Wesleyan Wisdom: Do Mr. Wesley’s Insights Help Our Divisiveness?

Wesleyan Wisdom | Donald Haynes | United Methodist Reporter

As our beloved United Methodism is threatened with being “dis-united.” Many of my friends say they cannot remain in a church where some parishioners are gay and married. I feel constrained to share my own journey with persons who experienced the personal reality of being told by beloved people that they are gay, or persons whom I love telling me they are gay. To me, we must address this issue through relationships rather than theological concepts. We also need to see the scripture through what we perceive to be the “mind of Christ” rather than Mosaic law. Thirdly, as my custom is, let’s look at the contemporary issue through Mr. Wesley’s sermons

My Relationships View

I remember so well nineteen years ago when a 1955 college classmate called to tell us she was stopping by for a visit. A few hours after she arrived, we learned her reason. She needed to talk with someone about her daughter’s recent announcement that she was a lesbian and has a partner. When my friend was told this on the day of her daughter’s college graduation, she could not respond. She left in tears to catch a plane. At the airport, she had an epiphany like experience of God’s presence. Knowing she had to go back and embrace her daughter, she met her daughter running down the concourse, crying. The two knew that love overcomes fear and a difference in lifestyle. I was honored that after an absence of twenty years, she trusted me with her burden to share. My friend is a Southern farm girl who married a Japanese where they were missionaries. They were theologically “liberal.” One of the sons is theologically fundamentalist. He immediately said that his sister would not be welcome at the family’s annual week at the beach. She would be personna non grata. In the ensuing years, all the brothers have come around and the family is again united in love.

Last summer I had the funeral eulogy for my friend, “Bill.” He was elected by his college peers to be a class officer. In seminary four of us shared an apartment for a year. He dropped out to teach school. Two years later he came to see me–about 1960. We talked until the wee hours and about 3:00 a.m. he told me that he needed to tell me he was gay.

Later he decided to marry a girl who had a child out of wedlock and he want to rescue her from social ostracism. I performed the ceremony. They later adopted a baby; then had a “biological” child. I baptized the children. For thirty two years, he was a good provider and had the disposition of a kind, gentle, generous man. As husband and wife, they co-existed. At his funeral over fifty former students showed up after seeing his obituary in the newspaper. Eleven rose to share that this teacher had been the difference between their being a “failure” and a “success” in their life. Some were mechanics and plumbers, one was clergy, several were school teachers like their mentor. As his “confessor” for over half a century, I venture to say he never had a sexual relationship with a single one of them.

In my own psyche, I do not have a clue to what it might mean to be a homosexual. However, I think Mr. Wesley’s 18th century language describes my feelings:

“No man can choose for or prescribe to another. Everyone must follow the dictates of his own conscience in simplicity and sincerity. He must be full persuaded in his own mind and then act according to the best light he has. Nor has any creature the power to constrain another to walk by his own rule. God has given no right to any of the children of men thus to lord it over the conscience of his brethren. Every wise man will allow others the same liberty of thinking which he desires they should allow him…he bears with those who differ with him…. Tis certain, as long as we ‘know in part,’ all men will not see all things alike. It is the unavoidable consequence of the present weakness and shortness of human understanding that we be of several minds, in religion as in common life. Though we may not think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart though we are not of one mind?

Scripture and the Mind of Christ

united methodist reporter the church dividedThe current debate over homosexuality and its relational expression in gay marriage sends us into more scriptural study of previously obscure Bible verses than any subject in a long time. The Book of Leviticus contains in its chapters 17–26 “the holiness code.” Chapter 18 is the law of the Hebrew cult regarding sexual relations. The eighteenth verse of that chapter does not address homosexuality as a lifestyle nor a sexual orientation. Rather it speaks specifically to the prohibition of “sexual intercourse with a man as you would with a woman; it is a detestable practice.” The holiness code continues in chapter 19:19 to forbid ” the cross-breeding of livestock, planting a field with two kinds of seeds, and wearing clothes make from two kinds of material.” Leviticus 19:26 forbids eating anything with blood. The holiness code requires “when immigrants live in your land with you, you must not cheat them. Any immigrant who lives with you must be treated as if they were one of your citizens.”(19:33 CEV)

Jesus ignored Leviticus 18:22; instead he quoted “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”(19:18 RSV) “Neighbor” here means “fellow Jew.” Reading further, however, one comes to 19:33–“...you shall love the alien as yourself for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God.” When Jesus was asked, “who is my neighbor,” he expanded the Christian ethic even more. Specifically, he told the story of the Good Samaritan. His whole ministry is filled with instances when he reached over ethnic, gender, health, and socio-economic boundaries to love people–Gentiles, women, lepers and mentally ill, poor, rich, etc. From his conversation with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, we learn how Jews detested Samaritans ! Now, does this regard homosexuals? (I report; you decide.)

