Our Love Is For All: John Wesley’s Advice To A People Called Methodist
You, to whom I now speak, believe this love of human kind cannot spring but from the love of God. You think there can be no instance of one whose tender affection embraces every child of man, (though not endeared to him either by ties of blood, or by any natural or civil relation,) unless that affection flow from a grateful, filial love to the common Father of all; to God, considered not only as his Father, but as “the Father of the spirits of all flesh;” yea, as the general Parent and Friend of all the families both of heaven and earth. – John Wesley, Advice To A People Called Methodist
Our heritage as those who follow the tradition inaugurated by John Wesley includes much for which we should give thanks. Not least of these is that Wesley was, as great theologians should be, not only prolific in his writing, but sought clarity at all times. In the second paragraph of the pamphlet Advice To A People Called Methodist, Wesley makes clear not only that the love we feel not only for others who share our beliefs but for all persons is only possible as a reflection of the love God has for all humanity. As creator of all, God loves all. We “people called Methodist” reflect this love in our lives because we believe ourselves loved in this very way by God.
At a time in our history when the reality of religious pluralism is ever more clear, this call to remember that we are those who love all persons because God has created and loves persons, is not only scandalous; it is radical in the literal meaning of the word, “to the root”. We are surrounded by voices of hatred and division. We live in a time during which competing claims of faith are denounced not only as “false” but as “demonic”. We are part of a denomination in which a vocal minority demand the exclusion of some persons because of the way they feel romantic love. Wesley would insist that we people called Methodist live differently: We are to love all because God is both the Loving Father and Creator of all.
Consider for a moment the current crisis at the southern US border. The influx, particularly of children, from Central American countries in the midst of turmoil has created a lot of heat, but also an opportunity for the Church to let its light shine in the darkness. Some Americans demand punitive measures, including the mass deportation of these children to their countries of origin. These children and their families are fleeing due to rampant violence, much of it state-sanctioned. They believe that here in the United States they can live free from the threat of violence, only to be greeted by armed mobs and howls of rage, called “illegal aliens” as a way to dehumanize them and ignore the very real perils they have faced in the hope that they could come here and live lives of peace.
Whatever the feelings of the American people, however, there is little doubt that these people, particularly the children arriving without families, without parents, are in dire need of assistance. The churches along the southern border are helping out as much as they can, living out this love for all that is the beating heart of our faith. In the context of our current situation, however, few things could be more scandalous than to insist that these persons are persons in need, beloved children of God, and that our duty is to serve them because of that love.
Consider our Muslim neighbors. Over a decade since the terrorist attacks on the United States, and there are still those who loudly espouse the hatred for and call for the death of adherents to Islam. Even religious leaders like Franklin Graham insist Islam is actually a demonic faith, rather than a faith of peace, love, and duty before a Holy God. Love for and sharing with our Muslim neighbors, in our current historical moment, is a source of scandal and outrage for many of our fellow Americans. Yet, what else can we people called Methodist do but demonstrate our love for our neighbors, whoever they might be?
Are we true to this tenet of our faith? Are we living lives of love for all, because God is the Loving Father of all? Are we despised, mocked for our enthusiasm, and a source of scandal to others because we live out our faith in love toward all? These are the questions we people called Methodist should be considering, in light of our tradition and in our current historical moment. We might find renewal not in plans or legislative schemes, but in acts of charity and mercy for our fellow children of God. In this way we would show our faith and make clear that we continue to hear John Wesley’s words to us as to how we believe and live.