Wesleyan Wisdom: A Final Word of Thanks

Wesleyan Wisdom | Donald Haynes | United Methodist Reporter

Editor’s note: Last week Dr. Donald Haynes informed us his intention to end his service to UMR and the broader church through his Wesleyan Wisdom column. For 8 years we’ve been honored to feature valuable commentary by Dr. Haynes on life and practice in the UMC. We’ve especially appreciated the focus on learning from our history as we consider what it means to be United Methodist today. We’re sad to announce that this is his final column, and wish him the best in his future endeavors. Thanks Dr. Haynes for being an important voice of remembrance and renewal in the UMC. 

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In 2006 I was deeply disturbed as I read (via a close friend’s copy of NewsScope) statistical reports from annual conferences from around the connection reporting losses in both membership and attendance. I found those reports very troubling, for it was clear that the church that I loved and respected was declining both in numbers and in influence.

One day after reading that week’s list of losses, I went out to mow my yard. As I worked, almost unintentionally, a “letter to the editor” of The United Methodist Reporter began to form in my mind. The Reporter was, at the time, the most widely read print medium in the United Methodist Church. At that time I had been teaching United Methodist Polity and Methodist history and doctrine at Hood Theological Seminary for several years, and the students and I were often in dialogue about the church through which they had been called to leave other vocations mid-career and give the rest of their working lives for “reasonable service.” Those conversations came to mind in my mowing, so after the yard was done, I came in and dashed off an unsolicited article to The United Methodist Reporter (UMR). UMR’s editor Cynthia Astle printed that commentary and asked me to consider a regular monthly column that she titled “Wesleyan Wisdom.” Later, when Robin Russell assumed the editorial duties, we began to offer the columns bi-weekly.

There was never any remuneration for these columns — I researched, scanned current data sources, reviewed seminary course notes, and wrote purely as a ministry so long as readers found the columns to be helpful. Many people wrote that they read the column regularly, and I received reports that Sunday School teachers regularly copied them for their class. Pastors wrote that they were helpful to their ministry, and almost all felt that they were “fair and balanced” between liberal and conservative theology. I have been blessed by “light from many lamps” across my nearly eighty years; so “labeling” me is always difficult for people.

In 2010 after writing seven consecutive columns on Methodism’s “grace theology,” the UMR staff asked me if I could convert the columns to a book length manuscript in eight weeks! I did, but the tight schedule led to some typographical errors and awkward sentences at times. The book went through three printings of a thousand copies per printing and was sold through the UMR networks, but not through commercial sellers. There were still some books on the shelf when UMR Communications Inc. shut down and was sold in “pieces.” In the apparently chaotic days of the UMR Communications Inc. closure, they offered to sell their inventory of my books to me and I sent them a check, however I discovered later that someone else bought the majority of the inventory, and is now selling those books on Amazon. Some recent critics have suggested that my writing has been influenced by money, however my total payment from the 3,000 books sold was $500. This has never been about “the money” for there was never really any money to be made. However, having the book printed was worth the effort because, again, many classes and small groups found it a helpful digest of our marvelous “grace theology,” and I am grateful to UMR Communications Inc. for that publication.

Last year, in the wake of the closure of UMR Communications Inc., a group of United Methodist pastors and laypersons formed CircuitWriter Media LLC and purchased the digital assets of The United Methodist Reporter, dropping the print publication and turning it into an online operation. Jay Voorhees, the editorial director, graciously asked me to keep writing, and I was pleased to do so, even though I knew it didn’t have the same reach as the former print edition. Jay gently guided me through this new world of on-line publishing, and helped me adapt to the new medium.

By the winter of 2014, however, my emails were being sprinkled with language heretofore seldom heard in United Methodism–words like “schism,” “split,” “separation,” etc. Some were voices from the “liberal side of the house.” Others were conservative. The emotionally charged issue motivating these words was whether our choice of whom we marry is a personal and civil rights issue, or whether it is an issue related to our denominational moral conscience. Obviously those insisting that whom we marry is personal want the language of our present Book of Discipline changed–not only for marriage, but for being ordained, receiving an appointment, or obeying a law of the church which violates personal conscience and conviction. Equally obvious is the position of those who believe that individuals, whether pastor, bishop, or persons getting married are subservient to the law of the church as established by General Conference, most recently in 2012.

For weeks I chose not to weigh in on the highly volatile issue about which so few follow the scriptural counsel of Isaiah: “Come let us reason together.” (Isaiah 1:18) Actually the NRSV translates the verse, “Come let us argue it out….!” So it was that I wrote a little piece, pleading that we do just that — argue it out in the spirit that Wesley called “the catholic spirit” from his sermon by that title. We all know the isolated verse he used as a text–“If thy heart is as mine, give me thy hand.” In all of my long ministry, I have seen and heard Methodists and United Methodists more learned than I am use that philosophy in debating many controversial issues. Indeed many have called it the genius of Wesley’s legacy.

Now I am being told in derogatory and hortatory language that “catholic spirit” has nothing to do with our attitude toward (or our relationships with) each other if our opinions on sexual preference differ. Indeed, I found myself accused in the on-line comments attached to the article of “distortion and dishonesty”. I have stated my own opinion — I ask only that (in the words of Quaker Elton Trueblood) my critics give me a “place to stand.” Am I misquoting Wesley who quoted I John: “This is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another?” Can you not at least allow appreciation for Mr. Wesley’s statement, “Though we can’t think alike, may we all love alike?”
I am deeply influenced in my theological stance by Wesley’s belief: “And ’tis certain, so long as we ‘but know in part’ that all men will not see all things alike. It is an unavoidable consequence of the present weakness and shortness of human understanding that several men will be of several mind, in religion as well as in common life.”

How can we not apply that principle to any and all debates? I risk one more Wesley quote from his sermon, “Catholic Spirit”: “…to be ignorant of many things and to mistake is some is the necessary condition of humanity. Every wise man therefore will allow others the same liberty of thinking which he desires they should allow him; and will no more insist on their embracing his opinions than he would have them to insist on embracing theirs. He bears with those who differ with him and ask him with whom he desires to unite in love that single question, ‘Is thine heart right, as my heart is with thy heart?'”

As I consider our current differences about doctrinal creeds and social justice issues I find I am somewhat like Abraham Lincoln was about the Civil War. His paramount reason for fighting the war was to save the union. My paramount reason for pleading for Wesley’s “catholic spirit” is to save The United Methodist Church! Let all who will join me in preserving the organic unity of our beloved church speak out, stand up, and press on to bring home those who have lost their way and cannot get home alone. The last behavior we need to demonstrate to the world just now is how to fight. The world knows how to fight; our calling is to teach how to love.

Luther said it well at The Diet of Worms: “Here I stand. I can do not other. God help me.”

I appreciate all who have written in the past and supported my attempts to call the people called United Methodist to a deeper faith, and to uphold our Wesleyan heritage. Given our current climate, it’s time for me to move on to the next season of what has been a long and joyous life in the United Methodist Church. I give thanks to God for the work The United Methodist Reporter and all the editors who helped me share what God has given me to all of you. Who knows what God has in store for me next, but I’m grateful that I’ve been able to connect with you over the past 8 years as we work together to “…spread Scriptural holiness across the land.”

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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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)
 
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