Paul was a Pharisee, a “fundamentalist” who had kept every jot and tittle of Mosaic law. In Romans 2:1 He insisted that of us have “fallen short of the glory of God.”(8:23) However, in 2:4 he wrote, “Don’t you realize that God’s kindness is supposed to lead you to change your heart and life?” He goes on to say, “Gentiles don’t have the law, but when they instinctively know what the Law requires, they are a law unto themselves…they show proof of the law written on their hearts.”(2:14)

In Romans 13, Paul rehearses some of the Law; then concludes “The commandments… are all summed up in one word: ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself. Love doesn’t do anything wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is what fulfills the Law.” (Romans 13:9-10)

What Wesley Says

In his “Catholic Spirit” sermon, Wesley first reels off a paragraph of scriptural quotations on loving God and loving neighbor, ending with I John 4:7-8–“Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” Acknowledging that quoting Bible verses seldom convinces people to mend their ways or change their attitudes; he preaches, “All men approve of this, but do all men practice it? Daily experience shows the contrary.”

In the early part of the sermon, “Christian Perfection,” Wesley defines “in what sense Christians are not perfect.” “No one then is perfect in this life as to be free from ignorance. Nor secondly from mistake, seeing those who ‘know not’ are ever liable to err….” He continues, “The best and wisest of men are frequently mistaken even with regard to facts, believing those things not to have been which really are, or those to have been done which were not…. They may believe past or present actions which were or are evil to be good ; and such as were good to be evil.”

Concerning what the Bible says, he preached, “…with regard to the Holy Scriptures themselves, as careful as they are to avoid it, the best of men are liable to mistake and do mistake them day by day…. Hence even the children of God are not agreed as to the interpretation of many places in Holy Writ; nor is their difference of opinion any proof that they are not the children of God on either side. But it is a proof that we are no more to expect any living man to be infallible than to be omniscient.

Wesley then says that perfection does not exempt us from “infirmities.'” Here he is referring mostly to mentally/emotionally challenging circumstances in our psyche. I find his insight helpful, though, for persons who are belligerent about homosexuality, insisting that a homosexual can will oneself to become heterosexual, or that all homosexuals are eternally lost. If we can do not more, can we not be sufficiently charitable to see homosexuality as what Wesley calls an “infirmity”? (I know this is offensive to homosexuals, but cannot this 18th century insight at least move us toward giving each other what Elton Trueblood and Leslie Weatherhead called “a place to stand”?)

Fourthly, for Wesley, perfection does not mean being free from temptation. He concludes by insisting that “however high a degree one is perfect, he hath still the need to ‘grow in grace’ and daily to advance in the knowledge and love of God his Saviour.” Is not the essence of “growing in grace” necessarily “growing in love.” Must not each of us search our soul to see if we a centered in God’s love?

Did Wesley ever mention homosexuality? Not to my knowledge. Would any of his observations of human nature in his sermon, “Christian Perfection” shed any light on the monumental debate in United Methodism regarding gay marriage? To some, the answer is, “no.” To me, the answer is “yes.”

I agree with his premise: “To be ignorant of many things and to mistake in some is the necessary condition of humanity.” He also said, “I do not mean ‘be of my opinion.’ You need not; neither do I mean, ‘I will be of your opinion.’ I cannot. Keep you your opinion and I mine. Only ‘give me thine hand.’ This is catholic or universal love.”

Donald W. Haynes, UMR Columnist

Donald Haynes

Dr. Donald Haynes has been an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church for more than 50 years and is a member of the Western North Carolina Annual Conference. A recipient of the Harry Denman Evangelism Award, Dr. Haynes is the author of On the Threshold of Grace—Methodist Fundamentals; serves as an adjunct faculty member at Hood Theological Seminary; and is the Assistant to the Pastor in Evangelism at the First United Methodist Church of Asheboro, North Carolina. Dr. Haynes has written for The United Methodist Reporter since 2005.

