During the last two weeks the sound and fury that was General Conference 2012 stormed and echoed around our United Methodist connexion. As bishops presided over parliamentary procedure, and delegates rose to speak at microphone regarding the many political or theological issues being addressed, I was struck by how counter to the words of John Wesley our witness seemed.
Over and over, whether it be through discussion in committee or by putting items up for a vote on the floor, various delegates and leaders of our Church put forth theological assertions for all to assent. And, of course, never did all agree on anything (10% even voted not to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. among the list of “modern martyrs”). In so many words, leaders declared to one another that they were mistaken. And in the midst of our disagreements we shifted into what some referred to as “unholy conversation” rather than the true act of communicating and communing with one another in love. We broke our first rule, “do no harm,” and we did it amongst ourselves!
Which brings me back to Wesley. In his preface to his first collected series of sermons his own request for when someone felt he was mistaken:
“some may say, I have mistaken the way myself, although I take upon me to teach it to others. It is probable many will think this, and it is very possible that I have. But I trust, whereinsoever I have mistaken, my mind is open to conviction. I sincerely desire to be better informed. I say to God and man, “What I know not, teach thou me!”
“Are you persuaded you see more clearly than me? It is not unlikely that you may. Then treat me as you would desire to be treated yourself upon a change of circumstances. Point me out a better way than I have yet known. Show me it is so, by plain proof of Scripture. And if I linger in the path I have been accustomed to tread, and am therefore unwilling to leave it, labour with me a little; take me by the hand, and lead me as I am able to bear. But be not displeased if I entreat you not to beat me down in order to quicken my pace: I can go but feebly and slowly at best; then, I should not be able to go at all. May I not request of you, further, not to give me hard names in order to bring me into the right way. Suppose I were ever so much in the wrong, I doubt this would not set me right. Rather, it would make me run so much the farther from you, and so get more and more out of the way.
“Nay, perhaps, if you are angry, so shall I be too; and then there will be small hopes of finding the truth. If once anger arise, Eute kapnos, (as Homer somewhere expresses it,) this smoke will so dim the eyes of my soul, that I shall be able to see nothing clearly. For God’s sake, if it be possible to avoid it, let us not provoke one another to wrath. Let us not kindle in each other this fire of hell; much less blow it up into a flame. If we could discern truth by that dreadful light, would it not be loss, rather than gain? For, how far is love, even with many wrong opinions, to be preferred before truth itself without love!”
How far is love, even with many wrong opinions, to be preferred before truth itself without love!
I pray that in the future we may find ways to better live out the humble example of Mr. Wesley.