These days, it is all too common for two people who disagree to treat each other badly, even severing their relationship. It may feel as if we are living in unique times; as if bitter disagreements were never so bitter as today. For some perspective as well as guidance, it is helpful to recall that John Wesley’s Methodist movement stirred up quite a bit of bitter division in his day. There was plenty of bitterness toward a movement that served the marginalized; and therefore, was at odds with established religious institutions and economic powers. In Jesus’ time there were multiple factions who disparaged and fought one another to the point of mutual destruction. So, what can we learn from Wesley and Jesus about living in divisive times?
Before there were accredited United Methodist seminaries, Wesley’s writings, including his sermons, were textbooks for would-be pastors along with our fundamental beliefs called the Articles of Religion. Even today, the Board of Ordained Ministry examines candidates about these core beliefs. At the same time, Wesley, believed and taught that there is room for differences among Christians about those ideas and beliefs that are non-essentials, and to approach other faiths (who have different beliefs) with respect. Quoted in paragraph 103 of The UM Book of Discipline, Wesley said,
“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.”
Charity is important because there are limits to human understanding. Wesley went on to say, “To be ignorant of many things and to be mistaken in some, is the necessary condition of humanity.” In other words, we shouldn’t be so sure that we know enough to claim to be right all the time. We always have room to learn from others and from God, who does know everything.
I do a lot of “fact checking” to verify or refute what I see, hear and read. This is helpful in making up my own mind; but not of much use when it comes to becoming of one mind with someone else, or even receiving an acknowledgment that there is another valid opinion. Tactics involving reason, data and debate rarely move folks to consider that they are not entirely right or you are not entirely wrong. It is even hard to agree to disagree on a single issue because everything else you may have in common ceases to matter.
I have come to realize that our problem is not one of a human mind (mine or anyone else’s) as much as it is a problem of the human heart meaning that our challenge is not to change a mind, but changing the foundation of our hearts and our minds. To stand on the examples and teachings of Jesus son of Joseph, who carried a cross, not because he had to, but because he chose to. His choice was not to take a side but to be a servant and a sacrifice for all sides.
As the Gospel of John says in many ways in chapters 14 through 17, Jesus wanted us to see the Father in Him, and not just see, but be united with God the Father through the Son. This unity is one of mind, heart and life. It isn’t just a set of beliefs but a way of being and living that leads to real life and real freedom, not something that happens after we die, but what makes this life a reflection of the kingdom of God here and now. This is the life worth living, and worth dying for. There are many scriptures that relate to a life built upon Christ’s teachings and example, such as:
Jesus saying to his squabbling, often difficult disciples, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35 34)
Paul asking a church to live a life worthy of the Gospel by instructing them to, ” Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5)
Peter, instructing a church under pressure, saying, “Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” (1 Peter 3:8 )
The following prayer is based on 1 Kings 8 and Galatians 1: 1-12. It comes from the Ministry Matters website. It may be a challenge to pray this, but a challenge that is worth accepting daily by everyone of us called by His name.
Prayer for One Voice
who in Jesus Christ redeems us from the sin that drives us apart and reconciles us with the love that brings us together, we thank you for him who has made us your partners in covenant. We bless you for the vision with which you bless us through him: for the vision of yourself, whose love for all does not diminish your love for each; for the vision of us as individuals, whose move away from you does not slow your move toward us; for the vision of the community of believers, whose history of division does not alter your desire for union; and for the vision of the world, whose clamor for power does not silence your demand for justice.
O God, grant us the faith of Solomon’s prayer: the faith that calls the temple not by the builder’s name but by your name; the faith that looks not within the temple but beyond for your dwelling place; the faith that longs for the temple to become a house of prayer—not for one people but for all the peoples of the earth.
Unfortunately, our faith in Christ has often been no match for Solomon’s prayer. We sing of Christ for all the world, but the world we have in mind is much smaller than the world for which Solomon prayed. It is not the world of “all the peoples of the earth,” but only some of them—those of them who think as we think, feel as we feel, worship as we worship, and live as we live.
Forgive us, O God, not only for shrinking your world to the size of our prejudices, but for reducing Christ to the level of our preferences. Too often we turn your Christ into a Christ of our own creation: a Christ too narrow to tolerate any behavior we do not approve; to sanction any belief we do not hold; to welcome any person we do not like; to permit any worship we do not practice.
O God, you have made us in your image. Forgive us for remaking the world in ours. You have made Christ the church’s one foundation. Forgive us for trying to build it on another. Transform us, O Lord. Grant us the grace so to represent the Christ you have sent that the world might receive your glorious gospel, obey your great commandment, and worship your holy name.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.