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Wes Andrews
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Wes Andrews
1 year 10 months ago

Rather than retreat, Dr. Haynes, why not engage? Clarify your comments. Stand by them, and/or concede if you find your ideas properly checked by dialog with others. I’m sure there would be a mutual benefit in an honest interactive discussion which includes you.

Gary Lee Parker
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1 year 10 months ago

Dr. Haynes, Would you be able to check out the Grace and Peace Magazine for Spring 2014? I wonder if there is any wisdom we can glean from Phineas Bresee. There are numerous articles about Phineas Bresee and his inclusiveness for all people. Here is the link: http://www.graceandpeacemagazine.org/magazine/current-issue

Fred Miller
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Fred Miller
1 year 10 months ago
I am not a Methodist, but I have a deep respect for John Wesley. The quotes made by Don Hayes do not appear to me to be limited by the context of worship. To say they “ONLY” relate to this setting does not seem to me to be fair to Wesley’s intent. This would be like saying that the apostle Paul’s comments about love in 1 Corinthians 13 are ONLY relevant to the use of spiritual gifts (the context). Would it not be appropriate to see John Wesley’s comments as general principles that he then applied to worship? As someone… Read more »
Paul W.
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Paul W.
1 year 10 months ago
Your confusion on the context of Wesley’s quotes is understandable if you did not go back and read Wesley’s sermon for yourself (I provided a link above). Dr. Haynes pulled individual sentences from throughout the sermon and combined them to manufacture his fake yellow-box “quote”, i.e., the “quote” is not a quote. The sentiment that comes through in the cherry-picked sentences makes it sound as if Wesley were a doctrinal latitudinarian which is the opposite of his view (and which he specifically clarifies within the same sermon); no, Dr. Haynes’ out-of-context quotes express a sentiment that is inconsistent with the… Read more »
Kevin
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Kevin
1 year 10 months ago

Perhaps the Reporter should give Paul W a regular column. I would read every word.

dave werner
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dave werner
1 year 10 months ago
Shalom! It’s not clear to me where “Mark” and others in these comments are headed–or from whence they come, and i have no personal relationship with Dr. Haynes–nor have i read his books. But i have been enriched by Dr. Haynes’ opinions expressed in this UMR forum, and i am sad that what i regard as impertinent comments expressed recently here have discouraged an elder (here i mean “Respect you elders,” not ordained folks in full connection) from continuing to share his wisdom. The Church needs all the wisdom it can get! i googled one of Dr. Haynes’ books and… Read more »
Mark
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Mark
1 year 10 months ago
Dave, Shalom! Please explain what you mean by “impertinent comments.” As I suggested in my commentary, I intend no disrespect toward Dr. Haynes as I think he is an honorable man—-engaging and articulating a disagreement with someone, as opposed to simply dismissing them, is often a show of respect. I am sorry Dr. Haynes seems to have gotten his feelings hurt and decided (for the time being) to not contribute further to the conversation. I think this goes to the nature of the argument, actually….i.e, from the liberal perspective it is based more on emotion than facts, reason and moral… Read more »
dave werner
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dave werner
1 year 10 months ago
Shalom! Mark, by “impertinent comments” I mean comments that strike me as rude. They seem rude to me in part because in print I cannot “read” the tone of the comment. Perhaps I regard some comments as rude because I do not know the one writing. Perhaps it’s a generational thing (I’m 67). 1. Comments early in the exchange which seem rude to me include, but are not limited to, “You have been called on this before and you know better” or “Also, Don, you know better than to belittle the passages in the holiness code” or “For, anyone who… Read more »
Mark
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Mark
1 year 10 months ago
Dave, Shalom, and thanks for answering. I cannot speak to the tone of others, but my tone has been intended as respectful even if direct. I will let others speak for themselves, and I am sorry you are bothered by what you perceive as rudeness—and maybe it was rudeness—but why not ponder more completely what prompted it? Isn’t that the more important point? I would implore you to consider, first and foremost, the factual nature of what has been said by all in this forum—especially by Dr. Haynes—and not get too hung up on what you perceive as the tone.… Read more »
dave werner
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dave werner
1 year 10 months ago

toward the very end should read “i do not that contention.” …And i THOUGHT i had proofread well….

dave werner
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dave werner
1 year 10 months ago

No, should read “i do not share that contention.”

