You might be interested to know that both Tracy Abrams, first African American woman candidate for Governor of Georgia, as well as Jeff Sessions, recently fired Attorney General, identify as United Methodists—as do Hillary Clinton and George W. Bush.
Our denomination lifts a big tent. Your favorite search engine will reveal that the Methodist movement has been home to an astonishingly broad range of diverse Americans. Sometimes the tent ripped under the strain, as happened over the issue of slavery when a church of the north and a church of the south sundered the unity while holding opposing points of view on the matter. There really was no way around that at the time given there wasn’t a true middle ground on the matter of slavery—one either is or is not a slave.
In his Second Inaugural Address, President Lincoln famously observed that, “Both [sides] read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.”
I mention this as a reminder that our national tribalistic moment has had a number of antecedents, some worse than others, but all leading to an eventual reunion of sorts—not perfectly, of course, but generally sufficient to secure for another generation a commitment to the common good of all. From break-up to reunion took the Methodists about a hundred years.
We’re caught in a time of fierce polarization both inside and outside the church. I am working hard to listen to God’s voice in the midst of the din. I am anchoring myself to the path Jesus blazed fashioned from love of God and neighbor. This leads me to a set of conclusions about a few things and some questions about others. I seek to stay committed to the path regardless of the cost. I also recognize that, as in the words of Paul, I only see in a mirror dimly. Here’s the thing though: no one today (except Kanye, maybe) supports slavery as a social construct. One side had it right in theory if not always in execution, and the other had it appallingly wrong.
I’m wanting to pay attention to this fact, knowing full well that I’m capable of getting something appallingly wrong as well. That doesn’t prevent me from advancing my understanding of the truth, but it helps me hold it with open hands and heart in the spirit of Lincoln’s conclusion: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
That’s a righteous prayer.