[Note: To get this blog site up and running, I am reposting a few of my Facebook posts from recent months. This is one of them. It was first posted to Facebook on the date listed, though these first few posts to Neighborfy are being uploaded in June 2017. I’ve made minor edits to some of the Neighborfy versions. Because these posts were originally posted to Facebook, unfortunately the original comments from readers are not copied here.]
It occurs to me that some members of my larger community might not be terribly familiar with the Methodist branch of the Christian family tree. Some persons in my circle strenuously disagree with my persistent insistence that, yes, current political affairs are worthy of evaluation (and respectful public discussion!) from the perspective of faith-based ethical commitments. That’s ok – you can disagree with me on this or that issue, but I am also encouraging you to think about a “big picture” question first: Should we even discuss all these particular political issues or not? In the Methodist tradition, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” — we SHOULD think deeply about important issues and SHOULD ALSO talk to each other.
John Wesley, who wrote and taught about the theological worldview that eventually got nicknamed “Methodism,” actually advocated something he called “Christian conferencing,” where individuals would meet in small groups (“conference”), get to know each other well, talk about life and faith, and encourage one another to live lives that embodied “personal holiness” and supported “social holiness.” In fact, the communities Wesley led earned the nickname “Methodists” precisely due to their disciplined commitment to regularly meeting with one another and encouraging one another to put faith into action. That devoted practice of conferencing was a key aspect of the so-called “method.” (Here’s an article about “Christian Conferencing” from another one of the UMC’s principal publications: http://www.interpretermagazine.org/topics/means-of-grace-christian-conferencing)
Some of you think I’m simply advocating talking politics, and you don’t like it. But the truth is that we Methodists have always thought it was important. It’s been part of our DNA from the very beginning. And I realize, of course, that a few of you objectors are actually members of Methodist congregations. You can, of course, disagree with me on particular issues — that’s part of our DNA, too – but I’m afraid you can’t disagree with our history. It is what it is.
But as a reminder, we don’t get involved in politics to act just like everyone else involved in politics. THIS IS IMPORTANT: When we “talk politics,” we need to do it differently. It is our calling to participate in public dialog in ways that witness to 1) our goodwill and profound respect toward our discussion partners, even when those discussion partners are unreasonable or hateful, and 2) our deeply held belief that the Kingdom of God described by Jesus is more than a vision of the “someday” – it’s also a confidence that, as Jesus said, God and his Kingdom are “at hand” and “have drawn near.” We are people who insist on “can-do” optimism, who aren’t afraid to speak candidly to power, who stubbornly redouble our resolve to protest and resist when the powerful lust for more power at the expense of the powerless, and who never, ever give up our ultimate hope and confidence in the goodness of our Creator. The United Methodist Church cares about public affairs, because we believe that Jesus himself (and the early Christian writers, like Paul) taught us to care about issues that are unavoidably public matters, even if not all individual Methodists arrive at the same policy positions.
With those comments in mind, I’m hopeful that you, my friends, will understand why some of us (and, generally speaking, most of us Methodists) think it’s so important to talk (and talk faithfully) about:
– Anti-immigrant rhetoric
– Policies that endanger God’s creation
– Economic policies that favor the wealthy and withdraw support for the poor
– Belligerence toward global neighbors
– Misogyny, Homophobia, and Racism
– Attempts by our leaders to mislead, especially where their goals involve consolidating their own power and/or undermining the institutions in society (like the press and the judiciary) that are critical to checking power and seeking justice
– Anything that dehumanizes another based on the other’s religious beliefs, even if the other’s religious beliefs are dehumanizing (we don’t return evil for evil!)
Some of you don’t object to talking about this stuff. You just object to talking about it on social media. To that I say simply: Wesley went to bars to talk with patrons about matters of faith. We go where you are. If you’re on social media, then social media is where the conversation needs to occur. It just needs to occur in a more charitable, more thoughtful, and friendlier manner. I’ll keep trying to meet that standard. If enough of you do the same, together we’ll demonstrate to thousands of friends in our collective networks that it’s possible to have interesting, helpful, positive, fruit-bearing dialog right where we live, right here and now.
I recently shared some articles from MinistryMatters.com, one of the United Methodist Church’s popular English-language publications. In that issue of MM, all of the articles demonstrated how the UMC strives to connect the dots between faith and public issues of concern. In response to those articles, it appears the editor received lots of feedback, questioning whether such articles and discussions are appropriate. Well, here’s his response (see the article linked above). What do you think?