love and trust in God into genuine loving action for even our enemies. This is where I find vocation, this is where I find hope, this is where I believe God is refining us as a people who love as Christ first loved us. I hope for a future where angry Christians are fewer and fewer…not because we’re totally unified in all our opinions, but because we have found a direction in Christ that leads us to genuinely love those who think differently from us.