Don haynes
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1 year 10 months ago
Wow, I guess I have been put in my place! I know how Wesley felt at times! (The quote in yellow was his, not mine). You have convinced me of two things. ONe is that the lines are drawn so deeply that many in our communion are not open to any dialogue on the subject of homosexuality. I don’t understand it, but if grace be true, every human being is a child of God. Secondly, you have convinced me that after eight years of writing for the United Methodist Reporter, you just read my last column. I will be blogging… Read more »
Elaine T.
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Elaine T.
1 year 10 months ago

Don, been there done that! The last dialogue I attended was a good even discussion. At the end when the lesbian offered her phone number and address to the group saying that she was willing to answer any one’s questions even, “how we do it”, that was it! I was offended for the 16 year old that we had in our group!

Mark
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Mark
1 year 10 months ago
Dr. Haynes, we have had “dialogue” about homosexuality since 1972. We have cussed, discussed, and “holy-conferenced” it to death. Clearly there has NOT been an unwillingness to do so, usually in response to a very small but very vocal—often belligerant—minority who insist on having their way based on the flawed (and unChristian) notion that loving someone requires accepting their behavior, and the even more flawed notion that one’s personhood is mainly defined by their sexual predilections. The UMC’s Christian witness has suffered immeasurably over this; and, while there are excesses to be found all over, this has NOT been caused… Read more »
dave werner
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dave werner
1 year 10 months ago
Shalom! Reading many of the comments here, i’m hoping that Dr. Haynes would be willing to offer his response(s). i found his threefold approach of relationships, Scripture, and Wesleyan understanding to be interesting and helpful. i’m also aware that it’s not possible to apply Wesleyan words from years ago to the breaking issues of this century as precisely as we might like. Here are two links i’ve found interesting this evening as i looked for a clearer understanding of this discussion: http://viamediamethodists.wordpress.com/2014/05/02/having-your-cake-and-eating-it-wesley-and-the-third-way/ http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=1096 by John Cobb The first is from a recent blog, and the Cobb article is from 2000.… Read more »
Gary Bebop
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Gary Bebop
1 year 10 months ago

Dr. Haynes must have decided that the reality of so much disobedience now gives permission for wanton indifference to academic standards. He’s been tricked by the zeitgeist into folly.

Wes Andrews
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Wes Andrews
1 year 10 months ago

UMR would do well to utilize some of the folks that have responded here to Dr. Haynes for their feature pieces. I believe they have done Wesley justice.

Mark
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Mark
1 year 10 months ago
I don’t believe I have ever seen so many distortions, false-equivalencies or downright misinterpretations by anyone claiming to be an expert in Wesleyan thinking. This is beyond disturbing; it’s shocking. It’s pretty clear that when Wesley said “Though we may not think alike, may we not love alike?“ he was not advocating a laissez-faire approach to Biblical interpretation, he was advocating an attitudinal approach of Christians toward each other. No where in his writings about sanctification does Wesley suggest we have license to look at Scripture as a theological ink blot test, or to ignore common sense in understanding natural… Read more »
Falcon 78
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1 year 10 months ago
Somehow, I think Dr Haynes’ Wesley quote highlighted in yellow where he says, ““No man can choose for or prescribe to another. Everyone must follow the dictates of his own conscience in simplicity and sincerity. He must be full persuaded in his own mind and then act according to the best light he has. Nor has any creature the power to constrain another to walk by his own rule” is misunderstood or out of context. We “prescribe to another” all the time–they are called laws. Laws covering prostitution, divorce, marrying your cousin, marrying your sister, marrying more than one person.… Read more »
John Hutchinson
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John Hutchinson
1 year 10 months ago
I am humoured by this web site’s disclaimers about intemperance. For, anyone who has a modicum of love of intellectual integrity will have difficulty restraining his just ire at such a comprehensive example of irrationality, distortion of factual history, sophistry, selective proof-texting and hermeneutical contortionism, not only of Scriptures but of Wesley’s writings and just general mendacity. Wesley, very much was a product of a moral reaction to the general dissolution of the English Restoration Period (1660 – mid 18th C), which sported a well-renowned international notoriety for a proliferation of English homosexuality. Many of those to whom Wesley associated… Read more »
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