Faith Lived Out: Every One

Momany_Header

Humanity’s greatest sin may just be the serial obsession with defining one another out of the human race. There. I said it. This observation comes from years of watching God’s people find rationale for placing one or another person or group outside the realm of love. And this is no proclivity peculiar to “liberals” or “conservatives” or some other presumed ideology. It is a temptation hosted by all, and it runs around within my heart all the time.

Last month I addressed issues related to Part II of the United Methodist Social Principles, that section dealing with “The Nurturing Community.” While engaging issues of sexuality, gender, and sexual orientation, I spoke about the importance of refraining from “objectification” – the treating of one another as things or objects. The second half of Part II spends a lot of time wrestling with issues related to the beginning and end of life. Here is where we talk about both abortion and how we face the quandary of death.

We want to affirm the sanctity of life from its earliest expressions to its final breaths. But we also know there are intense challenges to living out these convictions. We know that not all pregnancies are surrounded by supportive partners and communities. Some even pose critical dangers to the life of the mother. We know that life will not last forever and that some actions available in our technologically advanced age may not be the best actions or the most respectful. Many will suggest that Part III of the Principles, the section dealing with the “social community,” invites conflict between the left and right. Personally, I hit the wall here, in Part II.

I find myself indicted by the human inclination to devalue people around issues of gender and sexual orientation, but I also find myself troubled by abortion. I suppose I feel that way because I see any willingness to concede the lesser value of specific human beings as inconsistent with the gospel. Truth be told, for about thirty years, I have been a “consistent ethic of life” Wesleyan. This perspective was articulated some decades ago by socially conscious Catholic thinkers, as well as progressive evangelical Protestants. They often said that life is both sacred and social, that the unborn and the powerless of our world all deserve protection.

I realize that some in the United Methodist tradition have recently made the case for a consistent ethic of life, but it has been with us a long time. In 1839, one of John Wesley’s American admirers wrote a book bearing the title Scripture Doctrine of Christian Perfection. This piece spoke of the theological difference between a Calvinist limited atonement (Christ died for the elect) and the Wesleyan embrace of general atonement (Christ died for all). General or unlimited atonement is not the same as universalism in matters of salvation. To believe Christ died for all does not entail believing all share a heavenly destiny.

However the writer of this 1839 book on Christian Perfection extended the conversation by speaking of what he termed “special atonement,” the notion that Christ died for all and each one in particular. This articulation drew from Hebrews 2:9, a text that speaks of Christ tasting death for “every one.” According to this author, Wesleyans must not only meet the doctrine of election with an emphasis on God’s expansive love. They must meet this argument with an understanding that God’s love is both expansive and particular, that Jesus loves all, not as some generic inclusion but as the hard work of living, dying, and rising for each and every person. Then this writer defined holiness as our call to reflect such love toward others.

That, my friends, is an incredibly high standard, one that won’t let us off the hook with platitudes about “inclusion.” This view calls us to care for both all and for each in particular. In this theology, there is no room for defining any person out of the human race. Not an especially easy ethic and certainly not one that fits with dominant models of secular social concern. Yet it is a compelling vision that challenges us to be consistent and comprehensive in our witness. Those who seek to live this way will miss the mark a lot. I do. However, there is something relentlessly beautiful and inviting about a journey toward such holiness of heart and life, and Wesley stressed that reflecting this love was not so much an effort as a willingness to receive God’s promises.

Chris Momany, UMR Columnist

Chris Momany

Chris Momany has been chaplain and director of church relations at Adrian College since 1996 and has taught in the Department of Philosophy/Religion since 1998. He is an ordained United Methodist minister, and a graduate of Adrian College, Princeton Theological Seminary, and Drew University. His academic interests focus on Christian ethics and philosophy. He has been published in the Christian Century, the Wesleyan Theological Journal, The Asbury Theological Journal, the Circuit Rider magazine, the United Methodist Reporter, and other venues. Chris also writes for the Daily Bible Study curriculum of the United Methodist Publishing House and for MinistryMatters, an online ministry resource. His book on the Wesleyan ethic of love and justice bears the title, Doing Good: A Grace-Filled Approach to Holiness. Chris has led many conferences, workshops, and continuing education events. For several years he has combined his research and teaching with a focus on human trafficking. Today it is estimated that 27 million people are held as slaves throughout the world. Chris has been a national leader among college and church professionals in confronting this issue.

Leave a Reply

4 Comments on "Faith Lived Out: Every One"

applications-education-miscellaneous.png
The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 
Notify of
avatar
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Mark
Guest
Interesting perspective, but I remain confused as to what groups or individuals are “defining people out of the human race.” I’m not sure I know anyone who fits such a hateful description. While I don’t think this author intends it as such, such characterizations are often thinly veiled attacks on orthodox Christians who uphold Biblical standards on sexuality. But it is neither reasonable nor conciliatory to interpret such stances as devaluing anyone or defining them out of the human race….unless, via contemporary cultural conditioning (spirit of this age), sexuality is viewed as the primary defining characteristic of humanity. Unfortunately the… Read more »
Chris Momany, UMR Columnist
Guest

A closer read will show that the opening observation regards human nature (ironic as that may be); it is not an attempt to criticize any particular perspective. This is not a “hateful description” but a reflection on one of many temptations many have witnessed from several sides. Intriguing that someone would read the observation as related to thinly veiled attacks on orthodoxy. Seems to indicate a reaction looking for a place to dump criticism.

Mark
Guest

I did read it closely and would simply pose the question: what, besides physical assault and/or destruction, is more serious than “defining one another out of the human race?” That’s a rather serious charge, don’t you think? I view very few criticisms, from left, right or in between, as suggesting someone should not exist as human. Again, perhaps you did not intend the connotation–and I think I alluded to that–but I would humbly suggest that you consider what “defining one another out of the human race” implies.

Chris Momany, UMR Columnist
Guest
I have thought long and hard about it for years and stand by my observation. I do not, however, think this proclivity applies to one issue only. Not at all. And many times it is a very, very subtle dynamic, certainly more subtle than physical assault. The issue is not whether one exists (even as some “type” of human) but whether or not one is recognized as a being of absolute value, possessing dignity and God-created worth. This also implies being an end and not a means to someone else’s agenda — perhaps an even more subtle consideration. I would… Read more »
wpDiscuz
Google+
%d bloggers like this: